On our last trip to Europe, our extended family faced many unique challenges while traveling with young children. Our entourage included a five-month-old infant, a two-year-old toddler, and a four-year-old preschooler. From finding family-friendly accommodations to surviving long international flights, check out these helpful tips for families traveling abroad with youngsters.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Europe with your immediate or extended family, be sure all the children in your group have valid passports, regardless of age. Most US airlines allow children under two years old to fly free on domestic flights if seated on an adult family member’s lap (known as a lap infant or an infant in arms) but for international flights you must purchase a lap infant ticket. Lap infant tickets are typically 10% of the adult’s fare and usually include a checked bag but no meals. Children two years and older must have their own seats and are subject to the same prices as adult fares.
While pre-boarding, my husband Erik and I checked our five-month-old son Finn’s infant car seat at the gate before carrying him and our carry-ons onto the plane. Across the aisle from us were my husband’s cousin and his family, including four-year-old Tazman and two-year-old Sylas. Both Tazman and Sylas were settled comfortably in their FAA-approved car seats, which buckled securely into their plane seats.
I waited to feed Finn until we taxied down the runaway, as our doctor recommended, since the motion of eating or drinking during takeoff and landing helps prevent ear congestion. During the nine hour flight, Finn spent the time sleeping, eating, or playing with his new plush moose toy. Tazman and Sylas napped for a couple of hours. For the rest of the flight, their parents kept the two boys entertained with new games, toys, movies pre-loaded onto their smart phones, and snacks. This list of long-haul flight essentials is really handy.
Our flight landed mid-morning at Manchester Airport, northwest of London. After collecting our rental car, we drove to our rental house on the north Welsh coast. We discovered that renting a house or apartment when traveling abroad with young children offers us lots of privacy and additional amenities. Besides renting, other great options include family-friendly hotels and farm stays. Finding accommodations that welcome young children can be tricky, so ask about specific amenities offered such as family-friendly guest rooms, children’s menus, baby gear like high chairs and cribs, and childcare or babysitting services.
On our way to the Welsh coast, we stopped outside of Manchester to pick up a travel crib (called cots in the UK) and high chair from a baby equipment rental service we found online. While strollers and car seats are free to check on most international flights, you’ll be charged extra for bringing travel cribs or high chairs. Depending on the cost of checking these larger items, you may find renting after arrival the most economic and convenient option for your international trip. Research online ahead of time for rental services for your destination.
We arrived at our rental house after noon, a spacious building with a full kitchen, a large common area, comfortable bedrooms, and a washer and dryer. After lunch we lounged outside in the sun, watching Tazman and Sylas play while Finn napped in his car seat. Our extended family, including three youngsters under the age of five, had survived the long journey to England and looked forward to our week’s adventure in northern Wales.
Helpful tips and links for traveling with young children around larger cities such as London, Paris, and Rome.
- Best months to visit: May or September because it’s usually warmer and drier but also less crowded.
- Getting there: London’s Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest and most popular airports in Europe, while 30 miles south of London Gatwick Airport offers a more low-key alternative for families. Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport is also one of the busiest airports on the continent. Try the less hectic Orly Airport located eight miles south of Paris. Italy’s international airport is the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, which is about 22 miles from Rome’s historic city center.
- Ground Transportation: All three cities have extensive bus and subway systems. Find maps and purchase passes at Transport for London , Paris’s Le Metro, and Rome’s Metropolitane.
- Major car rental companies: Located at all international airports, most rental car companies also have car seat rentals available.
- Accommodations: Novotel is one of the most family-friendly hotel chains in Europe, with hotels located throughout Europe. You’ll also find multiple Novotel locations in London, Paris, and Rome. Rooms are moderately priced and youngsters under the age of 16 stay for free in their parents’ rooms. For short-term vacation rentals, Roomorama offers reasonably priced houses and apartments throughout Europe.
- Eateries: Each Novotel hotel operates a family-friendly restaurant. While sight-seeing in London, food chains such as Pret a Manger and Café Uno offer tasty, inexpensive meals for all ages. In Paris, both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre have casual restaurants that welcome families. In Rome, travelers visiting the Forum and Capitoline Hill will find a variety of moderately-priced cafes to choose from, including the Capitoline Café at the Musei Capitolini.
Written by and photos by Carrie Uffindell for EuropeUpClose.com