Travel with Kids: Packing for our European Adventure

 In Travel Tips

In October 2012 I ventured across the Atlantic with a 5 month old and a 3 year old for a 5- week European adventure. I was not crazy. I was determined. I wanted to visit a few friends and get back on the continent. Bringing the boys was never a question. Where I go, they go. The only question was how would I carry all of our bags, a toddler and an infant by myself from place to place? It wasn’t easy, but with careful planning, something I am not known for, I managed to pack more than enough shoes for myself (kids don’t need shoes right?), and what I needed for the kids in one suitcase, a backpack, Dek’s kid backpack, and my purse.

k-001Europe Carry On Bag with Kids

Backpack: Cameras and computer gear went into the backpack along with a change of clothes for everyone, and Kindles for Dek and I. Everything was well padded so if I bumped into a wall, a fellow traveler slammed their roller board suitcase into my backpack, or I had to cram it under my feet I knew my beloved electronics were protected.  

Purse: All of the baby stuff, travel information, and most of our snacks went into my purse. The zipper broke at the airport before we even took off which made it all the more exciting, but it was just another excuse to buy a new bag in Europe.

Dek’s Backpack: Dek is allowed one small bag of toy cars and planes to put in his backpack whenever we travel. I threw a few small toys into his pack for Ty, plus all of the bedtime lovies and the back ups. The treasured blankies/lovies that the boys can’t sleep without are never checked. Ever.

kid carrier, nap zone, and high chair all in one cheap, lightweight umbrella stroller

Kid transporter, nap zone, and high chair all in one cheap, lightweight umbrella stroller

Stroller: I opted to bring our cheap umbrella stroller. It folded up small, I could open it with my foot, steer it one handed, and it had proven its worth through numerous countries. If it broke and I had to toss it I just didn’t care. The only problem was that the stroller didn’t recline, which would have been very nice for Ty to nap in, and saved my back a lot of pain carrying him for hours each day. A MacLaren umbrella stroller that folds up would have been a better option.

Baby Carrier: Ty started and ended his European adventure in my Ergobaby Baby Carrier. I was able to walk through security with him, get him to sleep on the plane and while exploring architectural ruins, and keep my two hands free to deal with luggage and hold Dek’s hand as we traveled.

Carrying kids, luggage and camera gear can get tiresome but it is doable.

Carrying kids, luggage and camera gear can get tiresome but it is doable.

Checked Bag to Europe with Kids

Suitcase:1 medium-sized, soft-shell suitcase was packed to the brim with shoes, toiletries, and clothing for the 3 of us. We would be in Switzerland and London, which was colder, and Italy, which would be warmer. The key would be light layers plus a jacket for each of us.

Clothing: Everyone had 7 days worth of clothing. Tops were split between long sleeve and shorts sleeve so we could layer. I had three cardigans and a sweatshirt that I could mix and match with the light long-sleeved shirts and t-shirts I had packed. Each kid  had two hooded sweatshirts they could use as jackets. The logic around the 7 days was that I knew we could do laundry at least once a week, maybe a little more than that. On a great week the kids would only use one outfit per day. If they got wet, muddy, or food splattered down the front I would still have something else to put them in. If I got to the 5th or 6th day with no new clothes I could always mix and match what was clean enough in the laundry bag.

Shoes: The kids each had 2 pairs of shoes. Half way through the trip I wasn’t sure I needed to bring 2 for Dek until he had a bit of accident (too much fun, too little time to make it to the toilet) necessitating the need for a new pair of shoes so he could go back out and play. Being the aspiring fashionista that I am (ha!) I brought 3 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of slip on flats, 1 pair of Josef Seibel sneakers, and 1 pair of boots.

Toiletries: I really tried not to pack the kitchen sink. It was hard. I just never want to take time out of having fun to run to the store. It is true that you can buy shampoo, conditioner, and even a bar of soap while traveling in Europe (shocking that the rest of the world likes to be clean too I know!). I was even able to find Pantene shampoo for my hair. I packed a travel size of conditioner and shampoo for the times we would not be at a friend’s house, or when I knew that we would have a separate bathroom from them. Outside of that my bag was filled with lotion, make-up, razors, baby nail clipper, medicine for the whole family, and a lot of other stuff I never ended up needing, but I was convinced I just HAD to have it with us. Lesson learned. Less means more room to shop.

Rail Europe

Stashed stroller and suitcase on the train from Bern to Milan

What I left behind when Traveling with Kids

Car seats: Leaving behind our car seats was a tricky decision. We would be flying and taking the train to get from each destination on our trip. I was not planning on driving in Switzerland, but when we did decide to do a day trip into the Swiss Alps my friend was able to borrow an extra car seat. In northern Italy my friend had enough car seats for my 2 kid and hers. It was Sicily that had me questioning whether I should bring my car seats or have Mike fly out with them when he met us half way through our trip. I had heard the horror stories from other travelers about damaged or inadequate car seats from rental agencies. In the end we did decide to leave them behind. For the 6 days out of our 31-day trip to Europe, it just wasn’t worth the hassle. The real clincher was that I had no idea how I would carry 2 kids, 2 car seats, a back pack, stroller, purse, and suitcase through the first half of our trip. Our worse case scenario was we would buy 2 car seats when we got to Sicily if necessary. Thankfully it did not come to that. 


What I should have left behind

  • My black flats. My flats gave me blisters so I rarely wore them. My boots and sneakers were perfect for looking cute and exploring without hurting my feet.
  • One button down shirt. The shirt was new and wrinkled much more easily than I anticipated. I never wore it. Never, ever pack anything that has to be treated gently or ironed. It’s a waste of time and space.

What I wish I had packed when traveling with Kids

  • Butterfly Bandages. Dek took a tumble while we were in Tuscany. Regular bandages worked OK, but having a butterfly bandage on hand would have made life a lot easier. I was incredibly thankful that I had started carrying a small first aid kit after another fall the month before at the Big Four Ice Caves.

And there you have it. Packing for 5 weeks in Europe is not rocket science. It isn’t even much different from any other trip you take. You just need to remember that less is always more; you can buy most things once you arrive, especially in Western Europe, and you don’t need an outfit for every occasion. H&M (a cheap clothing store found across the globe) is around every corner for that random event you never knew you would be attending. They will appreciate your business I’m sure.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Bethaney - Flashpacker Family

    I’m always surprised that there’s way more stuff I wish I’d left behind than I wished I’d taken. Each trip I take I cull more and more from my packing list.

  • Danielle

    Great that you included what you shouldn’t have taken. When I travel on my own with my kids they stay behind too – but I hire them at my destination.

  • Amy @ The Q Family

    Awesome tip! I’m glad that my kids are now old enough that you don’t need car seat and stroller. 🙂 More space for my shoes!

  • EverywhereAmy

    I too try to be a very light packer. But I applaud this effort! Unfortunately the bigger they get, the bigger their clothes are and we need an ever expanding amount of room :/

  • Matt

    You’re an inspiration! My wife and I plan on taking my 2 year old to Rome for a week in November and we feel like we can’t mention this to anyone since we always get the same response: “Why? They won’t remember it!” And I always respond that I don’t remember much of Elementary School but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing.
    Besides, well-traveled and cultured parents are more likely to raise well-traveled and cultured children.

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