Here are all our pro tips on traveling with toddlers to Europe, including toddler travel beds, packing lists, plane activities, and more! Affiliate links are included below.
When Alex and I decided to take our toddler son Larson on vacation to Europe, some people thought we were crazy! Heck, we felt like we were crazy. But with the guidance of friends who had traveled to Europe with toddlers, we were assured that yes, we could actually do it. As a friend of ours always says, traveling with toddlers is an adventure, not a vacation!
A few days in and it actually did start to feel like a vacation! Incredible food, clear blue Mediterranean waters, and ancient ruins combined to make the most memorable adventure. Since we’ve returned, we’ve had many people ask, what are your tips for traveling with toddlers? Good news: we’ve got you covered! Here are all our secrets for the best toddler travel bed, plane activities, and more! For our full toddler packing list, skip to the very end.
Our toddler travel bed fit right into half of this suitcase!
Did you use a toddler travel bed?
Yes, we did use a toddler travel bed! In fact, bringing a travel crib for a toddler is one of our top tips for traveling with toddlers! Since Larson was 17 months for our trip, we still did not feel comfortable with him sleeping on a cot or bed. Most of the places we stayed, all of them Airbnbs, were not equipped for toddler sleeping situations.
But even more importantly, sleeping in the same toddler travel bed every night was crucial to Larson adapting to the travel. We stayed in many different cities, but each night at the end of the night Larson had the same bed! So by the third night of our three weeks, he was totally adjusted to that travel crib.
What toddler travel bed did we use? This Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light. We actually bought ours used on Craigslist, which was a steal! We cannot recommend this crib enough: it’s super light, easy to assemble, and fits into half of a large suitcase. The luggage we used was this Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside 28″ Luggage. It fit right into one side of the suitcase, which left the other half for Larson’s and our clothes and other items.
The only other luggage we brought was this Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside 24″ Luggage and it fit everything we needed for 3 weeks! I could even assemble the Baby Bjorn travel crib all by myself, which is saying something (I’m terrible even at putting together Pack N Plays!). For more about the bed, see Best Baby Travel Bed.
Larson’s car seat, complete with travel bag
What about a toddler car seat for travel?
Good question! We used Larson’s normal car seat, which is lightweight. The toddler car seat we have is the Evenflo Tribute LX. How it works when flying: you’re not charged extra for having a car seat with you. Make sure to buy a travel bag for the car seat; here’s our carseat bag. When you get to the gate, the flight attendant will provide separate checking tags for the car seat in the bag.
Many times you’ll be able to bring it up to the gate and then they’ll check it there. In some countries, the airport had a special place for “bulky luggage” where we had to take it (the flight attendant will instruct you). In both cases, we typically picked up the car seat with our luggage on the luggage carousel.
Do taxis, Ubers, and car services takes toddlers with car seats? All of the Ubers and taxis that we used did take toddlers with car seats! It’s possible that some might not, so make sure to be up front about it when you order. One tip: Since many cars have a latch system for car seats and you may not have secured the car seat with a seatbelt before. Before you travel, make sure to practice putting in the car seat with a seatbelt if you’ve never done it!
For long trips we used our baby carrier, but for strolling we let him run! (Tellaro, Italy)
Did you bring a travel stroller or baby carrier?
For this trip, we ditched the stroller and decided to bring only a baby carrier! Our reasoning: streets in Europe can be rather bumpy and hard to navigate. Also, we didn’t want to have to worry about lugging a stroller around and storing it when we stopped at restaurants. For Alex and me, we preferred the free feeling of just using a baby carrier. Larson falls asleep easily in public in the baby carrier, but not as much in the stroller.
However, there are some drawbacks of a baby carrier: it did get rather hot, especially in the summer! Carrying around 20 pounds for a while left huge sweat spots on the back of our shirts. Also, you can’t do anything sitting down when you have a sleeping toddler on your back! It was perfect for hiking and walking through museums with a sleeping toddler, but not so much for going to restaurants.
What baby carrier did we use? This LILLEbaby 3 in 1 CarryOn Toddler Carrier. Like our toddler travel bed, we cannot say enough about this baby carrier! It’s super comfortable and carries up to 60 pounds.
Do babies and toddlers under age 2 fly free overseas?
As you may know, babies and toddlers fly free in the United States if they’re under 2 years old. Score! For overseas travel, we assumed it was the same. Ooops! For overseas travel, the cost of babies and toddlers is up to the airline. On Delta (which we used), it cost 10% of the cost of an adult ticket for a lap child.
Don’t forget to pack swim diapers! (Tellaro, Italy)
Did you reserve a bassinet for flying overseas?
For overseas travel, most airlines have a baby bassinet in the bulkhead seats to give babies a place to sleep. A lot of people suggested this to us, but in the end we decided not to. By 17 months, Larson is pretty picky about where he sleeps, so we weren’t sure he’d be into it. You do have to pay an upcharge to reserve the bulkhead seats (around $100), so we decided to have Larson “sleep” with us.
Once we got on the plane and checked out the bassinet situation, we were glad we went this direction. However, we do recommend this tip if you’re flying with a baby! If Larson were less than 1 year old, this would have been a perfect solution.
Walking the streets of Rome!
How do you get babies or toddlers to sleep on a plane?
This is a topic of great debate. Many people swear by using Benadryl or melatonin to help toddlers sleep on planes. We weren’t sure what to think, so we asked Alex’s brother, who is a doctor.
He cautioned that having a toddler take a drug on a plane for the first time was risky, since Larson had never taken either before. He also mentioned that Benadryl can make babies and toddlers drowsy, which can make it harder to adjust to a new time zone. So, we took the conservative approach to sleeping and did no medications.
So, did Larson sleep on the plane? Yes. Did he sleep as much as we hoped? No. Because Larson was 17 months old for the overseas flight, he was much more aware of his surroundings than on past flights when he was younger. Instead of sleeping, he wanted to explore the plane and chat with other passengers!
When the cabin lights darkened for sleeping time, we put on his PJs, gave him the blanket and dog, and even turned on his sound machine at low volume. We tried putting him in our baby carrier hoping the security of the carrier would lull him to sleep. Unfortunately, it was a pretty rough transition because he just wanted to keep exploring!
Eventually, Larson slept about 3 hours of the 9-hour flight overseas. The up side to only sleeping 3 hours was that once we got to Italy, we had a full day and did naps as normal. Once it got to his bedtime, he was SO tired that he slept the entire night! And we did too. The next day, we were all on Italian time. So it actually worked in our favor!
Larson was enthralled by all the dogs and cats (Sibenik, Croatia)
Do you have toddler plane activities or plane toys for toddlers?
Yes! Here are some tips for toddler plane activities / plane toys that we found went over well:
- Bring these National Geographic sticker books! They’re less than $7 each and hours of entertainment! Each book has over 1,000 stickers and literally endlessly entertained Larson. They’re also light and easy to pack. There are various different animal themes: we got 4 books and gradually gave him new ones to keep the novelty factor. We cannot recommend these enough for toddlers 16 months and above! Though we did end up with stickers all over us, it was worth it!
- Use small snacks as an activity. Eating raisins or Cheerios can last for quite a long time!
- Play hide and seek with a small object. Use a toy car or small animal to play hide and seek. We actually use a sunglasses case to “hide” things; it has a zipper that keeps him busy trying to open it. However, you can do this with just a toy too!
- Use flashcard or drawing apps on your Smartphone or tablet. We used a few flashcard apps on our phone (we like one called First Animals). Larson loved swiping and hearing the animal sounds.
- Read search and find books. Larson loves finding objects in books — and it was on a plane that we actually discovered he knew way more words than we realized! If your toddler gets bored, the airplane magazines in the seat pocket can be good too! We spent hours saying, “Where’s the man? Where’s the tree? Where’s the airplane” and having Larson point to the words.
- Don’t bring too much! It’s easy to overpack, so we tried to bring just enough: sticker books, tablet, a few books, and a few small toys.
A meringue the size of his head! (Cartagena, Spain)
What toddler travel snacks did you bring?
The hard part about toddler travel snacks when you’re traveling for 3 weeks is that you have to buy many of them on the road! Here is what we tended to have onhand for travel snacks:
- Larabars or energy bars: Larson loves them and they’re made with real food and minimally processed
- Yogurt pouches: frozen for travel (this only works on the front end!)
- Crackers / breadsticks
A quick change at a rest stop (somewhere in Slovenia?)
Did you bring a diaper bag?
For this trip, we decided that we’d prefer not carrying a separate diaper bag in addition to our camera bag and my purse. So, we got a combination camera bag and backpack that we used as a diaper bag. This way, we didn’t have to lug along a fully separate diaper bag. This is of course up to your personal preference, but we enjoyed not having to keep track of yet another bag!
What combination camera / diaper bag did we use? The Minimalist from Atlas Supply. In everyday life, it functions as Alex’s camera bag.
How many diapers did you bring?
The hard part about traveling with toddlers is that so much of your luggage is taken up by diapers! For our 3-week trip to Europe, we brought enough diapers for about 2 weeks. This did take up quite a bit of space in our luggage! Looking back however, we recommend bringing enough diapers for about 1 week. Diapers and wipes were very easy to find in grocery stores in Italy, Croatia, and Spain, so we could have packed less than we did.
Even Larson was awed by the Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)
How do you help a toddler adjust to jet lag?
Good question! Luckily Larson adjusted very quickly to the new time zone, but of course it’s dependent on the toddler! As I mentioned above, Larson only slept 3 hours of the 9 hour flight overseas. This meant that when we arrived in the morning in Italy, he was running on pretty low sleep. We did naps as normal, and then put him to bed at his normal time of 7:00 pm. Because he was so tired, he ended up sleeping the entire night! This seemed to immediately adjust him to Italian time.
Larson did wake up a few times crying early on in the evening the first 2 days in Italy, which we think was likely because he was adjusting to the new space. However, after a few days he got used to sleeping in the same travel crib every night and slept soundly.
On the way home, Larson slept about the same amount of time on the flight. However, since we returned home in the evening EST, he was then able to go to bed and sleep through the night since he was so tired again. On the returning side, it took several days for him to adjust back to EST, but he was never up in the middle of the night, lucky for us!
Exploring the streets of Frigiliana, Spain
What are the best toddler travel shoes?
For travelling for toddlers in the summer, we love these Toms canvas shoes. We got them in dark gray so they would hide the dirt, and they’ve held up very well! We also brought a backup pair just in case of an accident, but he didn’t end up needing them.
Speaking of backups: we suggest always taking a backup outfit with you in your diaper bag. There was one incident of car sickness and we only had one backup pair of shorts — so Larson ended up having to spend one day in a not so pleasant shirt. Our mistake!
Larson’s trusty Toms in action at La Alhambra (Granada, Spain)
How did you handle naps on vacation?
A big question we got around traveling with toddlers was schedule: how did you handle naps on vacation? On our trip to Europe (and today!), Larson takes one 2 to 3 hour nap in the middle of the day. So on vacation, we did the same thing! And Alex and I found we actually really loved being forced to take a siesta in the middle of the day.
During nap time, Alex and I would have downtime and read, catch up on a little work or emails, and relax. It also kept us out of the hot midday sun. Then when Larson was awake, we’d go out adventuring again in the afternoon. Fun fact: This schedule also helps you take better pictures!
Golden hour = almost bedtime (Tellaro, Italy)
What was your bedtime routine?
One of the hard parts about traveling with toddlers is bedtime: once you put your toddler to bed, no more exploring for you! Rome with kids means no romantic pasta dinners for two, and Barcelona with kids has no room for midnight tapas. One of the ways that we worked around this when traveling is that in many of our destinations, we were traveling with other people.
In Italy we were with Alex’s mom, brother, and sister in law, in Croatia we were with a dear friend and her husband, and in Barcelona we stayed with friends. So, usually we were able to juggle having someone stay back with Larson, and the other person would have dinner companions.
For 6 days we were by ourselves in Spain; for this timeframe we actually changed his bedtime to 9:00 pm so we could stay out later. Some nights we kept him up a little longer, other days we had a big midday meal and either cooked or had snacks at home.
For the bedtime routine, we tried to keep as many constants as possible. With our travel we had less time for bath time–but if we could, we’d try to do a bath or shower. Then we’d darken his room, turn on his sound machine (we have a great travel sound machine!), and put his dog and blanket in his bed. After reading a book, we’d put him in his toddler travel bed with his pacifier. By a few days into the trip, he went down very easily!
His adventurous spirit made it all worth it! (Cartagena, Spain)
Do you have a toddler packing list?
Yes! Here is our toddler packing list for 3 weeks in Europe in the summer, with links to the items mentioned above!
- Baby bath soap
- 1 rubber ducky
- Child nail clippers
- Child Tylenol
- Clothing (for a boy!):
- 7 short sleeve shirts, 1 long sleeve (it was summer!)
- 1 full backup outfit for diaper bag
- 2 pants
- 3 shorts
- 2 pairs of these Toms
- 2 pajamas
- Handful of swim diapers
- Swim suit
Want more packing lists? Here’s what I brought as my European Capsule Wardrobe.
Looking for more travel posts?
Here are more posts from our trip to Italy, Croatia and Spain!
- Spain Travel Guide
- Sibenik, Croatia: A Charming Coastal Town
- Tellaro: Italy’s Best Kept Secret
- Where to Visit in Italy, Croatia & Spain
- 8 Secrets: How to Take Better Pictures on Vacation
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.