My husband and I were blessed with a two-week window, in which we decided on traveling Italy with a toddler. This was a big feat, and we knew it wouldn’t be an easy laid-back vacation. Our main drive? Well, we are expecting a baby in September (woohoo!), so this could very well be our last big trip while living in Europe. Because of this, we wanted to bounce around traveling to Northern Italy. It was quite an adventure, to say the least, and my husband and I learned a lot regarding traveling with a toddler.
Italy has always been on my bucket list. Italian food is my favorite! Although, I did find that American Italian and Italian cuisine did have some differences. I had imagined visiting vineyards, wine tastings, eating pasta in fancy restaurants, and hopefully a late-night opera or concert in a beautiful/ famous opera house all dressed up.
The reality? Traveling in Italy with a toddler looked a bit different, let’s be honest, a lot different. I found that we were quick to manage our expectations. More than likely, we would have to forgo a concert hall and museums. Late nights would also look different. In all honesty, it was an entirely different trip than how it would be if it were just my husband and I. But isn’t that parenthood in a nutshell? The experience is completely different, but can also be quite wonderful.
Be sure to check out my related post: A guide to taking your toddler to Italy
Trains are such an excellent means of travel in Europe. We traveled by train for the entire trip, and it’s especially great if you are traveling with a toddler! The train situation can be a bit complicated as far as delays, train cabins, and seat availability- so it does take some planning. We took: regional, fast, and even an overnight train. All offered different experiences, which I will go more in-depth on in another post.
The prices varied. For Liam, it was also worth the cost because he was free. If we tried to fly, we would have had to pay for a seat. Traveling in Europe for two weeks can get pricey. We used Trenitalia to book all of our trains.
We chose to stay in AirBnB’s for a few reasons. I don’t think it’s always the most cost-effective, but for us at the time, it was what we needed. Our two-year-old is particular with his sleep. We don’t co-sleep, and he prefers being in his own crib. Ideally, having two separate rooms works best for us.
Check in was later, although I think it is similar to hotels. A few of them allowed us to store our bags while it was being cleaned, which we were super grateful for.
There may not be any elevators which can be exhausting with bags. The prices definitely added up.
Sometimes we would have two rooms. It was always nice to have a living room area with a sofa and a kitchen. Many of them would offer suggestions on where to go and eat. The kitchens were great if they had an oven and fridge.
Toddlers require so much!! It is truly difficult to downsize packing when you have all of their things. We had to get creative, and managed to pack all of our things (including his pack-n-play and mattress) into two suitcases! It was challenging, but we made it work. It requires a lot of creativity and thoughtful planning. I plan on coming back to write out my packing list for you at a later time.
In all honesty, it was a necessity to pack light. Traveling with a toddler can be challenging so we made sure to have all of his essentials with us at all times. To help us pack light we would buy necessities as we needed them: Instead of packing two weeks of diapers, we would purchase them every couple days. We also brought laundry detergent and would wash clothes every couple of days, which allowed us to pack fewer clothes. An important thing to consider is the use of dryers. We had to air dry our clothes every single time.
Consider the season
We were traveling in Italy during the first two weeks of April. The weather conditions were pretty ideal. Although April isn’t the peak tourist season, we found that it was still pretty crowded for our liking, and some cities may not be ideal for traveling with a toddler during peak season. Also, if you’re traveling in winter, be sure to layer up! Check out some of my layering tips (from living in Germany).
Our Itenerary: Traveling to Northern Italy
Florence & Chainti
(Pisa) only to see the tower
Stay tuned, I plan on going into more details about each city when I get the chance!
Some challenges we faced with traveling to Italy with a todder
Restaurants opened for dinner at 7:30 pm. That is my son’s bedtime! This was unfortunate for a few reasons. We missed out on some delicious dinners due to the time constraint. The other challenge? Poor Liam had his bedtime pushed later. When we did find a place to eat, we were often the only ones in the restaurant (not necessarily a bad thing when you’re dining with little kids). More often than not, we had to eat at restaurants geared toward tourists in high-volume areas. We found that the quality of the food wasn’t as delicious, and it would often be more expensive.
This was a constant struggle. Like I mentioned earlier, traveling to Italy with a toddler for two weeks is a big ask for them. Liam was a trooper the entire time.
Naps were such a challenge. We relied heavily on our toddler backpack, as that was typically the only way he would take a quick nap. Still, they were much shorter than what he would normally take.
Nighttime sleep was a challenge for all three of us. After two weeks, the lack of sleep had accumulated for sure.
The lack of sleep did contribute to more tantrums and breakdowns.
My husband (who is a night owl) and I would go to sleep shortly after we would put Liam to bed. We were that exhausted every single day.
Not checking things off on our bucket list
There were a couple of days, we strapped Liam up in his backpack, and we would do some tours. But, after a bit, we decided that this was just not going to be that kind of trip. Of course, there are some downsides- we were in Italy, and may never have the opportunity to visit again. If you’re anything like me, when I travel I like to go and see all of the things. Experience everything I possibly can. Check as much off of the bucket list. Take a cooking class, and do all of the wine tastings! But, traveling to Italy with a toddler, (especially our toddler) makes that kind of trip impossible.
We couldn’t go into some of the museums, and see all of the things. We didn’t even dare to take a cooking class. And of course, we couldn’t do all of the wine tastings ( although traveling to Italy while pregnant I couldn’t either). I think that I would normally have a difficult time accepting this, but once we were on our trip to Italy with a toddler it was easier.
The trip was no longer about crossing everything off the list. In some areas, we had a plan and it worked out to where we could see things (at a rushed pace for a photo op) while other days were an adventure to find parks and playgrounds.
we were out of our normal routine
Toddlers thrive on routine! We have always been particular about Liam’s nap and bedtime because we had to. That is what my son needed. Traveling, we were completely out of routine. A couple of days is one thing, but 14 days is a significant amount of time. It’s interesting to see how much Michael and I had grown so accustomed to Liam’s routine, and how it’s just been a necessary part of life (especially mine, being a stay-at-home mom). We have such a specific morning routine, that both he and I thrive on.
Meal times varied, naps were inconsistent, bedtime varied, and of course staying in a new AirBnB every few days. As much as we tried, it was an ongoing challenge, but we did try to have a small resemblance to a routine.
expecting the unexpected
This was always a stressor. Not sure what our next Airbnb was going to be like, as far as the sleeping arrangements and how conducive they would be for us. The anticipation of whether or not Liam was going to nap, and how it would affect the day.
Gambling on booking a tour, and the unknown of whether it would work out. Would we be able to find a restaurant, and would Liam eat any of the food? We never knew how the day was going to play out! We had to be completely flexible, and almost play the day hour by hour. Some days were great, and we would crush a dinner, or the one food tour we took. While others were complete disasters that resulted in meltdowns.
rush through the sites
When we did take tours or visit landmarks, it was typically a rush and go to get that photo op. We didn’t get to “learn” too much about most of what we saw, we didn’t take any audio tours, or visit most of the famous museums. What we did try to take advantage of was seeing the things outside. My husband would often look at tours, and would then map out many of the sites on his phone. This allowed us the flexibility to walk through on our own time. This was especially helpful if Liam was in the backpack.
not having the comforts of home
I can’t imagine how challenging this was for my little one. He acclimated so well to each of the AirBnBs (especially as the trip went on). But little things like having a living room sofa that fits all three of us are so important for our “unwinding” time at the end of the day. We didn’t have his toys or books. The pack-n-play is his, and he has slept in it several times however, it does not surpass the comforts of his own crib.
Also, because of the sleeping arrangements or the setup of our AirBnB, my husband and I often would sleep on the sofa or the pull-out sleeper couch. We were all lacking in sleep.
How did we enjoy the trip?
The trip was hard, and far from a vacation. Equally, we had the opportunity to take this trip and wanted to make the most of it. With all of the unenjoyable, disappointing, or exhausting moments- we had so many that allowed us to make unique memories. These tips helped me find joy in this adventure.
Keeping my toddlers perspective
The best way for me to enjoy this experience was to try to consider my toddler’s perspective. There is no telling what he was thinking. We bounced around for two weeks, that is a lot of time! I say it was hard on my husband and me, but truly it was challenging for our little one. Taking this into consideration, helped me be more empathetic and patient.
catering the day to my toddler
Many of the days we spent at parks, and playgrounds. As an outsider, it may seem like a wasted opportunity, but like I mentioned earlier, it’s a completely different trip traveling with a toddler.
Honestly, the days we spent catering to Liam, allowing him to make decisions on restaurants, were ultimately better days. They were more enjoyable for the entire family. We took advantage of the parks and playgrounds, and made the most of balancing these out with the tourist parts.
I would also recommend the hop-and-go double-decker buses! We were even able to crush a nap one! We didn’t utilize the hop-and-go function, but it was a nice way for Liam to enjoy the experience, and for us to see a bit of the city.
The theme of the entire trip! You truly can’t predict how the days are going to go, especially with a lack of routine and disrupted sleep. Changing my mindset and accepting that this Italy trip would not be how I had envisioned it, was a key factor in enjoying it! It’s okay to miss out on the countless famous museums, and famous buildings. We had our own trip with our memories.
Having patience with each other
Traveling with the family can be challenging. I think my husband and I did a pretty good job with each other, considering. But it wasn’t always easy. Practicing mindfulness, patience, and grace was such a critical component to having a successful trip. I frequently found myself practicing my own self tips on being a more patient mom.
Some suggestions for traveling to Italy with a toddler
Take advantage of the hop and go, or “ride” type tours. My son also loved any tours that involved boats. His absolute favorite was the iconic gondola ride in Venice. This allowed us to see more of the city, while allowing our toddler to enjoy the experience.
Parks and Playgrounds
Many of the cities had beautiful parks and playgrounds. Sometimes we would find an outside restaurant and would eat while liam was running around. Some of the playgrounds even had kid rides and merry-go-rounds
There are so many beautiful gardens in Italy, many of which were associated with famous architecture. We found ourselves spending several hours, having a picknick and playing on the lawn.
Was it worth traveling Italy with a toddler?
Absolutely! This was the trip of a lifetime!! We are so blessed for this amazing opportunity. As exhausting and difficult as it was traveling Italy with a toddler, I do feel that it was so worth it. What is equally amazing? My son wanted to travel after a day of being home. We found that he became a little more resilient from this trip. It is amazing to see the growth!
Have you traveled on a long trip with a toddler? I would love to hear any suggestions or tips that worked well for you!