Earlier this month, we returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. We had gone to Paris with Caleb when he was 8 months old, but Paris was our only destination for 10 days on that trip, and he was just barely mobile. This time around, our itinerary was a little more complicated, it was winter, and there were two kids to deal with as opposed to just one. We survived and we made some great memories, but it definitely was not an easy trip.
While I admire families like The Bucket List Family, the reality is that we are not them and this is not our full time gig. Traveling with small kids is a lot of work. We made some beautiful memories, but it is NOT for the faint of heart.
We decided to take this trip because Eddie's cousin (who is Chloe's godmother) had a baby girl in September and we wanted to meet her. They live in Luxembourg. But we also figured if we were making the trip, then we were going to add a couple of stops while we were there.
We booked everything on this trip ourselves and did not use a travel agent. I checked fares for a few weeks until we found something we were comfortable with. (A tip: Use Google Flights or Skyscanner to help you find the best combinations out there. You can't book it on Google, but it will send you to the sites to book with the rates they find.)
For hotels, we had points with several of our credit cards, so we browsed their sites and booked what was most convenient for us and what fit in with our points value. We then booked our travel arrangements from one city to the next. We flew from London to Luxembourg and we took a train from Luxembourg to Paris (it was significantly cheaper and way less time consuming than sitting in an airport). We also booked a rental car for the days were staying in Luxembourg.
We did not book any tours or activities in advance because we weren't sure what the kids would be up for. We decided to take it day by day.
This was a winter trip, and we were expecting temperatures in the thirties, so we wanted to make sure we packed accordingly. However, because of the transfers and traveling to different cities, we wanted to keep our packing as minimalist as we possibly could. We didn't totally succeed, but we had very few pieces of clothing that didn't get worn on the trip. We ended up with three suitcases - one large one for Eddie & I, a medium one for Caleb and Chloe, and a small carry-on bag that we used to carry a change of clothes for each of us and prescription medications.
Fashion and perfectly curated looks were not a priority - I mean we all still looked put together, but my outfits were probably not the most stylish. I went for function, convenience, and being able to use pieces multiple times. I stuck to a color palette - in our case black, white, and grey, and threw a few more colorful pieces in for each person. We each had two pairs of shoes, but we all could probably have left one pair behind.
We packed plenty of light, thin layers that we could add or remove depending on the weather, and each of us had a puffer jacket. We made sure to have enough socks for layering, gloves, hats, and scarves.
For Chloe, I packed enough diapers to last us through the day of travel and two days after. I ended up stopping in a grocery store and picking up a small pack of diapers once during the trip (they had the exact brand of diapers we use for Chloe - Pampers Pure).
We packed all the medications we knew we would need on a regular basis, and all the regular emergency medications. Things I wish I had: the nebulizer and an extra bottle of Benadryl packed in one of the suitcases. They took our children's Benadryl at security in London Heathrow, and we couldn't get anymore while we were there.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
Before this trip, Chloe has never been on a plane. I wasn't sure how she would do. All things considered, she did pretty well. We booked an 8 hour overnight flight from Miami to London (Virgin Atlantic) in the hopes that the kids would sleep. We arrived at the airport early, and we were able to get bulkhead seats and a toddler cot. Caleb slept about 2 hours at the start of the flight. Chloe didn't fall asleep until about 5 hours in. Once we were able to transfer her to the cot, it was much more pleasant.
From London, we flew to Luxembourg, but that was a very short flight. We flew British Airways. The security line at Heathrow is pretty insane and they are very particular about liquids. We had our Benadryl taken away here and there was NO getting around it with them.
Once we arrived in Luxembourg, we had a rental car waiting for us. We booked directly through their website (Sixt) and we rented car seats for this kids. We ended up with a BMW X3 and it was perfect for car seats, two strollers, and all our bags. Having a rental car was one of the nicest things we did on the trip. We were able to take multiple day trips, and being able to leave things in the car was nice. Plus, the kids are used to being in cars, so their behavior was usually much better in the car than in other settings.
We took a train from Luxembourg to Paris, and that was pretty fun, too. However, France's transit workers were on strike so our first train got cancelled. We were able to rebook, thankfully, but the train was PACKED when we got on it. I would definitely recommend "splurging" for the first class train - we were able to sit at a table and had large, cushioned, comfortable chairs; and have a game plan for getting bags, kids, strollers, etc. on and off the train.
Our final flight was from Paris to Miami. We flew Air France, which has to be one of the most family/kid-friendly airlines I've been on. As soon as they noticed that we had small children at the boarding gate, they ushered us to a separate line for families. We were able to board after the first and business class passengers, which is always helpful with small kids. As soon as we were in the air, the crew handed out kids activity kits, and for the meals and snacks, kids were always served first. Their meals were really kid friendly and appropriate, too.
What Did We Learn? SO MUCH.
If you're planning an international trip with small kids, I hope this helps you!
At the start of 2019, one of the things that I promised myself, and my word of the year, was to Simplify. I didn’t realize how much of an impact that one word would make on me last year. When I decided I would simplify, I thought I would just say “no” more. And while that did happen, I also learned to say yes to the things that really mattered. I learned to simplify more than my calendar. I stopped overthinking things, too. I stopped dyeing my hair. I simplified my workflow when it came to photography. Even through my busiest season in the last few months of 2019, I never felt overwhelmed, because I kept everything so simple.
Simplifying let me set better boundaries for myself and my family. It gave me back time I didn’t know I was missing, and it allowed me to slow down some. Because I wasn’t overcommitted all the time, I was able to do the things I wanted to do, do them well, and enjoy them. By not being stretched too thin, I wasn’t always thinking about “the next thing” on the list. Sure, that happened sometimes, but way less often than it usually does. And because I wasn’t thinking about the next thing, I was able to be truly present and enjoy what I WAS doing.
I learned patience. I have always been a fairly patient person, but simplifying has taught me to be patient with myself. One decision I made that I feel has had a huge impact in areas I never thought was the decision to stop dyeing my hair. Letting my grays grow out has been a HUGE lesson in patience. While I was able to camouflage the growth a little bit with some highlights, there really is nothing that I could do to speed up the process. I have had to be okay with letting the process occur naturally. The notion of instant gratification has been ingrained in us so much in this digital age where everything is so readily available - and that just isn’t possible with this process. Unlearning the habit of instant gratification has helped me to be more selective in making purchases, in making decisions, and in rushing judgement.
We simplified things in our home - we did some major organizing, we purged, and we stopped overthinking everything. SIMPLIFY.
I had never done a word for the year, and I’m grateful I did. I’m also glad that “Simplify” was the word I chose. I think it was the perfect word to start this tradition off with, and I’m so thankful for the way it has impacted my life. And even though 2019 brought us some heartache, stress, and pain, I was able to focus on the really important things. I’m going into 2020 with a clear and resolute head, a firm idea of what I want out of the next year (even if I haven’t chosen my word just yet!), and a light heart.