Backpacking Europe with a Baby

Posted on Posted in Travel, Trips

In October of 2015, only mere days after we closed on our rental property, we escaped for a three week backpacking adventure across Europe with our six month-old son. Our flight was paid for with miles, and we only paid for one night’s lodging. We packed everything we needed (diapers, baby clothes, wipes, all our clothes, etc.) essentially in one backpack.

Below are the countries we visited:

UK - France - Switzerland - Germany - Austria
UK – France – Switzerland – Germany – Austria
 
Gear
  • Osprey Atmos 50L backpack
  • Camelback Hydration Pack
  • Adidas Terrex GTX-R shoes
  • Patagonia shoes
  • Breastfeeding cover
  • Ergobaby 360 baby carrier
  • Headlamp
  • Daybag
All the gear and clothing essentially fit in the one Osprey 50L Backpack
All this gear and clothing we either wore or fit in our two packs.
Clothing

How did we manage to fit three weeks’ worth of clothing for three people in essentially one backpack? One word: wool. Wool is a magical material that doesn’t stink, dries super fast, regulates body heat, wicks moisture, and keeps you warm even when wet. Because of this, other than socks and underwear we just had one of each type of clothing and everything was compressible. So essentially we just had one outfit with multiple layers we would take on and off depending on the climate.

We each had:

  • Synthetic Long johns [Uniqlo HeatTech]
  • Synthetic Shirt  [Uniqlo HeatTech]
  • Merino wool sweater [Uniqlo and Costco]
  • Wool socks [Costco]
  • Synthetic underwear [Uniqlo]
  • Ultralight Down Jacket [Uniqlo and Gerry]
  • Wool hat [Costco]
  • Corduroy pants for me and jeans for her
  • Shorts

For Vailen, we just had four regular onesies, and one thick polar bear onesie. And about 10-20 diapers that we would constantly stock up on throughout the trip.

Our Travels

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Vailens first flight – NYC to London. Children under 2 are charged 10% of the fare for international flights.
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Sunmarie’s Pack – CamelBack L.O.B.O. and Vailen in an Ergobaby 360
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My Pack – all our stuff in Osprey Atmos 50L hiking bag
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Sunmarie and Vailen at Big Ben
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Classic red phone booth in London
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Dominoes delivers on scooters!
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Tricky part is getting him back in the Ergo without waking
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Vailen the Wizard
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Our train tide from London to Paris through Eurostar. It took 3 hours and cost us $80 each. Vailen was free.
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Public human-powered charging stations
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Our first home stay – Thanks, Ms. Maron!

So one way we were able to keep this trip so economical, is we stayed with friends, family, and friends of friends. Our trip was 19 days long and we only paid for one nights lodging. We brought gifts with us(small ones) that we left with each family we stayed with. Traveling this way added a lot of value to our trip, not only in the relationships that were made, but also in the richer and more authentic cultural experiences we could immerse ourselves in thanks to our hosts.

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How we usually did our laundry. Used the Laundress – Wool Shampoo as detergent. Rinse -> Detergent -> Soak -> Rinse -> Ring -> Towel Dry -> Hang Dry -> Dry and ready to use by morning.
This is all our stuff unpacked.
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Fun fact: The only sit down restaurant we ate in was in Paris.
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Escargo with Vailen as my plate.
The Canals of Paris
The Dumas Family we stayed with in Lyon, France. Wonderful food!
Switzerland – Land of Cheese!
Cobblestone village of Gruyères, Switzerland.
A real life castle in Germany
Shining Princess of Neuschwanstein Castle
Brats in Curry
Our Rental Car – Volkswagen Golf.

We decided on renting a car rather than traveling the whole trip by train. At the time (October 2015), a lot of the European train stations were overrun with Syrian refugees and we didn’t feel it was the safest option with a young baby. The rental car was paid for with the Barclay Travel Card using Travel Statement Credits. We bought a carseat for $20 off a european version of craigslist.

Our bed at a church center in Innsbruck, Austria.
Nursing with a view!

One of the main reasons we were able to travel so lightly was that Vailen was still nursing. If we had to carry around bottles with formula, I don’t think we could have traveled as lightly. A nursing cover came in handy for public places.

The beautiful mountains of Innsbruck, Austria
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A rare sighting of Vailen in his natural habitat.
Food Truck Festival! in Innsbruck, Austria.

At one point, we were enjoying a really greasy brat with Vailen in the Front Mount, and Sunmarie and I were passing the brat back and forth, taking turns eating it. Eventually, after getting several strange stares, I looked down at Vailen. His head and face were covered with gooey caramelized onions and ketchup – looked like a face out of a battlefield. Too bad I didn’t snap a pic.

The Germans and Austrians are polite people – they constantly and consistently wished us to have “good farts”.
The Hauseter Family we stayed with in Gmunden, Austria. I learned the secrets of returning life to water from Mr. Hauseter.
Hallstat, Austria reminded us of Arendelle from the movie “Frozen”.
Found who could be Vailen’s twin sis.
Sunmarie’s Austrian Relatives.
Make-Shift Crib
Vailen cutely chased the light like a cat would.
The vineyards of Austria.
Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria
Friends we stayed with for our last leg of the trip. Thanks Maria and Jan.
Back to the states with a sleepy Vailen.











 

We took the Airtrain from JFK, connected to the E-Train (subway) all the way to Port Authority, and took the bus to our home in NJ. I definitely recommend this option for anyone who needs to go get from JFK to NJ or vice versa as it’s cheaper(~$12/pp) and quicker(~1 hr) and no headaches!

 

Finances

Just like our trip to Japan from the year before, we used miles to fly for free*. For traveling to Japan, we used Chase’s United Mileage Explorer Card and for this trip, we used CITI’s American Advantage Card. My wife and I both signed up for this card so we could both get the bonus of 50,000 miles. To book a trip to Europe, it is only 40,000 miles round trip.

Bonus offer of 50,000 miles at sign up after spending $2000 in the first three months. $95 Annual fee Waived for the first year.

Unfortunately, American Airlines charges quite a lot in fees so it is not completely a free* ticket. We paid $242.40 in fees for the both of us.

Tip: If you do not have the financial IQ to pay off your credit card each and every month, you SHOULD NOT get a credit card! There is no point in getting a 2% cash back card only to pay 15% in late credit card interest payments.

For infants under two, they fly free on domestic flights. For international flights, unfortunately, airlines usually charge 10% of the economy rate for infants. So, Vailen cost us $231.50.

I recommend that if you are traveling as a couple, and are both using your own miles, that each of you book one leg of the trip for both of you. Looking at the screenshots below, Sunmarie booked both of our tickets to London. I booked both of our tickets back to the states from Austria. I recommend doing it this way, so you are on the same confirmation number, and you can guarantee that you will be on the same flight with seats next to each other as opposed to trying to book the same itinerary at the same time, which can be stressful and chaotic.

40,000 miles for two passengers to go from NYC to London. $11.20 in fees.
40,000 miles for two passengers to go from Austria to NYC. $231.20 in fees.

For the rental car, we paid $256.52 for the nine days that we had it. We did have to pay an unfortunate but unavoidable $350 fee for driving it one way from Switzerland to Austria. We got a great deal using a discount broker, Kemwel. They booked us through Europcar at a cheaper price than if we went directly to Europcar, which would have cost us over $400. I highly recommend searching for these discount brokers (we did the same thing during our honeymoon trip to Hawaii and saved about 40% there as well).

Rental Car Discount Broker

 

As mentioned before, we did stay a night in a hotel in London (expensive!) that we negotiated through Priceline. Every place else we stayed with family and friends and brought gifts (small ones) from America to leave with our hosts to show our gratitude.

We went on various trains including the Eurostar fast train from London to Paris, which cost $165 for the both of us.

Barclay Arrival+ card. $500 in Travel Credits.

We used the Barclay Arrival card to offset a lot of these travel expenses. We received $350 in travel statement credits. At the end of the trip, we accumulated $1021 on the card for various expenses (food, souvenirs, travel, etc.). We also withdrew $375 in cash.

So in total we spent $2392 out of pocket for the entire 19-day trip including all traveling and housing expenses. That’s $125/day for three people, which isn’t too shabby. This does not include the purchasing of all the gear and clothing for this trip. I was able to get the Osprey Atmos backpack at an REI garage sale for $80!

 

Lessons Learned

Taking a trip with a baby can be a risky move. Depending on the temperament of the child and your adventurous spirit as parents, it can be a terrible experience or a wonderful one. Sunmarie and I both agree that Vailen was better during the trip then he usually is at home. He loved looking out from his carrier and seeing the world and when he was tired, he would just snooze in it.

But, honestly we had no idea how it would go. We weren’t sure when we booked the tickets whether we just got ourselves into three weeks’ worth of tantrum-filled, torturous cry-fests. But we told ourselves, it’s now or never – we can either try it out and see what happens or we can be parents who forego traveling and wait for the kids to leave the nest before setting out again. Personally, I want to be constantly traveling with my kids, even when we have four little ones in tow.

The tricky part is going to be getting each one of them to carry their own backpack with everything they need. Watch out world! In a couple years, Vailen and his minions might be coming to a city near you!

 

If you  would like to read more about a specific experience or other traveling tips, post some questions below and I will update this article accordingly. Good luck and Godspeed!

 

4 thoughts on “Backpacking Europe with a Baby

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. My wife and I want to go to Iceland really badly but are terrified with our active 16 month old. I’ll definitely have to share your experience with my wife. Maybe my son would enjoy all the new sights and experiences 🙂

  2. Thank you… I am about to go to Germany with my 8.5 month old who is teething and has just started crawling! All we have is cabin luggage and I have been freaking out until someone posted this article.

    We are only going for one week. But now that Baby is eating.. he gets a whole lot messier than he was at 6 months! That said.. an extra couple of onsies wont hurt.

    You have given me some faith i might be able to do this! Thank you

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