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:
- Osprey Atmos 50L backpack
- Camelback Hydration Pack
- Adidas Terrex GTX-R shoes
- Patagonia shoes
- Breastfeeding cover
- Ergobaby 360 baby carrier
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!