Our first international trip with Benton was to France when he was 8 months old. We were anticipating dirty looks and disdain for disrupting peoples’ otherwise perfect day with a baby. Our preconceived notions about the French attitude towards touristing with a baby were very very wrong. We were welcomed with open arms, and on a few occasions, having a baby helped us get better treatment than we would have otherwise: Craig asked for a table at a restaurant and the host was pretending that he didn’t speak English and said it would be a long wait. I walked in carrying Benton, his face softened, and miraculously a table opened up and I was greeted in English.
Here are the reasons why Europe (particularly Western Europe) should be your first international destination with your baby:
Family Focused – During our first family trip, I was surprised at how it felt easier to touring around France than even touring around our home state. A big part of that is that family support is institutionalized on a national level in Europe, from parental leave to subsidized child care to more than a single 6-week 15 minute postpartum check up for a mom that just gave birth to ANOTHER HUMAN. Honestly, this didn’t even cross my mind until I could see it in action on a micro-level during our trip. Museums and tourist spots have wonderful clean and comfortable changing tables, sometimes even providing wipes. A few museums we visited in France even offered to warm up a bottle in the gift shop if we needed it. Almost every restaurant offer the same bottle warming option too. No one made us feel unwelcome or like an inconvenience for bringing our baby into their establishment.
Airport Security – Lots of European airports have separate security lines for families traveling with small children or those who need extra assistance. This means that you don’t have a business man who is a super traveler muttering under his breath about how long it takes you to get the baby out of the carrier and fold that stroller up to fit through the conveyor belt. In places that don’t have a dedicated family security lines, security will often pull you to the front if you are traveling with small children, especially if they are crying. I have experienced separate family security lines in Ireland, England, Iceland, and Germany, and I have been bumped in security lines in France, Belgium and Denmark.
Public Transportation – Just about all public transportation has dedicated space to park a stroller and specific seats for pregnant women or moms with small children. I know that plenty of places in the US have seats that are labeled for pregnant women, but the difference is that people in Europe actually give up their seats. When I was traveling alone with Benton in Amsterdam, a fellow passenger yelled at a man with a suitcase to move because he was standing in the designated stroller space on the bus. Note: the London Underground is not exactly stroller friendly. There are very few platforms with elevators and while hauling your child-filled stroller up and down the stairs is great cross-fit training, it is not exactly my favorite part of traveling. How ever, there are always people willing to help you so just ask!
Language – Most people in Western Europe, particularly those who work in hospitality, speak enough English to make you feel comfortable. You are likely already struggling to manage all the extra baby things, including a baby, so why add struggling to communicate to the list?
These are a few of the reasons we have found it so easy to travel through Europe with Benton while he was under 2 years old. Where did you take your baby on their first trip?