How to travel solo in Europe with a toddler
We meet a lot of inspiring travel families on Instagram, but we stopped short when we read Lydia Blanchard's post about taking her toddler to Europe for 25 days — by herself
. While pregnant.
We reached out to blogger behind My Adventure Gang
right away, and she agreed to share her story with Parennial Travel. We hope you're as inspired as we are! Take it away, Lydia.
Parennial Travel: What made you decide to travel solo with your toddler for the first time?
Lydia Blanchard: It felt like the stars aligned for this crazy trip and I took the leap of faith that my toddler and I would be OK traveling together for 25 days alone. My husband and I had just started to plan for a "gap year" traveling when a job opportunity came up that he knew he wanted to pursue. If he got the job, he would want to commit to it for at least a few years, which would push off any long-term traveling. I was in the process of selling my small business, which had us thinking about longer term travel in the first place. The thought of traveling alone with my toddler for a few weeks came up as a consolation prize for pushing off any longer term family travel for a few years. I was also pregnant with our second child and really wanted to spend some concentrated alone time with the toddler while he was an only child. I was in that 2nd trimester sweet spot when we had family friends offer to host us in London AND received a Scott's Cheap Flights email about a great Boston to London deal, so I booked the tickets three weeks before we left.
PT: Where did you go, and what was the experience like?
LB: Over 25 days, my son and I visited London, Copenhagen, Cologne, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges. We also did a day trip to the Viking town Roskidel when we were in Denmark, a day trip to the tulip gardens at Keukenhof when we were in The Netherlands and a day trip to Ghent when we were in Belgium. Traveling alone with my toddler was one of the most challenging and most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. He is generally a happy guy who can get excited about anything, which makes him such a fun travel companion. We would point out all the trucks, birds, puddles and other everyday things that 2-year-old toddlers love as we walked the cobblestone streets of new-to-us cities. And we would also have profound moments of talking about what he saw in abstract art in the museums we visited almost daily. There is something freeing about traveling with a toddler because almost anything can be a game and they have so few expectations if you keep them in the dark about your plans.
PT: How did it differ from traveling as a family?
LB: Before I left, I was so nervous that I'd feel lonely or really miss adult travel companionship. I was surprised at how freeing it was to travel with no other adults whose expectations and desires I had to consider in planning a trip. Yes, I know I had to deal with the expectations and desires of a 2-year-old, but that meant if I wanted to scrap most of our plans in Brussels and just eat fries and Liege waffles in the Grand Palace square for the day, it was not a hard sell. It is definitely harder not having parenting back-up while traveling, and I was ready to have adult conversations by the time we got home, instead of just narrating the world to my toddler. As long as we had enough snacks and could spend some time looking for police cars, even if it was just while we walked to our train stop, my toddler was content. I was traveling without expectations to do and see it all because I knew that was impossible. It is so special to see the world through your child's eyes and by traveling alone I was able to slow down and really take him in while he took in the world.
PT: What are some things you've learned from traveling solo with your kiddo?
LB: I learned that I am a fully capable, independent parent but that I very much prefer parenting with my husband. My just-turned-2-year-old came home speaking in full sentences with more autonomy that I could have imagined because he spent over three weeks with uninterrupted, undivided adult attention. I learned that I have no problem narrating all of my actions and decisions to a toddler, but I will never achieve Morgan Freeman-level narration capabilities. I would do it again in a heartbeat and would recommend that every parent carve out time for one-on-one adventures with their toddlers (no phones, siblings or partners) even if it is just an afternoon at a park.
PT: Any memorable mistakes you've made along the way?
LB: I missed our train or bus stop on more than one occasion, but one of the great things about traveling with a 2-year-old is that they don't know when things go wrong if you can keep your cool. On our initial overnight flight to London, I didn't immediately put cartoons in front of him since it was bedtime and I naively thought he might go to sleep. Boy, was that a mistake. He was maniac-style awake until about an hour before we landed which made me seriously question my decision to take this crazy trip.
PT: What tips do you have for parents who may want to try traveling solo with their toddler?
LB: Start small. Take a day trip to somewhere new to both of you. Get your child curious and excited to experience things they have never done before. Know your child, but be willing to push their boundaries and yours. It is so easy to fall into a routine and think that disaster will result if anything in that routine changes. You might be surprised at how adaptable your child is given the right opportunities. Pack an extra change of clothes for yourself, not just your toddler, in your carryon because you never know what will happen. If (when) something goes wrong, they usually won't freak out if you don't freak out. Most importantly: You can never bring enough snacks! They can't whine when their mouth is full. Oh yeah, HAVE FUN! Time moves quickly, particularly these early childhood years and toddler-hood is so chaotic that it is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos. Stop and smell the roses and embrace the toddler chaos and treat every day like an adventure.