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Guest post written by S. Lebouthillier.
You can follow along on all their travels with baby on Instagram here.
"Well I guess Your Traveling Days Are Over."
Sound familiar? I started hearing it the moment I announced that I was pregnant. In our 8 years together, 5 married, my husband and I had travelled to 18 different countries. We had hiked the Inca trail, driven the icefields parkway in Banff, taken a microlight flight over Victoria Falls in Zambia, and spent a summer working at a hospital in Zimbabwe. Anyone who knew us knew that we valued travel and saw our growing family as a sign that we were going to slow down. But there we were, 3 months after the birth of our daughter, planning a trip to Greece with our friends and their 4 month old. We felt equal parts crazy and brave – but in hindsight it was the perfect time, and the perfect place, to initiate ourselves into traveling as a family.
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Our daughter was exclusively breastfed (so we didn’t have concerns about water quality for bottles), healthy and not colicky. She had had her 2 month vaccinations and we consulted with our pediatrician prior to leaving. This is not to say I didn’t have concerns. Our daughter spit up – A LOT – and I worried about how much I would have to pack to survive 2 weeks away from home.
She also nursed every 2 hours during the day. I was concerned that I would be spending so much time breastfeeding that we wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the sights. All that being said, 3 month olds are portable, not eating solids, quite happy to be held and carried and sleep often (3-4 naps of varying lengths during the day makes for lots of time for sightseeing). Every age and stage has its challenges when it comes to traveling so why not start early?
We had two weeks in Greece. The first we spent island hopping – starting in Santorini before heading to Naxos and Mykonos. We then spent a few days in Athens before renting a car and heading north to Delphi and Meteora. We chose to start on the islands to give ourselves a relaxing place to deal with jet lag (more on dealing with jet lag later!).
We flew direct from Toronto to Athens. Our carry on had lots of diapers and wipes, 2 extra outfits for baby and one for mom, receiving blankets, a swaddle, a few toys and a structured carrier. When we boarded the plane we introduced ourselves to the flight attendants and asked if it was possible to be moved where there was a free seat between us. While it isn’t always possible, we were very lucky that it was on both of our long haul flights. It gave us extra space and made for a perfect little bed for baby. Between the extra seat, the carrier, and sitting with mom and dad, the 10 hour flight actually didn’t feel that long (honestly!).
We had a short layover in Athens before taking a one way flight on a discount airline to Santorini.
We arrived at our destination in early afternoon. We put the babies down for a nap for an hour or two. We spent the rest of the day doing everything we could to keep the babies awake, even though they protested, until their regular bed time (around 9:30 for us). In the end jet lag + overtired baby = a rough bed time. Our babe finally fell asleep close to midnight. Every night bed time shifted about 30 minutes earlier until we settled at around 10:30. We embraced the European style of eating late at night and enjoyed sleeping in a little later than usual. Subsequently, we didn’t plan anything in the morning so that we could sleep as long as the babies did and enjoy a leisurely breakfast – most breakfast buffets were served until at least 10:30 or 11 a.m. anyway.
With the exception of Athens, where we booked an AirBnB at the foot of the Acropolis (location, location, location!), we stayed in hotels. To make things as easy as possible, we made sure that all hotels included breakfast and had a pool. Being able to enjoy a breakfast at the hotel and get ourselves and the babies ready for the day at our own pace made the day that much more enjoyable. No one wants to start their day “hangry” or walking all over town looking for a café or restaurant that’s open first thing in the morning.
We researched in advance how we were going to get from the airport or ferry port to our hotel and when possible, emailed the hotel in advance to arrange transportation. We also emailed to ask that a crib be put aside, if possible. Alerting hotels that we were coming with infants also meant we were typically put in rooms further away from other guests. This worked in everyone’s favour.
We brought one large suitcase and a carry-on each. In our luggage we had clothing, bathing suits, hats and sunscreen. We also brought a Kidco PeaPod for baby to sleep in, a sound machine (in hindsight we should have just used an app on our phones), receiving blankets, diapers and wipes (enough for the whole trip, though you could purchase at your destination), and a first aid kit. Our stroller, a Mountain Buggy Nano, was the perfect stroller for traveling with a little one. It reclines for sleeping, folds up so small it can be considered a carry-on, has a large canopy, a 5 point harness and a large basket underneath. We brought a head/neck support pillow to make it more comfortable for baby to sleep in it.
We didn’t bring a car seat. Instead we used public transit whenever possible or taxis, where car seats aren’t required by law. For safety, we always wore a seatbelt around the adult and carried the infants in the structured carrier while in the taxi. While not ideal, this was an arrangement that we were comfortable with. We rented a car seat from the car rental company for the road trip portion of the trip.
We intended to take public transit to the airport from downtown Athens but a public service strike forced us to take the taxi instead. In hindsight, I would recommend it anyway for the peace of mind of not having to worry about the logistics of public transit, luggage, baby, etc.
The Fun Stuff
Two weeks flew by! We did and saw way more than we thought we would and felt that traveling with our daughter opened up more conversations with locals. It forced us to slow down and take in each site for longer than we might have otherwise. Each day we picked one thing that we wanted to do and considered anything else a bonus. If you want to see how we spent our time in Greece, read on! If not, skip to the bottom for a few tips that we learned from our trip and how you can prepare to head out on your first family vacation!
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We stayed in Kamari, which was outside of the main tourist area, allowing us to get a beautiful hotel with breakfast and a stunning pool for a really affordable rate. We were also a short walk from restaurants, corner stores and a block from the city bus stop.
We had 2 full days in Santorini:
On the first day, we took the city bus (it was an air conditioned coach bus) to Oia and Fira to wander the narrow streets and enjoy breathtaking views of the sea. We made the mistake of bringing a stroller, save yourself the headache and just use a carrier – there are so many stairs that we spent more time carrying the stroller than pushing it!
On Day 2, we wanted to see the sunset but heard that you have to snag a spot in Fira hours before the actual sunset. We weren’t interested in doing that, knowing that the buses would be packed and we would have potentially tired and cranky babies on our hands. Instead, we booked a sunset boat tour through our hotel that left in the early afternoon and included a hike on an active volcano, swimming in the hot springs, and dinner. We only did half the hike (it was mid-day and there was minimal shade) and if you are traveling alone only one of you will be able to swim in the hotsprings at a time, but it was a great experience nonetheless. The boat had lots of space and shade, the food was fantastic, the sunset was beautiful, it was relaxing and our tour guide and fellow passengers couldn’t get enough of the babies. We had so many people offering to hold them while we ate that we almost had to create a sign up sheet!
We arrived in Naxos in the afternoon, after a morning spent by the pool in Santorini, and were able to walk to our hotel from the ferry port. We spent a full day exploring Naxos including the beautiful portara, a 2500 year old marble structure that was the entrance to an ancient temple. The portara faces Delos, the birthplace of Appolo, and has a beautiful view of Naxos town. Naxos was incredibly walkable and a great place to use the stroller. The waterfront is flat and while other areas of the town are quite hilly, they are still mostly accessible.
The next day was spent at the beach, just steps from our hotel. The water temperature was perfect, the bottom was sandy and the entry was shallow for quite a distance. It would be a perfect place to bring toddlers and older children who want to spend a few days soaking up the sun, building sandcastles and swimming! We definitely wished we could have stayed on Naxos longer. The food was super affordable, our hotel had a beautiful pool and everything was walking distance, including the ferry port. It also felt more authentic than Santorini or Mykonos.
We spent 3 nights in Mykonos. We stayed a 15 minute walk outside of “downtown” Mykonos but the walk along the busy road was a little nerve racking. We spent a day walking around Mykonos, poking into stores and eating gelato. We also rented an ATV one day – another advantage of traveling with another couple – and we took turns touring the island. Otherwise, we spent time relaxing by the pool. Mykonos was stroller friendly, but, depending on the time of year, it can be very busy and the streets are quite narrow.
We booked more expensive tickets on the ferry to Athens, since it was 4 hours in length. It gave us access to a lounge area where the babies could be on the floor and we could safely leave our luggage. We took a taxi to our AirBnB, which was located next door to the Acropolis museum with a beautiful view of the Acropolis. We loved the central location and the convenience of having an apartment (including a washing machine!).
We got up early in the morning to make sure we were able to get to the Acropolis before the crowds. Despite getting there within an hour of opening we still found a huge line. We stood in line briefly, but “families come first in Greece!” a local said and dragged us to the front of the line and ushered us in.
A carrier for the Acropolis is a must! There are lots of stairs and the ground is incredibly uneven at the top. There are shady spots to stop and feed babies but I would recommend going as early as possible to avoid peak sun and peak crowds! Because of our early start to the day we were able to squeeze in a trip to the Panathenaic Stadium. As an Olympic junkie this was a highlight for me! The audio tour was fantastic and the site was stroller friendly (save for a couple of stairs to get up to where the poster/torch gallery was).
Acropolis Museum: This is another MUST SEE!! I would recommend going to see it before you go to the Acropolis site, if possible, to learn about the restoration process and see some of the original artifacts. It definitely gave us amazing perspective of what kind of place the Acropolis was in Athen’s heyday! We went as soon as it opened in the morning timing it with baby’s first nap (in the stroller). The museum is completely accessible and has a nursing room and accessible washrooms with change tables.
Delphi and Meteora
WARNING: road trip with 2 infants at your own discretion. We didn’t think this through and 4 hours in the car around witching hour with two infants who hate their car seats … let’s just say I’ve had better days. The drive was long with lots of tears (from the infants and maybe a few from the adults). In hindsight, we can laugh about it but the drive was a definite low light. Once we made it to our destination though we were rewarded with spectacular views and wonderful sights.
Delphi itself was not stroller friendly but the museum was and with a parking lot nearby you could easily run back to grab your stroller if need be. We walked from our hotel and so relied on the carrier. We walked the historical site first (timing it with the baby’s nap again) and then explored the indoor museum afterwards as an escape from the heat. Unfortunately, there was no change tables or nursing rooms. The staff was accommodating and kind but it wasn’t the easiest spot to change or feed the babies. We spent a day here before heading to Meteora the next morning.
In Meteora, we decided that even though it might be easier to take the bus up to the monasteries (a city bus goes by every 30 minutes, stopping at all 5 monasteries) we would hike 45 minutes straight uphill with the babies in the carrier (all the walking made us feel confident in our fitness level, I guess). It was a tough hike but the path was shaded, well marked and totally safe. We picked 2 monasteries to see at the recommendation of the hotel staff. We also asked for a recommendation for the best place to watch the sunset – having a car gave us the flexibility to do this without booking through a tour group.
There you have it! 2 weeks in Greece with an infant. I am not kidding when I say it was one of the best trips we have ever done. We moved more slowly and spent more time taking in the sights and sounds than ever before. We met so many amazing people people and had conversations with locals and fellow tourists that we would never have had otherwise. Greeks LOVE families and babies and we felt the love everywhere we went. We had hotel staff hold our babies while we ate breakfast, surprise us with plates and cutlery when we got take out, waiters who made us feel welcome despite our fussy babies and guides who made sure that we were taken to the front of the line at attractions. In Santorini, the hotel staff even made a special trip to the airport to get our stroller for us (the story of the misplaced stroller that I will save for another day). So go do it! Take the plunge and book your first trip with baby – you won’t regret it.
Practice Makes Perfect: We wanted baby to sleep in the stroller and carrier so we practiced at home. We focused on doing at least one nap of the day while we were out for a walk or at the grocery store. That way it wasn’t a surprise to our daughter that she would be expected to fall asleep in a loud, bright or busy place when we were traveling. We did the same with overnight sleep. By the time she was 3 months old she was used to sleeping in different places – we had visited family out of town, put her down for naps in the pack and play in the basement and in her bassinet in our bedroom.
Be Flexible: You may see lots one day and then spend the next day relaxing by the pool. Traveling from one city to another might take more time than you’re used to and you may not get those night shots of the city that you were hoping to get. Bring some cards or games to play in the evening, a good book to read and enjoy moving a little more slowly.
Feed often: Greece in June is HOT! Remember that nursing is keeping your little one hydrated. We stopped to feed the babies more often than we might have at home. We also wet their hats and splashed water on their legs to keep them cool. We tried to stay in the shade when possible, especially during midday.
Budget Differently: We spent a little more on hotels so that we could have breakfast included, a pool to swim in and a convenient location for sightseeing. For us it was worth the extra money to have less logistics to figure out at our destination. We also spent 10 Euro having laundry done for us – something we had never done on a trip before. It wasn’t the most “fun” money we have spent on a trip and pretty expensive to have one bag of laundry washed and dried for you, but it saved us spending a day at the laundromat or carrying around smelly clothes and receiving blankets.
Related: Essential Baby Travel Gear