Traveling With a Baby in Italy

Several months ago, my wife and I completed a two-week trip to Italy with our then seven month-old son, Felix, and for the most part, it was great! Before we left, though, we looked around for guidance and didn’t find much that lined up with our idea of a vacation: a “last” trip before Felix could walk (let alone express an opinion about our itinerary), where we’d take a few day trips, walk a lot, and experience life in a new city or two in addition to checking off a few postcard sites on our lists.

So I wanted to post about some of what worked, and what didn’t work, for us. My TL;DR advice is that you should absolutely travel with your infant, too—I treasure my memories of this trip more each day. That said, every baby (and every family) is different, so I hope my notes will help you to draw your own conclusions.

A quick itinerary outline:

  • We flew in to Florence, taking the tourist bus in to the city.  We stayed in an AirBnB for 10 days.
  • We went to Assisi for one night—and we actually would’ve liked more time there.  We stayed outside of the city, which was kind of a pain: we needed a ride from the train station, which my Italian (and our host’s English) was only barely good enough to arrange, and of course there was no infant car seat, which I guess is legal (?) but obviously isn’t ideal. Stay in the old city itself, and you can take a tourist bus to and from the train station.
  • We stayed in Lucca for one night, spur of the moment, mostly because the focaccia place I wanted to go to was closed on the day we arrived. No, I’m not kidding, and yes, Forno a Vapore Amedeo Giusti was worth it.
  • We took a day trip to Venice: the earliest train up in the morning, and the last train back at night.
  • Those trips were all during our ten days in Florence.  So we double-paid for the Assisi and Lucca overnights, but staying that long got us a discount, and it was great to be able to leave most of our stuff at “home” for those short trips.
  • Then we took the train down to Rome and stayed in Testaccio (a short walk from the Roma Ostiense train station) for three nights before flying home from Fiumicino.  Testaccio is not a short walk from the Pantheon or St. Peters, but there are buses, and the walk to the Forum / Palatine Hill / Colosseum area isn’t so bad.  Testaccio is very close to the Pyrimide metro stop, so you have convenient access to commuter trains to the airport and to Ostia Antica (which was another highlight of the trip).

 

With that out of the way, on to the details:

  • As far as we saw, yes, Italians love babies. Ergo / Baby Bjorn -style carriers are relatively rare there, so a baby in one of those is extra adorable (and a little amusing), especially when a man is wearing it.
  • Babies are a great low-pressure conversation starter, and I had lots of fun using my pidgin Italian to answer questions about how old Felix was, where we were from, etc, etc.
  • The flights didn’t go all that well for us, because he didn’t sleep that much.  But we’re still glad that, when we checked in for the intercontinental flights, we asked for a bulkhead row with a little crib.  This is free, and if nothing else it gives you some extra room and place to put your baby even if she’s not sleeping, so do it!
  • We didn’t bring a stroller, and we didn’t regret it.  Spaces are tight, roads are bumpy, and you can split carrying duties.  Our baby was already used to falling asleep in our Ergo.
  • Part of what made 7 months an ideal age is that our son was still breastfeeding, almost exclusively.  So other than the occasional banana, we didn’t worry about finding appropriate food for him. Some reading I found online made me a little worried about how Italians would react to public nursing, but everyone was friendly and accommodating about it. My wife fed Felix in church squares, art galleries, ancient ruins, restaurants, trains, alleyways, etc, etc, etc.
  • Speaking of not being overly concerned with modesty, we didn’t find a whole lot changing tables in bathrooms, so that list also describes places where we changed Felix. The worst was in a traincar entryway (between compartments) on the way home from Venice, which we later learned was unnecessary: the bathrooms in the first class car at the head of the train has a changing table, and yes, 2nd class babies can still use it.
  • Although “everyone was cool with the baby” is the general theme, we were actually turned away from a restaurant. I can’t say I blame them, but after that we really scaled back our food ambitions. We tried to eat our special meals at lunch, when restaurants were a little emptier and a little more understanding.  Felix was just starting to get hard to handle at meals, though, so even that didn’t help much. In retrospect, we might have been better off just feeding him some real food to keep him happy and occupied—we didn’t do that because we were taking the injunctions to introduce foods slowly and selectively pretty seriously.  Two of our lunches we basically ate in shifts, alternating “hang outside with the baby” duty with “eating lunch”.  I still can’t believe that the wonderful people at Pallotta, in Assisi, not only put up with us, but were also incredibly kind about it.  Their food was one of the highlights of our trip.
  • Given that, very few of our dinners were in restaurants.  Instead, we got food to-go; cobbled together lunch-style meals of bread, cheese, and produce; and cooked at home.  We were definitely glad that we rented a place with a kitchen.
  • We did not rent a place with a crib, and that was OK; instead, we made him a little nest out of pillows and blankets. He didn’t sleep all that well, but then again that wasn’t unusual for him. In Assisi we had to all share a bed, which wasn’t a restful night; in Lucca he slept on the second of two beds, walled in by pillows; and in Rome (in Testaccio) they had a pack and play -style crib.
  • Our place in Florence was nice, but didn’t really have a great hanging-out area. In some ways, maybe that was a beneficial extra nudge to get out of the house. On the other hand, most of our nights we spent “in”, so in hindsight maybe we would’ve spent a little more for a balcony with a beautiful view…
  • We cloth diaper at home, but bought disposables (pannolini—”little cloths”) while we were there.  Our AirBnB had a (slow) washing machine, but come on, it’s a vacation!
  • We packed very light and didn’t regret it. For Felix, we had one warm and one cool sleep sack, a quilt, and a few toys, in addition to a few outfits.  We brought a breast pump and a bottle but I don’t think we ever used them.
  • Most of our trip was walking around, which was tiring, but left us free to stop for food / diapers / nursing / playtime at our leisure.  Honestly, our museum visits were more exhausting than the wandering.
  • It was great, but it was tiring, and we often slept poorly, so we had to preserve our sanity with the occasional solo expedition.  Often I’d leave early in the morning to walk around with Felix while my wife caught up on the sleep he’d denied her the night before.

I’ll leave it at that, but you’re welcome to comment if you have any questions I might be able to answer.  It was a challenging trip, but also an incredibly rewarding one, and I can already tell that I won’t remember the hard parts.  If you’re on the fence about traveling with a ~7 month-old, stop reading and go book some tickets!

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