Last week, Cameron, our new family budget travel guru, talked about his travels and gave us a preview of his upcoming columns. Continuing the family travel topic, I thought it would be great to share our next reader interview on family travel. We haven’t had an interview on the topic yet, so let me introduce Marcus and Paula, a young couple from New Zealand, who took their 10-month-old to Europe. They sat down virtually and talked about their trip, how they saved, and what it was like to travel with a baby.
Nomadic Matt: Introduce yourself to everyone!
Marcus: Paula and I are a young couple (24 and 25, respectively) lucky enough to call New Zealand home. We currently live in Auckland, where I work as a construction surveyor and Paula is a part-time occupational therapist. Our little man Cohen keeps us pretty busy, challenges us, and helps us appreciate the little things in life.
We aim to live an adventurous life, make the most of the opportunities that surround us, and lose ourselves in wonder at the extraordinary world we find ourselves in. We’re trying to fit Cohen into our camping and traveling lifestyle. Last summer, we took him (then only 10 months old) on a month-long backpacking trip through parts of Europe.
What inspired your trip to Europe?
Traveling to Europe was a dream of ours for a long time. We were motivated afresh by a trip to the Cook Islands where (because I screwed up) we had to sort out our accommodation at the last minute. We ended up at a hostel and discovered that we actually preferred the budget backpacking style of travel to the resort hopping we did for the rest of that trip!
Fast forward a year, and our dream of traveling to Europe became a recurring theme, inspiring plenty of thinking and conversations. We couldn’t ignore our dream any longer, so we bit the bullet and took off with Cohen.
How did you save for your trip?
Before having Cohen, we were working and diligently saving one income toward buying a house. We made plenty of sacrifices to make this happen, primarily by not splashing out on fancy gear and using the same rugged furniture from our student days. Realistically, though, it was relatively easy to save quickly when we both had full-time, professional jobs.
What advice on saving money do you have for others?
I think it is important to think carefully about what priorities you have in life, and be aware that it will often take significant sacrifices to make them happen. For example, at an age when many of our friends are buying houses, we took a fairly major step back from that goal by traveling overseas. We don’t regret it though, because we place a higher priority on experiencing the diverse cultures around us.
How did you stay on budget when you traveled?
We had mixed experiences with keeping to a budget while traveling in Europe. We knew that Europe isn’t the cheapest place and that traveling with a child would mean we couldn’t travel as cheaply as if we were on our own. We weren’t keen to stay at the cheapest and nastiest accommodations with a little one, and we knew that food and diapers would cost us extra.
That being said, we focused a lot on keeping our accommodation costs low by Couchsurfing in a couple of places, staying with friends of my sister, using Airbnb, and camping. We used a Eurail train pass (15 days within two months) for the bulk of our travel. I’m still undecided about whether this actually worked out cheaper than booking our own itinerary, but it was a good way to get around.
We weren’t perfect though! Spending a bit over a week in Switzerland was not a good budget decision but we don’t regret going there. We definitely didn’t budget enough for the “Swiss chocolate fund”!
What was it like traveling with a 10-month-old?
It was, without a doubt, harder than traveling solo or as a couple. At the same time, though, it was uniquely enjoyable and drew us into a number of experiences we would never have had if we hadn’t been with Cohen.
We found that traveling with an infant easily broke down a lot of the barriers between us and the locals. There was the lovely lady at the Italian campground who couldn’t speak a word of English, but just loved Cohen and enjoyed holding him as we awkwardly tried to sign how old our bambino was. She gave Cohen a little Italian picture book when we left. There were countless conversations with locals on public transport, as Cohen shamelessly tried to woo them over by smiling and waving at them.
We take great pride in the fact that we managed to “pull it off.” We still love the reactions we get from people when we tell them we’ve been to Europe with Cohen. Although he won’t remember any of it, it will be fun to tell Cohen about how he first tasted chocolate in Switzerland and gelato in Italy. We still fight the travel bug and can’t wait to travel back to some of these places when our kids have grown older. Now that we have traveled with a 10-month-old we feel like any other travel we do will be quite relaxing!
What advice do you have for other couples with a young baby?
You can (and should) still pack light when you have an infant. We initially took two packs (one of which was a baby carrier) and a daypack. After only a couple of days in Amsterdam, however, we realized we had too much stuff and posted a box home so we could jettison the daybag! We operated on having one pack for both Paula’s and my gear, and a pack for all Cohen’s gear (including diapers, clothing, bedding, etc.).
I would recommend being more proactive about planning out accommodation in advance. I had romantic ideas of just winging things and arranging accommodation as we went. In reality, it’s not a nice feeling when you have a baby to look after and you don’t know where you will be staying that night. It may feel adventurous as a single person who can crash in any dingy old hostel room, but it feels sickeningly irresponsible when you are traveling as a family! This alone meant we spent too much time stressing in Internet cafés and not enough time enjoying the towns we were in.
It’s important when traveling with a young baby to try and preserve some of the routines as best you can. We intentionally introduced a particular bedtime teddy to Cohen in the months preceding our trip, so that Cohen would have a familiar toy when we traveled. We also tried to keep his bedtimes relatively consistent (as best we could) in all the places we stayed.
What was the hardest part about your trip?
Without a doubt the hardest part was not being able to experience the nightlife in the cities we visited. As I mentioned, we tried to keep Cohen’s routine as regular as possible… and this meant putting him to bed around 7:00 most nights. With Cohen in bed we couldn’t do much other than sit around in the hotel room, reading books and playing cards. This is another instance where Couchsurfing came in handy. Although still house-bound in the evenings, we could still take in the culture by enjoying late evenings chatting with our hosts.
As I’ve mentioned, having a baby in tow led to many easy openings into friendly exchanges with the locals. This meant we actually found it easier to engage with the culture than we would have without Cohen.
Having Cohen with us also had advantages when sometimes we were called to the front of the queue, and when dealing with customer services staff. People generally seemed more inclined to help when we were clearly a couple of lost tourists with a baby.
Do you have any parting advice?
If you’re traveling without children, make sure you enjoy the little things like being able to watch a whole, uninterrupted, movie on a long-haul flight, being being able to eat meals at your own pace, without having to take turns watching the other person eat while keeping a child from throwing food everywhere. Or walking out of your chosen accommodation on a whim, without worrying you’ve forgotten something important like diapers or wipes. Perhaps the best thing about traveling with an infant meant we got a fresh appreciation of the simple pleasures we took for granted as a young couple.
It may seem daunting to travel with a baby but as Cameron and now Marcus has shown us, it’s possible. Stop waiting, start planning, and go. Your baby isn’t getting any younger!
Become the Next Success Story
One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way, but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world, and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that it’s within your grasp to reach your travel goals.
We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:
We all want to travel more.
Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling — whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.
Remember, tomorrow may never come, so don’t wait.