C.H. asks from Portland, OR on August 28, 2010
Traveling to Greece with an Infant
My husband and I are planning our son's first trip to Greece. It's also my husband's first trip. I used to go as a child a lot, since my family is Greek, and it was never stressful, but now I find myself really stressing out. It's unpleasant because I love Greece so much and I don't want to have a horrible vacation. But all the responsibilities of traveling with a child and a husband who doesn't speak Greek and has never been abroad are starting to overwhelm me. So I thought I'd come here for travel tips and advice.
My first and biggest concern is the car seat situation. Honestly, I don't even think people in Greece use infant car seats! I'm bringing mine of course, but I'm terrified that the taxi driver from the airport is going to think I'm loony bins and they may not even want to give us a ride if it means a lengthy car seat installation process. Then, we have to take a bus from Athens to the family's village, which is even more terrifying because buses don't have seat belts, so I won't even be able to use my car seat. I'm very concerned about safety.
Then, of course, I'm wondering what to pack for an infant who's going to be away from home for two weeks and traveling on a plane. Is there anything I shouldn't forget? Having family there makes a big difference. I don't have to worry about bathtubs or cribs...that's all taken care of. I'm not planning to pack a stroller even though my seven month old son is obviously not walking yet. Is that a mistake? I've started to make my packing checklist, so any advice you guys have will be much appreciated.
Finally, have any of you ever been to Greece with an infant or unprepared, American husband? If so, is there any advice you have for me?
So What Happened?™
I just got back from our Greece vacation and I wanted to follow up with this thread since so many of you took the time to give me advice - all of which was great. On your advice, I did take both my car seat and an umbrella stroller, along with my Snugli chest carrier. The vacation was great (all except for the return trip, which was a fiasco of astronomical proportions). My baby was so incredibly good over the whole entire journey that I was completely shocked. He even learned how to sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time!
Greece is a great place to take a baby, but it has its own challenges. On the positive side, EVERYONE there loves babies, even young men who in the states would never dream of cooing at a baby on the subway. People scream at anyone in the metro seats to give up their chair as soon as they notice that a mother is standing up. 25-year-old men on the long-distance bus begged to play with the baby for half an hour at a time, giving me a much-needed break.
If I had it to do over again, there are a few things I'd do differently, for any of you who might make a trip to Europe. First off, I would avoid France (specifically Air France) like the Black Plague. I won't go into that though. Secondly, I brought WAY too many diapers and I over-packed on his clothes. I shouldn't have brought anything but onesies. I had read online that diapers were difficult to find in Greece, that they were really expensive, and that they were of low quality. I should have remembered while reading that information, that I use the cheapest diapers I can buy anyway and they do just fine. It never got cold enough for me to use the sweater I brought "just in case" much less any of the pants I brought. I brought way too many snacks, but on the flip side of that, I didn't make any effort to avoid feeding him foods that I would never have dreamed of feeding him at home. He ate about a million French fries.
The stroller didn't really help me all that much. It turns out he hates sitting in strollers, which I thought was going to improve a little bit for some unknown reason, and it didn't. He still screamed until he was taken out of the stroller many times, making it a spare item to drag through subways and streets. And it never came back to us from being gate-checked a few times, meaning that I didn't have it while running through airports trying to make connections. But I'm not unhappy that I brought it. It did serve a purpose.
The car seat was useful for my personal sanity, but I did end up having to drive him a few places without it. I suppose I could have put my foot down, but the thing was just such a pain in the ass to carry around. My brother didn't bring his kids' car seats at all and he benefited from having a much lighter load of luggage than I had. I did get flack off taxi cab drivers about it a few times. Once, I was trying to install the seat and realized that the cab we'd been given (out of a long line of cabs) didn't have rear seatbelts! I looked at him and yelled, "you don't have seatbelts???" and he said, "You don't need them!" Shoot.
While I said at first that Greece is a great place to take a baby, there are some notable reasons that it's not so great. First of all, almost no restaurants have high chairs. I would have added a portable high chair to my packing list if I had been expecting this. Also, almost no place has a changing table. You'd better be prepared to change a diaper on a bathroom floor or in a field, or wherever the poop happens, because you're not going to have any convenient, raised option.
J.C. answers from Anchorage on August 30, 2010
I have not been to Greece, but I did travel around France, Ireland, the UK, and Germany with my infants. I preferred a backpack carrier to a stroller, many places in Europe are not stroller friendly. Bring and use the car seat when you can, try not to worry about the bus, if it was not safe it would not run so well. When packing for the plane, bring at least 2 changes of cloths for the infant, and than whatever diapers and the such. Ask for a bulk head seat, that way you will have more room since you will have a lap infant. Relax, and have a great time.
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J.R. answers from Miami on August 29, 2010
Hi C., My friend just came back from Greece. Some tips from her:
1. SUNBLOCK and HATS!!!! Even a bathing suit that covers your LO's body. the Mediterranean sun is strong and not like the US.
3. Ergo baby carrier is awesome.
4. favorite baby cereal.
5. mild baby soap.
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T.S. answers from Eugene on August 30, 2010
It's been a very long time, but your question brought up so many memories I had to answer!
I was 11 years old when I was in Greece, and that was in 1973. Yes, we had an infant--my baby brother who had been born a few months before in Saudi Arabia, where my family was living for a couple of years. I wouldn't say my parents were "unprepared", given that we had, at that point, spent a year abroad, but none of us spoke Greek and none of us had ever been in Greece before. Also, we had certainly never experienced travelling with an infant in a foreign country before this trip.
We travelled in our brand new Volkswagon camper--yes, it was a beautiful '73 camper! Wish I still had it now! It was well before anyone ever even thought of carseats, certainly not the obsessiveness we all have with the illusion of "perfect safety" we all are inundated with now days. My baby brother travelled in what we called "the baby box", a bright red vinyl travel bed with handles that we would strap to the seat behind the driver's seat in the camper. We travelled the Autobahn and all the tiny, winding ancient roads of Europe with this arrangement and everyone was just fine.
The one thing I would absolutely recommend is a good stroller. It was the Europeans who invented the "umbrella" stroller--back when I was pushing my baby brother around Athens, these were a brand new thing. My mother said over and over how grateful she was that she had one! Make sure whatever you bring (or buy there) is lightweight, easy to fold and carry with one hand--important if you are juggling an infant, a diaper bag, and public transportation all at once--and very compact when folded. Also look for wheels that will manage cobblestone streets!
As far as your husband is concerned, I'm sure you are feeling like he is vastly unprepared because you speak Greek and have been there many times and he has not, but believe me, American tourists manage to navigate Greece all the time--it is a beautiful and open country, very ready to receive Americans who speak only English. It was in the 70's and I'm sure it has gotten even better since then. We did fine and not one of us spoke a word of Greek--until the college students on the beach at Alexandroupolis taught my brother and I to say "Opah!!" at a local wine festival.
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A.P. answers from Eugene on August 30, 2010
I take my son on the city bus quite frequently and they don't have seat belts or anything like that and he does fine. It's certainly not ideal, but I (maybe just for my sanity) that busses are designed in a way that keeps them from needing seat belts (probably a delusion, but, I know when I was a kid school busses didn't have seat belts). Also, as someone who traveled to Greece as a novice, I loved it and didn't have any real problems...your husband will be fine as long as you don't abandon him somewhere :).
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L.G. answers from Los Angeles on August 29, 2010
Take a front front/back carrier!
My 'super international' traveling friends bought a car seat/stroller combo - it was a bit odd looking and sits low, but they loved it and felt so safe. I don't think they used the car seat in the busses...but they did in the taxi (love that it is a Greek word!)
My 'medicine bag' was always my largest bag. I just always felt comfortable with meds I was familiar with and using my own thermometer. You can buy clothes there if you didn't pack enough!
Oh and I traveled with Dr. Sears "The Baby Book". It has a whole section on illnesses treatment. I was thankful to have it when we were on a car trip and my little one got roseola! I was able to diagnose and not freak out! It IS a big book though...
Hand sanitizer for the flight and wipes. I always wiped down the whole seat and tray areas that baby could touch.
OH - ASK your pediatrician to write out a prescription for ear drops ahead of the flight and fill it. That way if there is any problem with pressure/pain from the flight you already have the cure !!!!! We always had them and only used them once - oh how grateful I was.
You and your husband can focus on the positives - literally decide to focus on the positives. Just say it out loud and write it on a sticky in the bathroom mirror before you go - THIS TRIP IS AWESOME, WE ARE HAVING THE BEST TIME. WE'VE NEVER BEEN TAKEN CARE OF LIKE THIS!!!! but before you leave! :-)
At 7 months I recall my kids grooving on those spinning light torches/wands, definitely a mood changer if things are going sour, but switch it for another favorite as soon as you can so it doesn't lose it's 'charm'. You want to have a well stocked bag of tricks and treats for the travel portion. No holds barred, bring some sweets and FAVORITE goodies. New to them (quiet) toys are always good - they will 'last' longer if needed.
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S.T. answers from Portland on August 30, 2010
We just came back from a 6 wk trip to Spain & Morocco with our 14 month old son. I had the same concerns you're having but in the end I just had to adjust to new ways of doing things while keeping baby as safe as possible. Mainly, like others have suggested, I recommend that you do bring a light weight stroller. Just be sure it has an umbrella and some space for storing things. It does come very handy when walking. You do have to make sure that airlines give you a tag when you check it in at the gate. We lost one in the past. The ergo baby carrier was a life safer as well, although in very hot days, we were hesitant to use it. We did always carried it with the stroller for baby to nap in it if he wished. One more very important suggestion is to take lots of baby food for when you're on the road. Babies R'US has some pouches of food and fruit that was way easier to carry without the fear of it breaking. You may just not find what baby likes in Greece or the selections might be very limited as I found out in Spain. Of course it's best to give baby home-cooked food but it's not always practical to carry it with you, especially in warmer weather. As far as riding in cars without a car seat, we just had to accept it and hold our son as tight as possible. Often many family members came in the same car and there was just not enough space for a car seat. What we did do whenever possible and practical was to take trains or buses. Do know that many airlines now count a car seat as a piece of luggage. Also, if you request a bulkhead seat you may need to pay extra, as we did. Just check the airline policies on this. It was worth it for the extra space but the problem was that we had a big screen right in front of us. You may want to check the type of plane you'll be traveling in. Overall, we had a good experience because I am still breastfeeding and this came sooo handy to calm our son when he got restless. For your husband, just be sure to to prepare him in intercultural skills. I find that a lot of patience and appreciation of others' customs is key to having a good experience abroad. And remind him when things don't go as expected that this will only be a temporary situation. Anyhow, hope these tips help you and make the best of the trip.
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J.C. answers from Seattle on August 30, 2010
We have not traveled to Greece with children, but we did take our (then) 3.5 and 4 month olds to Israel. Some similar issues....some not...I am curious to know why you are not taking a stroller - but I am sure you have your reasons! As for the bus - we were on a bus a lot in Israel...I was able to use the car seat because they have seatbelts - but I would recommend just using a baby bjorn/ergo carrier or something like that (it will be nice for you to be hands free!). I would make sure you have a few extra outfits (for EVERYONE!) and that you have a few toys that are easy to pack (but at that age, everything is a toy...paper cups, spoons, etc). On the plane, definitely see if you can get a bassinet...that was amazing! THe baby slept for 12 hours in it! Practice getting the infant seat in quickly...maybe that will help when you get there! Good luck - and try to not be stressed out...that will ruin the trip!
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P.B. answers from Spartanburg on August 29, 2010
Obviously don't forget medicines and other baby-related items that you are not to find there (ask your family). I say take the stroller! You leave it just outside the plane and they'll bring it back to you when you step outside the plane, so you don't have to carry the baby in the airport (usually long walks wherever you go). Plus, it's a must for walking around in Greece, were you planning to hold your baby all the time while vacationing? I must have misunderstood. Take the car seat for family rides, in the taxi (greek word, by the way) you can just sit in the back and hold your baby with your belt on. For the bus, you are right, no seat belts there...find a seat and ask your hubby to stand by your side holding with both hands the seats before and after yours, so to make some kind of human barrier just in case the driver gets freaky with the brakes!!! I know it sounds overwhelming (and it is indeed a little dangerous), but millions of people with children get by everyday with many less comforts and especially much less knowledge than you have about what is safe and what is not. You'll be fine! As far as your hubby not speaking greek, well, he won't have because you are there and few people speak english even in places you don't expect (perhaps youngsters?). Have fun!
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