In May 2017, we took a 6-day trip to Spain with our 14-month old, Emily. It was a fairly spontaneous trip that I booked on a whim after getting an email advertising an inexpensive flight deal to Madrid on a discount airline, Air Europa. After a fairly tough year, I thought we deserved a nice trip. Our round trip tickets cost $850, a great deal for an international flight over Memorial Day weekend.
Like our past trips, I created a travel plan. Our itinerary included 2-nights in Madrid and 2-nights in Barcelona, in which we would connect between the two cities via rail. Our round trip rail tickets were a reasonable $175. In aggregate, our total travel costs amounted to just about $1,000. Since Emily was still an infant, she did not have her own seat on either the plane or train – it was a bit of a tight fit on the small Air Europa plane seats, but the train seats were roomy and more than accommodated the three of us.
Since we had lived for two years in Houston but our families were in NYC, we had flown multiple times with Emily. Her first flight was as a 3-months old!
Things We Learned on our First International Trip with a Toddler
It’s not just about us anymore. Our biggest lesson. Ken and I were fairly frequent travelers – we had both travelled to various countries, both together and apart. When we travel together, we aren’t overly ambitious – we usually plan one activity a day, and because we both like (love) food, we make sure to build in time for a tasty lunch and dinner. Well, our first international trip with our daughter proved to be a reality check. During our three days in Madrid, we did exactly one activity! We went to Stadium Bernabeu to check out the Real Madrid football stadium (it’s a beautiful stadium, recommended!). We ate out exactly zero times! Instead, we went to the local Carrefour supermarket and loaded up on cured meats, cheese, and bread, and essentially ate that for all of our meals. We considered our two days in Barcelona to be fairly successful because we made it to Park Guell and had lunch out twice and dinner out once. Although we had booked tickets to see Sagrada Familia, we ultimately didn’t make it (see jet lag below). Truthfully, I was disappointed in the first days of our trip because our level of activity was so inconsistent with the trips we had taken in the past. But then realization set in. It wasn’t about me and Ken anymore. With Emily, we had to reset our travel expectations. We had to take things at a slower pace, accommodate for the fact that she needed to nap and rest, and appreciate what we were able to do together as a family.
Jet lag – just give in. In our past travels, we resisted jet lag by launching straight into a tourist activity, getting a bite of food, or grabbing a drink. On this trip, we succumbed to jet lag. During the entirety of our trip, Emily slept as if we were still at home in NYC. So we slept as if we were still at home in NYC. And you know what? We came to terms with our new reality (see above) and it was totally fine.
Stay somewhere with a kitchen. In Madrid, we stayed at a conveniently located AirBNB with a small kitchenette. As I had mentioned, Ken and I basically noshed on cured meats and bread whenever we got hungry, but it was convenient to have basic utensils and dishes and a place to prep meals for Emily, even if meal prep was just heating up packets of puréed food.
Get to the airport early! We arrived at the airport two hours ahead of boarding time, which we assumed would be plenty of time based on our prior international trips. We didn’t take into account a few things – we had a 14-month old who was off her sleep schedule, a lot more stuff, and we were traveling on a discount airline that didn’t use check-in kiosks. When we arrived at the airport, we joined a very long line and barely made it past the security check-point in time. For future reference, arriving 3 hours ahead of time would probably be more appropriate and less stressful.
Pack medicine. Emily was cutting a tooth during our trip, which meant one thing was imminent – a fever. We had brought a thermometer and infant Motrin, which we find to be more effective at taking her fever down than Tylenol. Because we were running low on Motrin, we ended up purchasing generic fever medication from a well-supplied pharmacy in Barcelona, but between the illness and jet-lag, it would have been easier had we packed enough medication. We were also lucky to be traveling through developed cities with modern pharmacies that seemed trustworthy – had we not been, it would have been much more of an issue.
Like I mentioned, we spent around $1,000 in travel costs, which included our round-trip airfare tickets from NYC to Madrid and our round-trip train tickets from Madrid to Barcelona. The cost of our accommodations? Fairly minimal as well. Our two-night stay at the AirBNB in Madrid was an affordable $250. It was a small studio but certainly larger than a hotel room, with the added-plus of being centrally located and inclusive of a kitchenette. In Barcelona, we stayed at the Hilton Barcelona for 2-nights using a combination of remnant points from our British Airways account and from my Hilton HHonors account, topped up with a combined cash total of $100. Our Hilton Barcelona stay also included a great breakfast buffet every morning that we took advantage of, especially for Emily, who is quite fond of hard boiled eggs.
Our last night in Spain was actually the most expensive – we stayed at the Hilton Madrid airport hotel to make it easier for us to get to the airport early the following morning to catch our flight home. For $150, it was fairly utilitarian, but we did enjoy the indoor pool. In total, our combined cost of accommodations was $500.
I would estimate another $500 for food, local transport, and other miscellaneous items, with a final tally of $2,000 for our 6-day, 5-night trip to Spain, including all transportation, room and board, and other travel expenses. Although it was a different type of trip from the ones we have taken in the past, it proved to be an instructive and enjoyable first foray into international travel with a baby / toddler.