Europe with kids: stroller or carrier?

If you had asked me this question before our first major trip since getting here — visiting Naples and Rome — my answer would have been “neither.”

I don’t want to deal with a stroller, I’d say.

Fiona loves to walk! She hasn’t let me put her in a carrier since she was about 13 months old, I’d say.

People say stupid stuff sometimes. And then they end up carrying a sleeping 2-year-old in their arms for more than half of what turned out to be a four-hour walking tour because hey! Turns out even the most energetic toddler is probably not going to be able to walk literally MILES.

I’ve reformed.

We basically thought we were going to die. THEY WERE SO HEAVY. And when they are asleep they can’t even help by hanging onto you, they are just dead weight. 

Anyway, so — to our debate. Stroller or carrier? Each has some distinct advantages.

Stroller: Less strenuous than a carrier. A good place for your kid to nap. If you bring a double, more than one kid can go in there; even with a single your kids could take turns. You can stash more stuff in it instead of carrying it in your daypack. If your kid is asleep and you go into a restaurant, you can (if there is room) just leave him in the stroller next to you and let him continue to sleep. If you are worried about containing your kid at an airport, having him strapped into a stroller could be helpful.

Carrier: Move easily through crowds. Also a great way to ensure your kid is contained at a crowded or dangerous place (Cliffs of Moher, for example). An excellent place to nap because the movement soothes them to sleep. You can chat with your kid more easily. Don’t have to worry about navigating stairs or getting through areas that don’t have great sidewalks (I’m looking at you, Sicily). Don’t have to worry about leaving it places if strollers aren’t allowed. If you kid decides to walk, you can shove the carrier in your daypack easily.

Obviously, neither method is perfect. For instance, the main pitfall of a carrier is … well, you have to carry your kid. It gets tiring.

That said, we are firmly #TeamCarrier. Here’s why:

Taking a stroller to places — for the sake of argument, let’s say a major city like Paris versus a rural area like where we live with shitty sidewalks — can be really useful for when you are just walking around. It means you can push your kid at a leisurely pace, stuff your daypack and diaper bag and umbrella and whatever other stuff you want to bring (note: I do not recommend actually bringing all that crap when out for the day — post to come about daypack essentials in the future) without worrying much about the weight of it. Your kid can nap in there as you walk. However, as soon as you want to do anything the stroller can sometimes become an issue. Wanna get on the subway? There may not be an elevator or be a long line for it, so you are going to have to get down the stairs somehow. Is the train crowded? Shoving the stroller on it won’t be fun. Sure, you can fold it up and carry it … but then you have to carry it (and all the stuff you’d jammed in there).

Another issue: strollers can’t always go into attractions. Let’s stick with Paris as our example. The Eiffel Tower is a must-do, but you aren’t allowed to push the stroller onto the elevator and you definitely aren’t climbing hundreds of stairs with it.* You also can’t leave it anywhere because a) that’s stupid and b) an unattended stroller is a potential threat and the Parisian police will respond and destroy it (for real, there were signs and a very serious video everywhere when we were waiting in line).

A carrier, on the other hand, can go anywhere. Sometimes security wants to run a metal detector wand over you, but I’ve never had to actually take Fiona out of it to go into an attraction. When we decide to let Fiona run around somewhere, we can fold it up and shove it into the backpack we almost always have with us or I can just keep wearing it. The thing that is possibly the best part is that a) our little wild child Fiona is contained in the carrier and can’t escape and b) she can take her afternoon nap in there without interrupting our day in the least. She actually slept through a couple of attractions that she probably wouldn’t have been interested in at all, including the Kilmainham Gaol (also couldn’t take a stroller there, though I beleive they had a place you could check it) and the wine cave tour in the Loire Valley. With her asleep, it made it easier for us to listen on tours or to have some one-on-one time with Owen.

Chris and I could walk further along the slippery, non-walled part of the Cliffs of Moher with Fiona in the carrier. I wouldn’t have dared without it because I’d have been terrified she’d make a dash for the edge. (Owen was with my in-laws). 

Advice

Obviously, I highly recommend carriers if you are planning a trip with a lot of walking, in Europe or anywhere else really. That said, a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Practice babywearing for a while before your trip. It takes a little time to get used to getting your kid in and out easily, and you need time to build your own endurance with it. When I first re-started babywearing, I got worn out quickly. Now I can wear her for hours without feeling like it is much harder than walking unencumbered (except on hills. ugh). Also, Fiona used to be reluctant to get into the carrier but now she is usually happy to pop on board most of the time. The other day I told her we were going to go climb Mt. Etna the next day (didn’t end up going) and she said, verbatim, “I don’t feel like walking, will you please bring the carrier?” Ha. (Also, no I would not carry her the entire way. Her little butt does do some walking!)
  2. Get a quality carrier. I can’t stress this enough. After Rome I decided to unpack my old Ergo carrier from when Fiona was little. About five minutes in my back was already killing me, as had been my experience in the past (though usually not within five minutes). At the suggestion of a friend, I ordered a toddler-size Tula and holy cow. It made an insane difference. I have no idea why this is, to be honest. The two carriers basically seem really similar, but somehow the Tula distributes her weight so much better. It was pricy but probably one of the best investments we’ve ever made when it comes to baby gear. Note: no, I’m not being compensated by Tula. I just love my carrier.

Carnivale in Acireale

Taormina

Another benefit: she keeps me warm and I keep her warm! Of course, this isn’t so much a benefit when it is 100 degrees out. Photo is from Caltagirone

So, what say you, fellow travelers? What’s your preference? If you prefer strollers, what is your advice to those who want to travel with them?

*I believe you can fold the stroller up and take it with you on the Eiffel Tower elevator, but then you have to carry it and your kid and your stuff … doesn’t appeal to me.

2 Responses

  1. Michael Schuch

    The majority of Europe is not what you’d call handicap accessible, so their infrastructure is hardly conducive to pushing around a stroller. That said, I guess it mostly depends on how many kids, their ages, and what specific activities are planned. We typically bring both if we can, because most trips for us involve our van and we use an umbrella stroller so it’s easy to pack. All in all I default to the carrier. We’re going to Greece in a couple weeks and i expect to bring the carrier only. We’ll see how that goes.

  2. Aunt Janet

    love the pix of the four of you, even if Fiona didn’t. BTW, miss you guys.

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