Well, our traveling craze just earned us another badge. We officially survived our first family-style international traveling experience with an almost 2 year old. Back in March, we took a cross-country trip to Portland and drove down to the Redwoods in California. After that experience, I had moments of doubt that we would ever be able to travel internationally or with multiple children one day. But then... as we thought back on our planning mistakes with the Oregon trip and realized Rowan's free, under-two travel window was expiring (along with my last month before returning to teach)... we knew we had to squeeze in a trip. CARPE DIEM, PEOPLE!
So with only a couple of weeks to throw together an itinerary, we decided to return to Oxford, UK (because that has been on the list ever since Zack did his summer teaching programs there), and then we added on some bucket-list destinations in Scotland. We figured that picking a destination where we were mostly familiar with the setting would probably be the best bet for our first ticking-timebomb-toddler-travel experience... And most importantly, British Airways is one of the only options (besides domestic US travel) that honors the under-2, lap-infant travel policy and only charges 10% of a ticket price. They even had baby seats and seemed to be very family-travel friendly! -- Good to note if you have babies under 1 year old especially. And I say under 1, because please click this link and imagine the average toddler agreeing to ride in that the whole time... aaahahahahaha (regains composure)... Yeah, not my crazy one. We might've been able to transfer him into one once he was sleeping, but I didn't want to rock the boat -- er, plane.
So -- I followed my own minimalist toddler-friendly packing advice, and somehow we found decent places to stay to fit our last-second itinerary ideas. We wanted to each only have 1 bag + 1 small carry-on... especially since we were bringing a travel crib pack with us. So, if you're interested in the packing notes and checklist, scroll to the very bottom of this post!
DAY 1: - We drove midday during Rowan's nap time to Zack's Aunt & Uncle's house in Atlanta. Chilled, ate dinner, and got dropped at the airport that night for our 10pm flight from ATL to London.
Rowan slept 99% of the flight, and we had an extra seat on our row! Hooray! Night flight for the friggin' win!... Meanwhile I alternated between snoozing and watching as many chick-flicks as possible while Zack had his own screen and CAN'T JUDGE ME. "BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING TWOOOO... Wait, this is kind of dumb... but I'm still watching it... half regretting/half loving it."
DAY 2: Arrived in London around noon and walked about 5 feet out of Terminal 5 to stand 10. Immediately hopped on our bus to Oxford (the last people on board)! Hooray again! We prepaid for our tickets before we left and just gave our confirmation. Always print your itinerary! Rowan watched some Peppa and then continued his snooze on the bus to Oxford -- which felt much faster than 45 minutes or however long it was.
Our arrival to Oxford wasn't as flawless. The directions from the place we were staying had us royally confused on which stop was ours. It said "the last stop in St. Clements" -- but there was only one stop. *eye roll* We never figured out what that was about. Finally after a bit of circling around on foot, we found the right street.
We settled into our room at the William R Miller building (University annex dorms with double beds and private bathrooms that allowed young children -- Christ Church killed our dreams and unfortunately did not allow kiddos). Then we set off to explore. First stop was the oldest botanical garden in Britain (so many killer garden roses!) and then a walk to grab dinner at a cafe. On the way back, Rowan saw a George Pig in a shop window, so we obviously bought him to become his British travel companion.
DAY 3: We set off walking to have breakfast early at the Vaults & Garden. It was tasty, but sitting outside with the atmosphere and views was idyllic! Afterwards we walked around the Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera and then to Blackwell's where I bought the new HP book for our train travels! Honestly, even just looking at architecture and beautiful doors occupies so much time when you first reach an old world destination... I think we could have a photo series called "Rowan knocks on doors", because he loved knocking on all of the gigantic doors.
Since we were staying in a university room, we had access to St. Edmund Hall and went there to look around. It was beautiful, but there was actually a wedding reception going on. They still let us in, but we had to stay clear of the dining area. This is where we saw our first rowan tree and let Rowan run around in the courtyard -- except not the main courtyard where everything said "keep off the grass"... an impossible task with a toddler. IMPOSSIBLE!
We grabbed an espresso at The Missing Bean and returned to our room for Ro's NAPTIME. Don't ever miss nap time.
After his nap, we skedaddled over to Christ Church just as Evensong was starting. Once we got there, we realized this was NOT a Rowan-friendly activity as he started talking mid-prayer, but he liked hearing the first few songs and then Zack ducked out with him. After going outside they found the most magical fish pond that exists! I came out to find them looking at these fish that were popping their entire heads out of the water, and Ro was losing his mind with glee. I'm not really sure how we left there to go to dinner without the world's worst tantrum.
DAY 4 - Our university room didn't include breakfast like it would've at Christ Church (in the GREAT HALL, no less) *Sigh* We are still grieving that, haha! SO, we set off towards the Museum of Natural History and found breakfast nearby at Green's Cafe. Then we killed some more time waiting for the museum to open at a park where there was nothing worth mentioning... just a ton of people walking their dogs.
The museum was incredible... all of the dinosaurs, the bee exhibit... just everything. We had coffee and a pastry at the museum cafe before heading off to lunch. (We basically just eat tiny progressive meals when we travel -- works really well for a toddler though!)
Next we had fish & chips lunch at the Eagle & Child + a road block with a horrible fair that was in Oxford for the weekend (which resulted in the biggest toddler tantrum of the trip). We let Rowan get on one ride, but the joy was followed by an immediate fall apart when it ended. And it was NAP TIME.
After nap time, we returned to Christ Church for the full tour this time -- and the fishy pond again, obviously -- but this time the courtyard was closed off! We knew a melt-down was imminent, so we told someone with a badge about our tiny-human dilemma. They then gave Rowan a two person escort to see the fish. haha! It pays to be cute!
Then we saw the friendliest ducks by the river, stopped at a magical-looking candy shop for Zack to get rhubard rope or something, had dinner at the King's Arms, and then some amazing dessert (fig, yoghurt, honey cake, and creme fraiche) with coffee at Turl Street Kitchen... told you we love progressive meals!
Overall, Oxford in three full days was a great experience for me... Zack obviously knew what all we were missing and couldn't squeeze in, but that just means we know what things we can do another time. Maybe we will return when Rowan is old enough to stay at Christ Church and not have meltdowns about carnival rides!
Continue on to part two with our Scotland itinerary to keep reading!
+ if you're interested in our packing notes, see below.
1 - LARGE MILITARY PACK: clothes and shoes for Zack + Rowan -- checked bag
4 - DIAPER BAG: extra Rowan outfit, diapers, wipes, food, sippy cups, blanket -- carry-on
2 - WOMEN'S BACKPACK: clothes and shoes for me + toiletries + diapers -- checked bag
5 - MINI BACKPACK: camera, iPad, passports, wallet, phone, chargers -- personal bag
SOUVENIR TOTE*: souvenirs with mini backpack inside (merged on the flight home)
3 - TRAVEL BED -- *free* checked item
Carry-all Luggage. We knew that some of our connections from trains would be quick and always wanted to be able to walk with our bags (mostly hands-free). Near busy streets or crowds, Zack carried Rowan and I carried the travel bed. We also chose to bring our Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag because it could convert between being a backpack and a shoulder bag -- for when we had on our big backpacks. AND I only hated Zack once or twice for making us walk with the bags... ha!
Souvenir Bag. For collecting small souvenirs, I bought a Blackwell's Bookstore tote that was big enough to fit them + my camera/personal bag. Only having one thing on my shoulder for the flight home was great!
Break out the Bibs. Rowan doesn't really use bibs anymore now that he's done teething, but I brought a bag of Banda Bibs* to cut down on shirt messes while eating on the plane and just in general. He's a mess. *These are my favorite travel bibs, and this is an affiliate link!
Wearable PJS. One last thought I had when packing this time was to make sure PJs for all of us could pass for regular clothes in the emergency of a low-clean-clothes situation. Solid black yoga pants, sweat pants, etc... and we can blend with the college crowd!
To read more about my style of packing, see my original toddler packing post or click to download the full check-list I used below. (Mine was scribbled on paper, but I made you a pretty one.)
HAPPY ADVENTURING, FRIENDS!