There is a certain age range of children that can be particularly challenging for parents. Newborn infants aren’t too taxing, because they mostly sleep and can’t yet wander off on their own to find trouble. And there’s plenty to keep the school-age children occupied with just a little imagination and planning. But survival tips for traveling to Italy with a baby or toddler can make all the difference in your experience.
That limbo in between those the newborn and school-age phases can really test your patience when traveling in Italy with a baby or a toddler. They don’t call it the “terrible-twos” for nothing. This is especially true when far from home, and can be complicated further when traveling within an unfamiliar culture.
Fortunately, the Italians as a whole are very sensitive to the needs of children and will often go out of their way to assist parents who are visibly struggling.
It’s helpful to know the lay of the land, and familiarize yourself with some important essentials beforehand. Here’s a list of some common “essential” baby supplies and where you can find them in most Italian cities and towns.
First of all, not all baby products can be purchased at the grocery store; some must be purchased at the pharmacy (farmacia), while others at the sanitaria (which is sort of like a healthcare shop or medical supply store).
Diapers (in Italian, panolini). You’ll find US/International brands such as Pampers and Huggies, but they are more expensive in Italy. Smart Italian moms these days are buying “Trudi” for diapers, wipes, and bath products. They are more affordable, and in fact better quality. They are not as commercialized.
The common product for preventing/treating diaper rash is called Bepantenol, available at the farmacia.
Formula. Some formula brands are only available at the pharmacy, some at the pharmacy and sanitaria, some at the sanitaria and supermarket. The pharmacy is more expensive, so the supermarket is better if you have the option (often closed on Sundays). Definitely buy diapers, wipes, or baby food (unless it is a special, anti-allergic product) at the supermarket or sanitaria because the pharmacy overcharges for these items.
For example, the common brands are Neolatte (only in the pharmacy, € 11/800 gr.), Nipiol (sanitaria and supermarket, € 10/800 gr.), MIO (sanitaria and supermarket, €12/800gr), HIPP (pharmacy and sanitaria € 8/600 gr). For babies who are displaying intolerance to formula, the brand Humana (pharmacy only, € 30 /kg) is recommended.
Baby Food (omogeneizzati). Plasmon has been on top of the market for years, with their famous baby biscotti (cookies) that, for many Italian children, is their first solid food; a cookie “melted” in the bottle with hot milk. Maybe a drop of grappa added to ease teething pain and help the bambino sleep.
Plasmon also makes the omogeneizzati, which is jarred baby food in flavors like prosciutto (ham), coniglio (rabbit), and manzo (beef). “MIO” is the mass-distribution product. These days HIPP makes organic and affordable omogeneizzati, so smart moms have ditched the other brands in favor of this one.
Clothing. Really, there is no such thing as inexpensive clothes for kids in Italy, unless you shop at the outdoor markets (which are usually of low quality).
On the “lower” cost side, there is Oviesse for babies and Original Marines. Then Chicco and Prenatal are considered “normal” priced for babies, but they are not cheap. It is extremely uncommon to buy cheap shoes for kids. Medically recommended shoes are a must for most Italian kids. Scarpine Chicco tends to have a monopoly on these. Primigi (also sold in the US) are a great brand, made of leather, not plastic.
Other Challenges. One thing to note is that baby changing stations in public restrooms are extremely rare—and indeed, the public restrooms (when available) are usually quite small. So you do what you can on your lap or a park bench.
Also know that in most cities, a stroller is often more trouble than it’s worth. The sidewalks are narrow and crowded, and the piazza is usually paved with brick or cobblestone, making for a very bumpy ride. Sometimes strollers can be useful in parks and such. But a better solution for the traveler might be one of those “baby backpacks” or something similar.
In summary, the key to enjoying a trip to Italy with a baby or small child is planning ahead. Don’t assume that you can run up to the convenience store at midnight for formula. You can’t. So ask your hotel or B&B or whoever is hosting you to locate a few stores in advance of your stay. Get a large, good quality diaper bag, and spend some time arranging it efficiently. Finally, consider whether or not to bring a stroller. Depending on where you stay, it could be a big burden.
You can find more great advice from Rick Zullo on travel to Rome and Italy in general on his blog RickZullo.com, or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. He has a new podcast series on iTunes as well.
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