England: Town & Country
This would be our first trip with a newborn, 8 months old, to be precise, and we were taking every precaution. Not because we needed to, but because we wanted to still enjoy travel, and if this trip were to go poorly we feared our traveling days might be at an end. But if it were to go well, it might offer a glimmer of hope that we can still be adventurous, even with a fragile new life to love and care for. So we booked a direct flight to Europe, to an English speaking country, for a week in the most tranquil, relaxing places we could find: the Cotswolds. On top of that, we were traveling with our long-time travel partners, the kindest people you’ll ever meet, and even convinced a sister to come along for support and a helping hand.
Requiring flights direct to your desired European destination from the west coast of the United States limits your options considerably, and even more so if you’re leaving from a smaller international airport. Thankfully, Delta had just opened a new route direct to Heathrow from PDX, and we booked the second flight to take this new route. The less time we have to spend in an airport, and on an airplane, with a newborn the better. Sure, we didn’t get any sleep, much of our time was spent walking and rocking our little one up and down the aisle, and we were peed on, but overall we deemed it a wild success. There wasn’t too much crying or screaming, and a good portion of the flight he actually slept. A few tips that worked out well for us on either the outgoing or return flights:
It is common knowledge that when your child is below 2 years of age, you don’t need to purchase a separate seat for them. However, trying to corral a young child between two airplane seats is an exercise in futility. If they’re too young to crawl or walk, be thankful, because after they reach that milestone you may as well not purchase a seat at all as you’ll be chasing them around the plane or wrestling them in your arms the entire flight. You can always book an additional seat for them, if that fits your budget, but if it doesn’t, try this: book seats for yourself and your significant other in the middle aisle, but make sure your seats are both aisle seats. Leave the middle seat(s) open. People will only choose those seats if they have to. If your flight isn’t full, chances are the seats between you will be open, and you’ve effectively grabbed an additional seat for no cost. If an unfortunate soul does get assigned to the seat between you, you can simple ask that they trade with one of you for your aisle seat so you can sit together, and if the opportunity for an aisle seat wasn’t enough, once they see your little baby and thoughts of hours spent wrestling you and your little one will change their mind.
If you’re able to reserve bulkhead seats, which are seats just behind the dividers in a plane that separate classes and/or lavatory walls, you can request a bassinet from the attendants that bolts in to the bulkhead. This means you can lay down your baby. Yes, you don’t have to hold them the entire flight. This was a game-changer for us. We weren’t able to reserve these seats prior to boarding, however we kindly asked an agent at the gate and were graciously moved to accommodate our request.
Pack a change of clothes for yourselves in your carry on, not just for your baby, as bodily fluids can, and will very likely, spill out onto you during the course of a flight. Having a fresh change of clothes can ensure some level of comfort.
Don’t be shy about asking attendants to fill your baby’s bottle with water or milk. They can even give you warm liquids if you prefer.
Try to RELAX! The vast majority of other passengers are actually good, gracious people, who have kids of their own, and understand the stress and anxiety you are likely feeling. They feel for you, and you’ll often find people who offer to help. We only hear about the horror stories, but there are often many more good ones that go untold. Plus, your baby picks up on your stress, so do both of you a favor and try to take everything in stride, and know that you’re just making good memories that will be fun to share later.
Just a year prior we had landed in London for the first time. One of the world’s great cities, it was exciting to take it all in. This time was much different, in obvious ways with a newborn in tow, but in others because we were going to rent a car, and drive on the left side of the road out to the countryside, where narrow roads wind between hedges and GPS navigation isn’t always the most accurate. Even with renting a large van to hold 5 adults and a child car seat, plus our luggage, the only incident we had was hitting a poor pheasant that darted in front of us out of a hedge. That, and a few diaper blowouts…
If you've visited London you've visited England, right? Wrong. Just like visiting New York City doesn't meant you've visited the United States. Get out of the big city and lose yourself in the countryside. For a break from the crowds and a relaxing change of pace, head for the Cotswolds.
Friendly pubs, cute shops, and antique merchants beckon visitors from within radiant white stone architecture surrounded by evergreen English countryside. Pick a favorite tea room and become a regular. Enjoy cakes, scones, and clotted cream with no remorse. Stroll up and down High Street and gaze at the beautiful window displays. Wander down a side lane and admire the meticulously tended gardens. In the evening, cozy up to a fire in your own historic cottage. No matter where you're from, the Cotswolds will charm you, and revise your perspective to find joy in the quieter, finer things of life.
Time has passed by the Cotswolds, and it is better for it. The Cotswolds were built on wool, but the rise of cotton put an end to their prosperity. As a result, the villages, with their beautiful limestone building codes, appear frozen in time. You'll still find sheep grazing in the fields, but today the primary business now is tourism. Don't let the fear of hordes of tourists discourage you from visiting, however, as the majority of visitors are still from England, and the towns can only support a small amount of them as it is. There are no high rises or large hotels, so you're never far from peace and quiet.
With plenty of towns to choose from, I recommend making one your home base and renting a car to explore the others at a relaxing pace. Once you've fully disconnected from your stresses back home and are ready to go further afield, drive to nearby Bath and Stonehenge. For the more adventurous: hike. Take the local walking trails from town to town. You will be rewarded with views and experiences you will never forget.
We rented a small cottage at the far end of High Street in Chipping Campden, and couldn’t have been happier. Chipping Campden was once rich with sheep’s wool, and wandering down High Street, up to St. James’ Church, that wealth has left behind golden-white stone facades and beautifully manicured gardens that refresh your soul. Campden Coffee Co., just off of Sheep Street, was our go-to morning brunch spot. Delicious pastries, eggy-bread (known as French Toast to us Americans, but of course you can’t credit the French with anything in England), coffee, tea, and smoothies filled our bellies each morning. By the time we had to leave, the staff had become so accustomed to seeing us each morning that they sent us away with a few pastries as a gift.
The Cotswolds operate at a perfect pace: slow. We would wake each day without a plan, venture out to surrounding towns and explore, and end up back in Chipping Campden even more confident we had chosen the perfect Cotswold hideaway. Lunches were often picnics of local produce and cheese, sitting in a café or enjoying a beautiful English garden. A few of the towns we recommend visiting:
The Venice of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most visited of the Cotswold towns, but for good reason. The river Windrush splits the town, with numerous stone bridges crisscrossing the waters, all lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops. If we hadn’t stayed in Chipping Campden, Bourton-on-the-Water would have been a great second choice.
Standing on top of a hill at a main junction in the road, Stow-on-the-Wold was, and still is, a large market town. For that reason, it is worth a visit, but proved too busy for our taste to want to spend the night.
If seclusion is what you want, Snowshill is your place. This is one of the smallest Cotswold towns, with one restaurant, and plenty of tranquility. For this reason, Snowshill is also one of the most beautiful towns, and definitely worthy of an afternoon stroll.
Looking for that quintessential picture of the Cotswolds? Look in Bibury. Overlooking the river in Bibury is Arlington Row, a collection of cottages dating back to the 16th century which fulfill your dream of that perfect Cotswold town.
The Cotswolds have been forgotten by time, and that is precisely why they shouldn't be forgotten by you. Next time you want to get away, consider trading sand for rolling greens. The Cotswolds have a power to strip away your worries and bring your perspective back to the finer things in life. Don't let that opportunity pass you by.
From the Cotswolds it’s a relatively short drive out to Stonehenge and the town of Bath, where you can see some ancient Roman baths. You can even fit both into one day if you start early and don’t mind making Bath a quick stop rather than a deep-dive.
Not much needs to be said about this magnificent sight that hasn’t been said before. Our tip: reserve the first tour of the day. The crowds only increase as the day goes on. The biggest surprise was actually the fact that you can see the sight from the main motorway, which feels more than a little odd given all of the mystery that still surrounds this sight.
The must-see’s at Bath include the Roman Baths, followed by the Abbey with its vaulted ceiling and large stained-glass windows. The entire town is architecturally stunning, composed primarily of the white-colored stone from the area, giving off a pleasing glow under the sun. We found this a surprising contrast compared to the now poisonous-green water in the Roman Baths, filled with lead. A tour is recommended to glean the full history and significance of the place, but the engineering of the Romans is still on full display. As you walk on stones carved over 2,000 years ago, you’ll enter rooms where hot, steaming water still flows today.
Having visited London prior to this specific trip, we didn’t feel the need to bruise our feet and see all of the top sights during this one, but because we were flying in and out of Heathrow we would be remiss if we didn’t spend a few days in the city. London is full of history, art, and architecture, and makes it easy to see and experience it, as its world-class museums are free to enter. Our favorites are the British Library, British Museum, and National Gallery. As with any large museum, pick a specific exhibition, or a few main pieces, and don’t try to see everything. You’ll only wear yourself out. At the British Library, focus on the small room to the left of the main entrance, which holds priceless pieces such as Handel’s Messiah, notes and music from the Beatles, ancient biblical codices, and even an original copy of the Magna Carta. The British Museum houses treasures from Britain’s numerous conquests, including mummies from Egypt, the Rosetta Stone, and even the sculptures that ran the length of the Parthenon on Athens.
The tourist sights in London seem never-ending. From Tower Hill, to London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll wear yourself out, and turn your brain to mush, trying to pack it into a single trip. If there is one event we encourage you not to miss, it’s evensong at Westminster Abbey. Weekdays (except Wednesday), at 5:00 pm, and weekends at 3:00 pm, this service is free to enter (but no pictures, you’re here to participate and enjoy), and will fill the Abbey with a beautiful chorus that gives you an experience you will never get if you simply tour during the day. Begin queuing outside the main entry 30-45 minutes prior to the service to ensure you get a seat near the choir. You will not be disappointed, as this is a perfect way to end your time in London.