My husband and I spent the last four years living in Italy. We also had three babies in that same amount of time. The whole thing was such an adventure. No, we don’t speak Italian very well. No, the kids don’t have dual citizenship. Yes, we had an amazing time.
One thing that drew me to my husband Paul was his outdoorsy nature. When we met in New York City 10 years ago, he told me he had a Jeep. I said had a golden retriever. Two camping trips later, I knew this was it. So when we got married and moved to Rome in 2008, we brought our hiking boots.
We were lucky because our daughter Phoebe was an "easy baby." And that we can say for certain, because I've since given Phoebe siblings who could not be described that way. "Beloved," for sure, but not "easy." So Paul and I did what we thought was best: We dragged Phoebe all over Europe. In the passport showing a 3-week-old baby’s photo, the kid has stamps from Austria, Croatia, France, Monaco, Belgium, England and, of course, the U.S. Then there were the 20 regions of Italy; we wanted to see everything eventually -- and preferably some of it on foot.
That’s how we got to Cinque Terre, a famous trail that connects five hilltop towns in Italy overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The towns are all picturesque, full of terra cotta buildings nestled together, a rainbow of blues, white, pinks and oranges arranged like a puzzle along the jagged shorelines. This is the stuff of postcards.
Since we were hiking with a baby who needed to nap, eat, move around every once in a while and go to bed by 7 every night, we devised a plan. We’d divide the trail into two days’ worth of walking; hike in the morning before the Italian sun came on too strong and let her nap in the pack. She’d wake up in time for lunch at a local restaurant -- in whatever village we were headed to that morning -- then we’d take a train back to the hotel in time for an afternoon nap. Here, it was time to regroup, reapply sunscreen and maybe read a magazine. Then it was out for an early dinner (by Italian standards) and back to the room to get organized for another adventure the next day.
There were smooth parts: Phoebe loved the pack and it was pretty comfortable to wear as well. Paul and I took turns carrying her. The pack included a great sunshade, plus a storage pocket big enough for things like snacks and a few spare diapers. When the baby seemed sweaty on the trail, we’d wet down a bandana with our water bottles, gently rubbing her little face and neck before tying it on cowboy style to keep her cool as we hiked on.
There were annoying parts: Since the train schedules weren’t always dependable, our already semi-precarious timing became more nerve-wracking than it needed to be. But that’s more about Italian timing than hiking.
Here are the biggest lessons we learned:
- Bring two diapers and an extra set of clothes for the baby in case of blowouts, and possibly a shirt for yourself. (Note: Blowouts in a backpack can be particularly aggressive.)
- In the summertime, don’t forget to wear hats and sunscreen.
- Bring lots of water. Pack one water bottle for each person, even the baby (you might use it to cool her down or rinse something out).
- Bring a bandana for everyone, too. You never know when you’ll need a makeshift hat or towel.
- Bring one extra snack for the baby, but don’t overload the pack with extraneous stuff.
When you're hiking with a child, it pays to be more sure of your logistics than you would be if you were simply hiking with friends. In other words, have a good idea about the trail, timing and terrain. Even "lightweight" packs get heavy with a little person inside them. Also, babies have timing issues, and getting lost on a trail is stressful enough without a wailing infant who’s late for her next feeding.
But above all, go. If you liked hiking before you had a baby, go hiking now. Take the baby outside and do the things you’ve always loved doing. You don’t need a passport, just the same sense of adventure you’ve always had.