Reader Questions: Stroller vs Backpack for European Travel With Kids

I recently got this great question from Christy who is wondering whether she should bother bringing a stroller with her to Europe or should instead opt for a frame backpack carrier.

We are going to be in Italy (Venice and Siena) for the majority of our trip but will also be taking a cruise with ports of call in Croatia, Turkey, and Greek Isles. My duaghter is 2.5 years and 30 pounds. Should I get an Ergo (I've never tried one but think a neighbor has one that I can try) or a framed backpack carrier? I've traveled a lot in the US with her umbrella stroller but don't know if it's worth it with exploring old cities and ruins. Thanks you, I love your website!

Here is my answer.


First of all, have a wonderful trip. Your itinerary sounds fantastic.

This is a tough question. Venice is one of the least stroller friendly cities I can imagine (lots of stairs and bridges) and you would definitely want an alternative carrier there. I don't have first-hand experience with a stroller in the other destinations you mention, so you'll want to do some additional research. The best way to get an idea of how stroller friendly they are is to check the "wheelchair accessibility" section of a guidebook (or google it).

We've used a stroller throughout much of Europe and even on Rome's famously abusive cobblestone streets. If you do bring a stroller, make sure it's sturdy and will hold up for the duration of your trip (our Maclaren Techno has been a real workhorse!)

We love our Ergo Baby Carrier and 18 month old D still naps comfortably in it. With a 2.5 year old you might be reaching the limit for comfortable long distance walking. Take a walk around the block with your friend's Ergo and see how you feel or find a shop that will let you try the carrier out.

Frame backpacks are great at supporting heavier children comfortably, but they are also bulkier and can't be stowed in a day bag when not in use (though they often include a backpack where you can keep your other items for the day). One advantage to this type of carrier is that you can remove the backpack without taking the child out. This lets you put on a jacket or sit down in a restaurant, without disturbing a sleeping child. This type of backpack also doubles nicely as a high-chair.

When we're hiking here in Seattle, we use a REI Piggyback carrier. It is a full backpack with a lots of size adjustments for both child and parent. REI also sells an optional sun/rain cover. We've been happy with the comfort and durability of this carrier, and we appreciate that REI stands behind their products if there is a problem. The staff is also happy to let you try out products in the store to make sure you find the one that best meets your needs.

If you're willing to buy something just for travel or perhaps to use around town, theKelty Kids: Convertible Stroller Backpack looks very useful. It can be used as either a backpack or a stroller. I do not have personal experience with it, but it does have good reviews on amazon

Whatever carrier you buy, make sure your child can sleep comfortably in it. Naptime is your time to see quiet museums, enjoy a nice meal, or just relax.

Good luck!

Related Links:
Amazon: Child Carrier Backpacks
Amazon: Ergo Baby Carrier
Amazon: Kelty Kids: Convertible Stroller Backpack
REI: REI Piggyback
DeliciousBaby: Packing Lists For Travel With Kids

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  1. Jamie on May 17, 2008 at 8:02 a.m.

    I've taken kids and strollers to Siena (and the surrounding area) and Croatia (mostly in and around Dubrovnik). To an extent, both are fairly stroller-friendly (unless you want to walk the Dubrovnik rampart walls, which involves a fair amount of stairs and is frankly a little scary with a toddler anyway).

    Here's my .02 on strollers: My husband and I lived in England when our kids were little, and traveled all over. We never went anywhere without lightweight, folding strollers. Our (admittedly skinny) daughter rode until she was 5 or 6--sometimes for a rest and sometimes for her own protection on busy streets.

    Christy, have a great time. Debbie, good work on Delicious Baby.


  2. Soultravelers3 on May 19, 2008 at 7:05 a.m.

    At 2.5, I don't think either is necessary, but if you must I would take a light weight sling that one can throw in a purse. We never owned a stroller or a back carrier and did tons of traveling.

    I am from the school that the more they walk the better. Kids are much to use to being carried or strolled today and I think it is much healthier to get in the habit of doing lots of walking when they are young.

    My daughter could walk everywhere before a year and most two year old children can walk for miles and it is good for them. Before a trip, I would start to do more walking and train the child to hold on to your hand as that will be necessary in Europe.

    My daughter was 5 when we started our world tour and she can actually walk longer than I can. She was not use to holding our hands while walking, but soon adapted to it, especially in cities where it is so important. Make sure the child has good shoes and socks on, just as you would an adult.

    We have recently spent months in Croatia, Greece and Turkey and taken many ferries ( which tend to have many stairs like cruise ships). If my daughter was 2.5, I would not take a stroller or a back carrier, but allow her to walk. I would give her a little backpack to carry her own things.

    For an older child, I can not imagine using anything but their much healthier for the child! Make sure to go slow and take time in parks and such so they can do some free running around too.

  3. Debbie on May 19, 2008 at 10:59 p.m.

    It's a tough balance, and what works varies a lot from parent to parent (and from child to child)

    I love the idea of having the kids walk (and of course it means that they sleep well), but as a parent, it is also wonderful to have a way to keep moving while they nap (your idea for a lightweight sling is excellent). We've been lucky enough to get nice long naps from both kids, so we consider those hours our personal time to have a nice meal, visit a museum at our own pace, or have a grown up conversation.

    The trick is to bring along a stroller or backpack that is lightweight enough not to be an inconvenience when it isn't needed, but sturdy and comfortable enough for both parent and child to perform well when in use.

    I'll post a picture on Wed of the system we use for traveling with two. It's not perfect, but it lets us be nimble when we need to & the kids can rest or sleep when they need to.


  4. Soultravelers3 on May 24, 2008 at 4:22 a.m.

    I agree that each family needs to find what works best for them. We just found that we did great without much baby stuff, never owned a stroller, never owned a crib, pacifier, baby bath, diaper changer etc. and did not miss any of it. We tend to parent in a very organic way and think of families that managed just fine before much of this stuff was invented. ;) It saves a lot of money and carrying endless baby "things" for life and certainly for travel.

    There are LOTS of way to do it, I was just pointing out what worked for us and some are not even aware that a family can do fine without a stroller or a back carrier. We do attachment parenting, so the little New Native sling, or Bundler was all we ever needed if we wanted to do things as she slept. Takes up no space in a purse and can be used by both parents in several positions.

    It also makes it easy to nurse while moving and in public as it is completely private. I used to nurse in line at the grocery store and no one had a clue. lol. My husband often carried her when she napped so that I got some relief. Mine was walking at 6 months, but we still used the sling some, primarily when she napped or nursed since she loves to move.

    I think parents just need to be mindful about time in strollers and car seats and all the more so for children over 3. Studies show that over the past 30 years, the number of overweight preschool children, ages 2 to 5, has more than doubled. Babies or toddlers who spend too much time in strollers, play pens, car seats, or other confined spaces, are not having the opportunities they need to explore, learn, and develop. Too much time spent not moving as a baby or toddler can lead to the habit of not being physically active according to The National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

    Like most things, just using everything to your advantage makes sense and doing what works for your family. We just happen to find walking together worked & works best for our family and living without stroller, cribs etc was cheaper, easier and healthier for our particular family for travel and at home.

  5. Debbie on May 24, 2008 at 7:30 a.m.

    Great points!

  6. Denise on July 3, 2008 at 3:22 p.m.

    I love that this question was posted here since I've been struggling with the exact same question right now. We live in London and are going to Tuscany in August and I was thinking about whether I should ditch the stroller and just bring a back carrier or some sort. Contemplating the Ergo or Patapum soft carrier vs the framed ones. I've got a 19 month old who's only about 21 lbs and a 4 year old who probably doesn't need anything. I was def leaning towards ergo but i think your posting has pushed me closer to that direction.

    Do you know if that Patapum Baby Carrier is as good? Its nearly £30 cheaper. :o)

  7. MMT on July 17, 2010 at 11:47 a.m.

    I've travelled a fair amount, including small and large European cities, with my 2 year old, and would never consider not taking a stroller. I guess it works for some people, but for us:
    -they allow us to rest or keep going when she is taking naps and also to go out later since she can go to bed in the stroller
    -we have a carseat that attaches to the stroller, so it's much easier in airports, train stations, etc.
    -can put our stuff in the stroller bottom area to bring food, snacks etc
    -can protect her from the sun and elements while we keep on walking
    -we want to avoid permanently injuring our backs

    We have a bugaboo bee, which is not the lightest out there, but does handle uneven pavement very well. There are some fairly cheap lightweight umbrella strollers that you could justify buying just for this.

    Good luck.

  8. Debbie on July 17, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

    @MMT - thanks so much for your perspective! In the two years since I wrote this post (wow, has it really been that long) we've done without the stroller on some shorter trips, but for us (especially with 3 tired kids) it's simply indispensable when we take a longer trip.