Does the mere title of this blog make you break out in hives? Is your eye twitching yet? The thought of traveling long distances with younger kids can be intimidating. I’ve lost count of how many people looked at me like I was absolutely insane when I told them we were taking our 14-month-old on an international flight for summer vacation.
It’s hard work; there’s no sugar coating that. My husband and I learned the hard way how to make it fun for everyone. Nothing says travel disaster like being trapped in a series of WWII-era tunnels with a hostile toddler on a tour that you can’t get off. We practically tripped over one another racing out of there when the tour was finally over.
But we took that experience, learned from it, and did better the next time. Our kid became a great traveler. Now we’re turning our younger child into a world explorer. Here are the best tips I can give you if you want to embrace adventure and take the trip with little ones.
Less is always best. Know before you go if you’ll be able to do laundry where you are staying and if there are any baby supply rental companies in the area. Many companies will deliver items like high chairs, cots, carriers, or even toys to your hotel or apartment. Take enough snacks/diapers/wipes to get you through until you can find a grocery store. Have at least one change of clothes, a light jacket or sweatshirt, toothbrushes and any other medical or toiletry essentials in your carry-on bags. Have your baby carrier with you or gate check your stroller. If you’re bringing a stroller you want it to be lightweight, easy to fold and easy to maneuver on uneven terrain.
Consider budgeting for travel car seats. Bigger isn’t better when you’re on the go. We’ve invested in a MiFold for booster seat for bigger kids and a lightweight convertible seat for our backward facing toddler. There are lots of great blog out there about the best car seats for air travel. Also, make sure that you’re checking the laws and requirements for the countries you plan to visit.
Under twos can still travel as lap children. Unless you’re traveling with a very young infant, buy them their own seat. FAA-approved car seats can be installed in the airplane seat (again, do your research because not every seat will fit). You’ll be glad to have the extra room and they may sleep better in their own seat. For babies traveling as lap children, there is the possibility of bassinet that can be installed in the bulkhead rows, but these are extremely limited and you’ll need to speak to the airline for weight requirements and availability.
Scour your local thrift shops and secondhand bookstores for new items to fill their backpacks. When my daughter was about two, we took a nine-hour flight, just us. I had a Ziplock bag for every hour filled with secondhand toys, sticker sheets, an activity book, and a little snack. You may not want to be that extreme, but you can never have too many snacks and lollipops (you’ll want something to help them during takeoff and landing with clearing their ears). Save the electronics for when you’ve exhausted everything else. Make sure you charge them up in the airport if you can and have their favorites downloaded so you aren’t dependent on wireless.
JET LAG TRAVELING EAST
Set the expectations with bigger kids that they are going to sleep on the airplane. Change into pajamas before takeoff or at bedtime for long overnight flights. After they have their meal, take them to the restroom, try to brush teeth, and as soon as the lights go off try and get them to settle in with their favorite stuffed animal and get some sleep.
Let them sleep as long as possible, don’t wake them for breakfast if they’re still sleeping. You can tuck non-produce items in a bag or grab a snack in the arrivals area. Once you’ve left the airport, try and keep sleep to a minimum that day so they can go to sleep at a reasonable hour on local time and not wake in the middle of the night.
SETTING THE SCHEDULE
Pick one major site-seeing activity to accomplish for each day. We’ve found it works well to get going early. If you over-schedule and try to pack in too much, you’re setting up for possible tantrums and disappointments. If your kids are nappers, schedule nap time. If you have to be on the go all day, tuck their stuffed animal into your bag and have them nap in the stroller. Our daughter napped her way through some of the world’s greatest art museums, which was a win for everyone.
Even if they’ve given up naps you may want to consider a quiet time back in your hotel or apartment to give them a break. In the afternoon, if everyone is feeling good you can add in another activity but make this one geared specifically toward the kids. Find a great garden or playground. My kids have played in the shadow of many a world-famous landmark.
Do your research on child friendly places to eat. Service in other countries isn’t always at the speed we expect as Americans. Sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised, like we were in Prague where they provide supervised play areas in some restaurants. If your kids won’t be able sit patiently during a long meal, consider picking up supplies for a picnic. In London we love visiting the Harrod’s Food Hall and taking our purchases to Hyde Park. Barcelona has the famous La Boqueria market, but also delicious fresh fruit and smoothie stands scattered throughout town.
JET LAG TRAVELING WEST
Going home is always harder because there’s not as much excitement. I also find that jet lag has the potential to hit kids harder this way. Try and get them to take a nap on the flight. It’s harder because it’s usually daylight the whole way, but they will dim the cabin lights and most people will pull down their window shades. Try your best to keep them awake until their regular bedtime at home, maybe even push bedtime back a little bit if they’re still doing okay. Expect an early wake up the next morning, but try and keep them in their beds as long as possible. Hopefully they’ll be back to their regular routine within a day or two!
Are you feeling ready to travel overseas? I’d love to help you plan an amazing vacation for your family of all ages. Not 100% sold on venturing with your kids alone? Consider Adventures by Disney, guided tours with one-of-a-kind experiences and VIP extras. Many trips have a minimum age of 4. Contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org to start planning your dream travel! My services are always complimentary.