Traveling Internationally with Toddlers

My family and I recently returned from a 17-day vacation, where we spent a majority of our time oversees. We took a cruise touring the British Isles and spent some time in France.

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Edinburgh Castle

Our general rule of thumb is to go on an international trip every other year and a domestic trip on the alternating year.   My husband, Juan, and I have been traveling ever since our Honeymoon in Italy (2004).  It was our first time flying and we were bit by the travel bug.  Most of our friends and family assumed the travels would stop once we had our first born.  Yet, on the contrary, we had planned to take our kids on most of our international trips, especially when they’re so young.

To say that our vacations have been the same with kids as without is very misleading. They’re absolutely not the same with the kiddos, but they’re all still amazing trips. It’s funny to think back and remember how my husband and I would “go hard” everyday.  Doing every possible excursion, rising early, going to bed late and doing it again the next day, for several days straight.  Now we have to factor in naps, meals, and playtime. Bottom line, vacationing internationally can still be enjoyable with toddlers, it will just require some planning!

So, the common response we hear from family and friends is “How did you enjoy the trip?” and it typically follows with “How did you do it with your little ones?”  So here it is folks…the 4-1-1 on how I travel internationally with my toddlers!  On a side note, I will add that Pinterest has been a great resource with providing ideas on how to keep these little ones happy.  Take some time to research some great ideas or travel hacks that will make it easier.  Click here to see my Travel pins on Pinterest.

  1. Consider Your Child’s Routine When Booking Flights

First things first! When booking your flights, if at all possible book flights that work best with your toddlers napping schedule and behavior.  If your baby is active in the morning, fly in the afternoon. If bedtime is at 7pm, perhaps plan an evening flight. Imagine having a calm and quiet flight and Junior is asleep during the whole trip!  Everyone will think you have the sweetest baby and you’ll get to soak up all those accolades. Just remember all those lovely remarks for when he wakes up and you’re chasing him around the airport!

Honestly, I don’t always get the opportunity to follow this tip because I am constantly looking for cheapest flights to keep costs low.  Traveling internationally with four people can add up fast!  However, I do consider the number of stops and the duration of the layovers.  Being on a flight 14+ hours can be a tough gig for toddlers so a stop can be an active break for them. It may feel like a lot of work getting them in and out of the plane; but stretching their legs and getting a decent meal can do wonders. Since I’m generally flying over 20 hours with my toddlers, I plan for everything!  I plan for the stops to coincide with their mealtime routine, the flights go with their naps and now I’m picky about which airport we stop at!  I’ve learned not all airports are kid-friendly or have a variety of food options.

Keep in mind if you are flying alone with your little one, I suggest you fly nonstop.  It will be easier to keep the kiddo(s) under your radar on the plane then in a busy airport.  Thankfully I have plenty of help getting on and off the plane with my hubby (and sometimes my brother accompanies us).  It definitely required a team effort every time we boarded a new plane or went through customs.

 

2. Pack With Your Child’s Interests in Mind

I’m not known to pack lightly, which is something quite frankly I’m not proud of. However, when it comes to my kids I’m just as guilty to yield to the temptation to have more than enough for them.  As parents, we know how often our kids can catch us off guard.  It’s not always fun when they do.

Since every passenger on the flight can have a carry-on, I used one carry-on for a diaper bag that included extra clothes for my kids, their toiletries, and such.  I found a few good packing checklists on Pinterest (check on my Travel List board for reference).  I used another carry-on for all of their activities. No one knows our children better than we do. We know their interests, their behaviors, and what they’re excited about and what they could care less about.

Since I know my son loves books, I packed all his favorite reads that he would love to hear over and over.  Furthermore he loves trains, so I packed a few surprises for him to open once we reached our destination.  My baby girl was not as fond of books as her big brother at the time of our trip but I know she likes interactive toys.  I packed toys you typically fill a piñata with (knockers, hand-clappers, noise-makers, etc.) and she loved it. As you spend some playtime with your little ones you can discover what they like and dislike.  Take mental note of the toys, games or books they can spend endless time playing with.  Plan to take them with you on your trip or perhaps a smaller version of them.  I’ve been guilty of “hiding” away specific toys to reveal them later in our trip.  It often gets the “new toy” response when I put them back in the toy bin. I’m sure I’m not the only Mom that circulates toys.

Here are a couple of other tips to keep in mind:

  • Strategize how and when you give them their favorite toys/games/books.  For example, I know it’s not a hard task to give my son a book about Thomas the Train and he’d be content for an hour.  Since I planned for him to practice his writing and reading on our trip, I gave him his workbook first, then his Thomas the Train book.  If I did the reverse, Thomas the Train first and the workbook later, it would’ve been a struggle to get him to practice those letters.  With my daughter, I gave her favorite toys first knowing they’d preoccupy her attention for a longer period of time.  This freed up time for me to settle into the airplane and prepare for the next few hours of flight. Think about what will work best for you and your child.
  • Purchase toys/games/books specifically for the trip and wrap them up.  A vacation can already be expensive, but shopping at a Dollar Store and buying a few toys/games/books before the trip can make for an easier flight.  It takes time for toddlers to unwrap a gift, marvel at a new toy and discover how to play with it.  On our first trip with my son I had a bag full of wrapped gifts! I planned on pulling out a new toy every hour of our flight.  Surprisingly I didn’t need to.  Where they came in handy was our long, elegant dinners that we enjoyed on the cruise ship.  I didn’t want to always put my 18-month (at the time of cruise) son in front of an iPad. So, he was preoccupied with stickers, animal capsules, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, color/paint sheets, and sticky bugs.

 

3. Be Sure to Incorporate Activities Your Kids Will Enjoy Into Your Trip

I know my son may not remember visiting the Colosseum or gazing at the art in the Sistine Chapel but I know he enjoyed his first gelato at a local Roman shop along our trail. Neither he or his sister probably enjoyed the Giant’s Causeway as much as I did, but I know they both loved skipping rocks with his Daddy at Loch Lomond, running around the Blarney Castle, visiting all the animals at an Irish farm, as well as the Irish dancing and drum lessons.

It’s okay to venture away from the typical trip to Disneyland and find something “out of the box” for the entire family to enjoy (not to say trips to Disneyland are not a blast for everyone! I feel like Disneyland is right to say they’re the “Happiest Place on Earth”).  Of course my trip to Ireland and Scotland would have looked entirely different if it was just my husband and I.  Still, the exposure my children experienced in a foreign country at a young age is something I would never regret.  I know it heightens their senses and widens their knowledge base.

So, If you’re debating a trip out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to give it a try after you’ve planned accordingly. Just remember to make those layovers fun by filling them with family activities, let your kids get excited about the flights knowing they’re going to get some surprises and let them look forward to those excursions knowing there’s something they’ll enjoy in the itinerary.  Happy Traveling!

It’s your turn! Please share with us your tips of traveling with young children.  Where have you traveled locally or internationally? Are you planning a trip soon?

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