International Travel with Kids: Tips for a Parents Sanity
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Let’s face it – traveling with kids anywhere, let alone internationally, can be quite challenging whether traveling with a baby, toddler, school-aged child, or teenager. International travel with kids requires careful planning, patience, flexibility, and, in my case, a whole special mindset (i.e., mental preparation).
It’s a love-hate relationship. I love my children dearly, and I love getting new experiences and making memories with them, but they can push my buttons like no one can! No matter how well I think I am prepared, it turns out I am never prepared as children are often unpredictable; at least, I know mine are.
This article will review some tips that might help you make the most out of your travels- from a seasoned mom that’s been there.
General Tips for Traveling with a Baby
A family vacation with a baby typically requires a lot of planning and preparation. Things to consider include:
- Make sure to bring enough diapers, wipes, formula or pump (if needed), and baby food (depending on where you’re going).
- Consider bringing a lightweight stroller or a baby carrier for easy transportation.
- Choose a destination that is not too far away, where you can do different things with your baby outside, and has good medical facilities in case your baby gets sick.
- Decide if your baby will get their own seat (at full price) or book a lap seat (lap child fares are typically for a 10% fee of the parent’s ticket with international flights)
Babies and International Flights
Traveling with a baby on the plane is another story! Here are some things you should keep in mind for long haul flights.
1. Choose your seat wisely
When booking your flight, being selfish is okay. Try to choose a seat that will be most comfortable for you and your baby. Consider booking a bulkhead seat, which will provide more legroom and space for your baby to play on the floor. Plus, most long haul planes will have a bassinet you can use to actually get some sleep.
If you plan to breastfeed or bottle-feed, choose a seat next to the aisle as it’s more convenient for getting out if necessary (just be mindful of baby’s head and legs while nursing in your seat).
2. Pack essentials in a diaper bag
Pack a separate diaper bag for the flight with all the essentials you may need, such as diapers, wipes, a changing pad, bottles, formula, snacks, and toys. Make sure to pack enough supplies for the duration of the flight and some extra in case of delays. No, let me rephrase that – always have extra stuff!
3. Use a baby carrier or stroller
Consider using a baby carrier or stroller to make it easier to move through the airport. A baby carrier allows you to have your hands free while boarding the plane, and a stroller can be checked at the gate and retrieved upon arrival. At times you will feel like you’ve grown an extra pair of arms and possibly like an octopus while trying to juggle everything, but that’s okay; it’s supposed to be like that.
4. Dress your baby in comfortable clothing
Dress your baby in comfortable clothing that is easy to change in case of spills or accidents, ideally clothes you’re used to changing easily at home. It’s not necessary for your precious one to wear designer clothes on the flight. Choose layers so that you can adjust your baby’s temperature as needed during the flight.
You’ll be so overwhelmed with the whole travel-with-baby journey that you won’t even notice the clothes, yours or the baby’s, nor care about them if you manage to survive a vomit accident. In that case, it’s good to have extra wet wipes and paper towels. You just can’t have enough of those.
5. Nurse or bottle-feed during takeoff and landing
During takeoff and landing, babies may experience discomfort due to changes in air pressure. To help relieve this discomfort, nurse or bottle-feed your baby during these times. You can also give them a pacifier if they aren’t hungry.
6. Don’t worry too much about any grouches
What works at home may not always be the case when out of the house, so do whatever you need to soothe your crying baby. But even then, it might not work. It’s easy for baby to get overstimulated and overtired while they’re changing time zones. While most people will be understanding, there’s in inevitably a grouch. Don’t worry about the, they forget that they were once babies too and don’t deserve your energy.
7. Bring entertainment
Bring some toys or books to keep your baby entertained during the flight. Choose toys that are easy to pack and not too noisy, such as soft books, rattles, or teething toys. Montessori baby toys are a great choice as they help them develop hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, language, hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.
While I focused on babies in the flight section, most of these tips are great fo young kids and older kids alike. All kids needs snacks, entertainment, and extra attention on a tiring day traveling internationally.
General Tips for Traveling with a Toddler
Toddlers are curious and active, so be prepared to keep them occupied during the trip. Bring their favorite toys, books, and snacks to keep them entertained. Traveling with a toddler on a plane can be difficult as they can hardly be calm and quiet. Here’s what you could do, and hope for the best.
1. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks
Toddlers can get hungry and thirsty quickly, so be sure to pack plenty of snacks and drinks (especially a water bottle to keep them hydrated) for the flight. Opt for healthy snacks like fruit, crackers, and cheese, and bring along a sippy cup or straw cup for drinks. Don’t forget a lot of tissues and wet wipes.
2. Bring a variety of toys and activities
Toddlers have short attention spans, so be sure to bring a variety of toys and toddler activities to keep them entertained. Consider bringing coloring books, stickers, small toys, and a tablet with their favorite shows. Prepare to clean up the mess your little one may make (will surely make).
3. Book a seat with extra legroom
If possible, book a seat with extra legroom to give your toddler more space to move around. By that, I mean the toddler will move around a lot. If they are just beginning to walk, be happy if you can rest for five minutes. The space will also make it easier for you to play games and read books with them during the flight. If you have any energy left.
4. Bring a change of clothes
Accidents happen all the time with children this small, so be sure to bring a change of clothes in one of your carry on bags for your toddler in case of spills or accidents. This will also come in handy if your luggage gets lost or delayed.
5. Use a stroller, backpack or child carrier
A backpack or child carrier can make navigating the airport easier with your toddler. You can also use it to carry their toys and snacks during the flight. Furthermore, it will keep them in place when they are unsettled.
6. Pack a favorite blanket or stuffed animal
Toddlers can become anxious in unfamiliar situations so you should pack their favorite blanket or stuffed animal to provide them with comfort and security during the flight. Plus, it’ll help smooth the transition between time zones in a foreign country.
7. Plan for nap time
If your toddler still takes naps, plan for them during the flight. Bring a pillow or travel blanket to make them more comfortable, and consider using a white noise machine (although a plane works pretty well for that too) or music to help them fall asleep. That is, if it doesn’t bother people around you. Sadly, a grumpy person will always find something wrong with everything you do with your kids, so be prepared for that.
Tips for Traveling with a School-age Child
It gets easier with school-aged children as they are more independent and can handle longer flights and more complex itineraries. Involve them in the planning process and let them choose some of the activities they want to do. Choose a destination with a mix of education and fun, such as visiting historical sites or theme parks. But also make sure to:
1. Plan ahead
Before your family trip, research your airline’s policies regarding child travelers. Many airlines offer special services for families, such as pre-boarding or special meals. You can also check if your airline allows you to bring car seats on board.
2. Pack wisely
Bring plenty of snacks, toys, books, and other entertainment options for your child to keep them occupied during the flight. Pack a change of clothes for both you and your child in case of spills or accidents.
3. Explain the process
At this age, you can talk to your child about what to expect during the flight and the journey and actually explain some things, from checking in to airport security procedures and disease control to takeoff and landing. Explain any rules or expectations, such as staying in their seat during the flight. However, if any of your kids are anything like my oldest, you will have to repeat these things a couple of times until they actually listen to you.
4. Choose the right seat
If possible, choose a seat near the front of the plane for faster boarding and disembarking. If your child needs extra space, consider choosing a bulkhead or aisle seat. age. Given their size, it should be no problem for them to get snuggly next to you and sleep. For long haul flights, you might even consider finding a blow up foot rest to help them get more comfortable.
5. Stay organized
Keep important documents, such as passports or boarding passes, in a secure and easily accessible place. Use a backpack or carry-on luggage with compartments to keep your child’s things separate from your own.
6. Stay focused
The most important thing when you travel internationally as a parent is to focus! Why am I telling you this? I have three of them, and they tend to be noisy and all over the place when together, so it’s easy to get distracted and lose your grip when you have more than two young children.
I make notes and reminders on my phone, the first thing I see when my display turns on. It helps me not forget all the important things I have to do or take with me. That is if I remember to put them on the list. Ahhh, it takes years of practice.
7. Be flexible
Traveling with children can be unpredictable, so be prepared to adapt your plans if necessary during your family getaway. If your child is tired or restless, take a break and walk around the cabin or use the in-flight entertainment system.
Long are the international travel days when we traveled carefree. I remember I could plan my trips down to the smallest detail. I am not saying you cannot plan anymore. Sure you can. Plans are good, but be prepared to toss them out if anything goes in a different direction and just go with the flow. And, trust me, it will.
8. Keep calm and carry on
Whatever happens, make an effort to stay calm. Also, if you stay calm for a long time, it’s okay to snap occasionally. After all, your anxiety threshold is quite low at the moment. No, wait, it’s mine…
Traveling internationally can be stressful but try hard to remain calm and patient. If your child becomes upset or anxious, offer comfort and reassurance. Remember, your child takes cues from you, so try to stay positive and enjoy the adventure with your kids!
Traveling with a Teenager
Teenagers may not be as excited about family travel as they used to be, so the bottom line is to involve them in the planning process and give them some independence. Choose a destination with activities that they will like, such as music festivals, sports events, or cultural festivals. Here is the to-do list.
1. Involve them in the planning
Teens like to feel involved and empowered, so include them in the planning process. Let them help choose the destination and activities, and give them some responsibility for packing and preparing for the international trip.
2. Set expectations
Talk to your teenager about what to expect during the flight, from checking in to security procedures to takeoff and landing. If you haven’t traveled together on such long distances before, explain any rules or expectations, such as staying in their seat during the flight or limiting screen time (if its best they get a few hours of sleep).
3. Pack wisely
Encourage your teenager to pack their own carry-on bag with things that will keep them occupied during the flight, such as books, games, or a tablet. Remind them to bring headphones and chargers. And you will do the reminding a few more times.
4. Choose the right seat
If possible, choose a seat near the front of the plane for faster boarding and disembarking. If your teenager needs extra space, consider choosing a bulkhead or aisle seat.
5. Give them space
Teenagers value their independence, so give them some space during the flight. Let them watch a movie or listen to music on their own, but be available if they need help or want to chat. Basically, this is all that matters. Space, space, and more space.
6. Be flexible
Traveling can be unpredictable, so be prepared to adapt your plans if necessary. If your teenager wants to explore a new area or try a different activity, be open to changing your itinerary as long as its suitable for other family members. You should be happy that they even considered taking this trip with you, I guess…. Oh my!
7. Respect their boundaries
Older kids and teens are at an age where they value their privacy, so respect their boundaries. Don’t hover or try to force conversation if they want to be alone, but make sure they know you are there if they need you. Again, space.
And of course, don’t forget to stay calm and enjoy the family travel. Before you know it, your kids will be off exploring their own international destinations without you.
Other Tips for Traveling Internationally
Here are a few other great tips for international travel that’ll help it go as smoothly as possible.
This takes some early preparation. Make sure to apply for your child’s passport well in advance of your trip. Some countries require that the passport is valid for at least six months beyond the travel dates, so check the requirements for your destination. Keep your child’s passport in a safe place and make copies in case it gets lost or stolen.
If your child already has a passport, double check that it will still be valid for your trip. If it expires withing a month or so of travel time, some countries will not allows travel, so check the rules. While you’re at it, don’t forget to double check that your passport is still valid too.
Choosing a Destination
When choosing a destination, consider the interests and ages of your children. Choose a destination with activities and attractions that will appeal to everyone in the family. Consider the climate, local language, and culture of the destination and plan accordingly.
If you have foreign origins and are interested in tracking down your family’s ancestry, traveling abroad can be an enlightening experience. It can be especially powerful to visit the places where your ancestors lived and to learn more about their culture and traditions.
Besides just visiting archives or museums, you can also connect with local communities and family members who still live in the area. This can be a meaningful way to strengthen your connection to your heritage and build relationships with your extended family.
By sharing this experience with your children, you can teach them about their multicultural background and instill a sense of pride in their diverse identities. Traveling abroad to research your family’s ancestry can be a rewarding and enlightening experience that deepens your understanding of yourself and your family’s history.
Doing genealogy research prior to your trip can be a fascinating and challenging endeavor, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. With the help of online resources and local archives, it’s possible to trace your family’s lineage back several generations and even to discover long-lost relatives. How great is that!
Other ideal spots for a family vacation include:
- Beaches- from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, there are plentiful choices
- Mountains- explore nature and experience stunning views across the world
- Historical sights
- Annual festivals
- And more!
Planning a Daily Itinerary
Plan a daily itinerary that balances rest and activities. Don’t try to cram too much into each day, and allow time for downtime and relaxation. Choose activities appropriate for your children’s age and consider their interests and energy levels. But most importantly, talk to them about what they would like to do and try to agree on mutually beneficial activities.
Traveling on a long-haul flight with kids can be demanding. You will bring plenty of snacks, drinks, and entertainment to keep your children occupied but, if possible, book a direct flight to minimize layovers and jet lag.
Jet lag can be especially challenging for kids, so being prepared is important. If possible, try to adjust your family’s sleep schedules a few days before your trip to minimize the effects of jet lag. Once you arrive at your destination, try to get your kids outside and exposed to natural light as soon as possible.
Related read: How to Sleep on Vacation
Car Rentals, Booking Hotels or Homes, Booking Entertainment, etc.
When booking hotels or homes, take into consideration the location and amenities.
- Look for family-friendly accommodations with activities and facilities such as pools, playgrounds, and childcare services.
- When renting a car, choose a vehicle that can accommodate your family, car estas, strollers, and luggage.
- Consider booking entertainment and activities in advance to avoid disappointment.
Final Thoughts on International Travel
Indeed, traveling abroad with kids can be very stressful and requires careful planning and preparation. But, if you are willing to forget all the fuss it creates, explore new places, and teach your children some valuable lessons, then it’s worth the effort, trust me.
Your children will always cherish the wonderful memories of you traveling as a family. Happy travels!