7 Tips for Travelling With Tots Internationally
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After a 10-day trip to Paris from our home base in Los Angeles with our two tots in tow (ages 5 and 15 months), my husband and I learned a thing or two about long-haul flights with little ones, the trickiness of cobblestone for a new walker, and the legit side of jet lag.
Although the trip was tiring at times, there is no comparison to watching your child see the world on a broader scale. Exploring beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood park and waving goodbye to comfort zones was exhilarating—it was also exhausting (to be totally frank) but well worth it in the end. The memories are locked in my brain and written on my heart.
If you’re planning a family adventure, perhaps you can learn from our triumphs our failures. Here are my top seven tips for surviving and thriving an international family vacation with young ones.
Tip 1: Set Yourself Up for Success
If possible, keep your travel dates (and actual flying days) as flexible as possible so you can select the most affordable flights. If there ever were a time to use miles and upgrade, this is it. An adult-only trip is already relaxing, so if you have to make the choice of when to use your hard-earned miles, use them now. It’s not about the free booze or the better in-flight pillow. The space is priceless. Having room for the little ones to stretch out and catch some z’s at 35,000 feet will start your trip on the right foot. I recommend booking early to have the most selection of upgrade-eligible flights.
We actually chose a connection over direct because it cut the price in half and only added two hours of travel time. As you may know, children under 2 travel for free. While first class was more miles than coach, there was plenty of room for a lap baby, so we didn’t actually have to buy a seat or use any miles for our 15-month-old. If we had gone the coach route, our baby would have needed his own seat for sure. (For budgeting purposes—please note that you do have to pay taxes for lap children on international flights regardless of the fare class.)
Tip 2: Dress for the Long Haul
Getting to your final destination can easily take 15 hours or more of travel time. Your clothes and your kiddos’ clothes should be able to withstand the hustle, the shuffle, and the stains while keeping everyone comfy. Vegan leather (in dark colours—preferably black) is a great option for mums because it’s stain- and wrinkle-resistant. I also recommend layering—not just for changes in temperature, but if one piece gets covered in ravioli, you can ditch it or at least hide the stain. For the littles, outfits that feel like jammies but look like real clothes (aka Pima one-pieces for babes and cotton knit dresses and leggings for older children) are a win. Also, packing an extra set for each child is a must.
Tip 3: Skip the Hotel
With the abundance of home-share websites and rental resources, there is no need to cram your crew into a tiny hotel room. My go-to is Kid & Coe—it’s basically Airbnb for families. For this last visit to Paris, it helped us find a three-bed, two-bath apartment steps from the Eiffel Tower, with an elevator, a crib, and a high chair. Not to mention, it was absolutely gorgeous and less expensive than an average hotel room.
Tip 4: Carousels Will Save Your Life
Before you start mapping out the tourist spots you want to hit, spend some time on Google maps locating playgrounds, carousels, and parks. Make notes and plan educational sightseeing around them. When shit hits the fan and your typically sweet child is jet lag–possessed, throwing a tantrum on the ground, you will need an arsenal of fun spots to get the day back on track.
Tip 5: Have a Secret Snack Stash
If you can’t find a carousel to save your life, pull out the big guns—non-organic, full-of-sugar American snacks that you smuggled in and kept hidden from your children. The beauty of not letting your kids eat Doritos on the daily is that they that become delicacies and can get you out of a tantrum situation. Sometimes it’s about survival. The kale-smoothie cleanse can commence upon arriving safely back at home.
Tip 6: Ditch Expectations
I think it’s wise to remain as open-minded as possible. Don’t expect too much from the tiny humans. Sticking to one planned activity per day, rather than overplanning, tends to keep everyone sane. If the stars align and you are able to do more, it will be a welcome bonus. Sometimes letting the day unfold as it may is the best part of a trip.
With this sentiment in mind, I suggest skipping all-access passes. It will create an unnecessary amount of pressure for a nominal amount of savings. Plus, most places admit children under 12 for free.
Tip 7: Reserve the Last Seating
When you’re traveling abroad with tots, dining out can be a challenge. Rarely are the hot spots or places that you (the parent) actually want to eat “kid-friendly.” My philosophy is go anyway. But here’s the trick: Do not go for dinner. Go for lunch. And here’s the bigger trick: Reserve the very last lunch seating. You will avoid the rush and eliminate some of the pressure to keep everyone perfectly quiet and contained.
I do suggest making reservations ahead of time, though, as every country is different. As Americans, we are often used to restaurants remaining open all day. This is not always the case in other countries, particularly Europe, where most places close at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. and do not reopen until 7 p.m.
The last thought I will leave you with is not a tip, per se, but a mindset to consider. The trip will not be perfect. There will be tears (not just from the children). There will be tantrums (again, not just from the children), but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, you will only remember the magic.
There’s no other word to describe it. Showing your children the wonders of our beautiful world is magic.