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Tips for Traveling Internationally with Toddlers

12 Tips for International Travel with Toddlers French village at Beaches Resort in Turks & Caicos

We’re back. We’ve returned to the “spring tundra” of Chicago after spending nearly a week in paradise (a.k.a. Turks & Caicos). Eighty-five degree days full of sun (or partly cloudy on “bad days”) set the stage for the most relaxing week we’ve had in about as long as we can remember. Alas, we had to return to our everyday lives and the thirty five degree “spring” days Chicago tries to pretend emulate warm weather.

Any parent knows that travel with young children can be tough. Out of their element, not in their own beds, and far from their daily routine, many things get thrown a little off kilter. Long lines at Customs, foreign languages, strange food, long plane rides, and many other international factors can make the travel even more stressful. But a little experience goes a long way.

We just got back from a gorgeous trip to the Caribbean, so rest assured I’m not complaining. All in all, T (almost 3 yrs old) and J (1 yr old) did pretty well. I have to give them due credit; they were troopers.

A couple of years ago, just before T turned one, we traveled with him to Switzerland to visit some friends. I shared all about our days in Zurich, Lucerne, and Uetliberg not long after our trip.

While planning for and throughout our trips, I learned a thing or two through trial and error (unfortunately more error than I might have liked) about how to prepare and what to pack to make traveling internationally with the boys a little bit easier.

1. International Taxes for a Lap Child ~ Although lap children (under 2 years old and sitting on your lap) don’t require a ticket, they do incur international flight taxes. These are calculated based on the price of the seat. The longer you wait to pay them, the higher the effective seat price presumably and the more you pay in taxes for your baby to sit on your lap.

I have to thank Janssen for this tip. Had she not shared her tidbit of knowledge, I would have arrived at the airport on our way to Turks and Caicos without a ticket for J. I can only imagine the taxes on a “day of travel” international flight to a vacation destination. I probably owe her several hundred dollars, at least!

When we traveled to Switzerland, we bought T his own seat despite being eligible to be a lap child. Just under a year, we brought his car seat which he slept in for a good portion of the flights both ways. When splurging on international travel, we found buying a seat was well worth the cost (and not always a whole lot more expensive than the international flight taxes alone). We took two flights to Turks & Caicos that were each about two or two and half hours, so we felt J didn’t need his own seat given the shorter flying times.

2. Snacks ~ Hungry kiddos are unhappy kiddos. While traveling, it’s really nice to have a few familiar and easy-to-eat snacks in case we can’t find something suitable for the little ones when their stomachs start growling. The snacks also prove to be great distractions on the plane, and eating the snacks during takeoff and landing helps prevent ear pain from pressure changes.

3. Ziploc Bags ~ No matter where you’re traveling, you’ll likely have a few things with you that really shouldn’t get wet like a camera, passports, and money. Even if you’re not at a beach or in a rainy locale, it’s important to have a little extra protection from the wet clothes, dripping sippy cups, or inevitable spills.

Three days into our Turks & Caicos trip, my camera broke. When I got home, I brought it to my local repair shop to pay them almost $400 to fix it and tell me it was full of sand and condensation. Despite being a bit of an inconvenience every time I wanted to use it, storing my camera in the Ziploc bag would have allowed me to photograph the last three days of our trip and saved me $400! Please learn from my mistake.

Ziploc bags also make great repositories for clothes that became victim to baby blowouts or potty-training accidents, wet swimsuits, dirty diapers, crumbly snacks, “sweaty” bottles and sippy cups, and just about everything else you don’t want contaminating the rest of your bag.

4. Travel Size Dish Soap and Laundry Soap ~ While I always think this sounds silly, I’ve wanted both of these on just about every trip we’ve taken. Yet I still don’t pack them. Next time, I’m determined to bring these bad boys.

With a limited stash of bottles and sippy cups and clean clothes, we end up washing these items in our hotel room sink between uses. I certainly don’t want to be washing my baby’s bottles with the hotel’s free body wash or the bar soap on the counter.

While I don’t plan to do “laundry” in our hotel room sink, accidents happen. Sometimes the mess requires at least a soapy rinse before being packed up for home. All those blown-out onesies and pee-soaked underwear in the aforementioned Ziploc bags will be disgusting if not addressed before returning back home.

5. Sun Protection ~ Nothing’s worse than being on vacation nursing a sunburn in the confines of your hotel room. For our beach vacation, we brought loads of suscreen and a small bottle of aloe. I also packed hats, sunglasses and swim shirts for the boys to keep their pasty white Chicago skin protected. I brought the Pack A Hat I received courtesy of Cappelli Straworld which folds right up into the matching wristlet in which it comes.

6. Medicine & Thermometer ~ Your little one might be healthy as can be the day you leave. But who knows what will happen the moment you step off the crowded, germ-infested plane. Bring Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and Benadryl.

On both our international trips (and many domestic ones too), we’ve needed at least one of these medications. In Switzerland, T cut his first tooth and screamed beyond belief throughout the night in our (surely paper-thin walled) hotel room. We did not bring medication with us and learned our lesson the hard way. The next day, we spent a couple of hours searching for a pharmacy (hopefully one with a pharmacist who spoke English), converting pounds to kilograms to determine the right dosage, and hoping the French, German or Swiss label didn’t indicate that this medication should only be given to children over two years old.

When the pharmacist asked if T had a temperature, M and I looked at each clueless. We hadn’t brought medication, let alone a thermometer.

Because they’re so young, we’re still discovering if they have any allergies. Having Benadryl handy gives us comfort when encouraging them to try the new, local foods. The medication and thermometer take up so little space in luggage, having them handy is more than worth their keep.

7. Crocs ~Unless you’re headed to really cold weather, these shoes are the best! T can put them on himself. They can be easily wiped and cleaned if they get wet at a pool, in the rain, or when the almost potty-trained 3 year old pees his pants. They’re also comfortable enough that the boys can walk in them all day without issue.

8. Diaper Bag for the Plane ~ We always bring an extra outfit for each boy (which we’ve used on nearly every trip). We bring overnight diapers for long plane rides for a bit of extra protection. A blanket for each boy not only keeps them warm but acts as a great pillow during naps. I can’t live without the blanket folded up under my arm that’s supporting their sleeping head and resting on the not-very-comfortable arm rest. Sucking on a pacifier or drinking from a bottle or sippy cup works wonders to prevent ear pain during take off and landing. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant for water or snacks before taking off. Happy babies are good for everyone on the plane.

9. Aisle Seat ~ The aisle seat provides easy access to the bathrooms for changing diapers and the aisles for bouncing and calming a baby. Additionally, especially with a lap child, the aisle offers just a bit of extra space for the baby to lay on your lap. You may have to lift their head when the drink cart comes by, but it’s so much more comfortable than a window seat (and obviously everyone hates the middle). I definitely recommend requesting it when you book your reservation.

10. Song and Dance ~ When all else fails, do a little song and dance. It’s pretty amazing how a little song quietly whispered in a baby’s ear calms them down, especially when done while bouncing or swaying with the baby in your arms.

On a long flight I recently traveled on, a little boy behind me screamed full throttle for nearly thirty minutes. Finally, the flight attendant took the baby to the back of the plane. Not long after, she returned the baby to his parents, fast asleep in her arms and said “he just needed to hear the ABCs a few times.” Certainly, the motion walking around the plane and bouncing him in the back of the plane helped calm him down. But it’s really amazing how a little singing can really calm a baby. Since watching this, I’ve tried singing to my boys hundreds of times in various settings with incredibly high success rates.

11. Naptime ~ While we aren’t particularly rigid about the specific timing of naps, we are sticklers on naps in general. Each day, J enjoyed his morning nap in the stroller while we hung out at the pool. I read a book in the room while the boys took afternoon naps in their beds.

During travel, we let T know in advance when we’d be riding on the “napping plane.” For these flights, he had to take a nap (which generally lasted an hour and a half to two hours) before he could watch a movie on the iPad, the other indulgent activity we offered for flight time.

12. Stay Calm & Swallow Your Pride ~ For better and for worse, when your little one starts to cry, there is no one on the plane, at the restaurant, or in the painfully slow customs line more devastated than you. You feel like they are crying louder and longer than they really are. You probably want to cry.

These days, everyone on the plane has some headphones to drown out the whimpers. They probably are not as bothered as you think and many understand from personal experience. Even if they are annoyed, they can go pound sand. There’s only so much we can do to soothe an upset baby. We’re doing our best!

(Bonus!) Personal Valet Service ~ While it may not be at every airport, see if your airport has a personal valet service. When heading to Turks & Caicos, we flew in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. For various reasons, our options for traveling to and from the airport were limited. We used O’Hare Personal Valet. It was amazing and well worth the price!

We arrived at the airport around 5:30 am for our early departure. One of their drivers met us promptly at the departure doors, so we drove up to the airport just as if a friend dropped us off. While we were gone, for a reasonable extra fee, they washed our car and left it as clean as it’s been since we bought it. Upon arrival, we communicated via text (they also tracked our flight) and they met us right on schedule with our car after we gathered up our luggage from baggage claim. We walked outside and the driver drove our car up to the curb as we walked out the door. The whole experience was seamless, and we couldn’t have been happier.

In summary, we had a really great trip! Traveling with young children can feel intimidating, but with a little planning and packing the right things, it’s a worthwhile experience.

Have you taken your little ones to another country? Do you have any other great ideas or tricks to share? I’d love to hear in the comments. If you’ve got a friend who will be traveling abroad with their babies, be sure to share this post with them if you think they’d find it helpful!

Hanging out at the pool with the boys

Swimsuit Coverup – Target | Swimsuit – Tommy Bahama | Hat – c/o Cappelli Straworld | Sunglasses – old

Pack A Hat, sunglasses, and swim cover up for the poolIMG_7683IMG_7969Beaches Resort - Turks & CaicosBlack swim cover, Pack A Hat wristletIMG_7680

Shorts & Shirts – Thrifted via Salvation Army | Shoes – Crocs

IMG_7967IMG_7999

P.S. If you found these helpful, check out 7 Tips for Relaxing Travel with Kids and How To Make Air Travel With young Children Easier for lots more ideas about how to make your vacations the best they can be.

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