In honor of a great two weeks with our first guests with kids, we’ve put together our list of top 10 international travel tips for parents. We’ve had so much fun over these past 12 days. We think the memories are definitely worth the jet lag, long hours on the airplane, and overcoming the apprehension of traveling with kids.
So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 things we think parents should remember when traveling internationally with kids.
- Get the Sky Couch.
Air New Zealand has this really cool thing where if you’re already buying three seats together, you can pay a teeny bit more to have a foot rest thing that raises and makes your seat into a bed. This is especially perfect for 2-8 year olds who are too big to be lap children, but aren’t really all that tall yet. When you’re flying overnight, it’s so worth it. At the very least, make sure your row has reclining seats and arm rests that raise. Once, ours didn’t, and it made for a verrrry long night.
- Carry-on a surprise.
There are moments during long layovers or even longer flights when kids need a distraction. A small surprise—something they’ve never seen or gotten to play with before—is a great source of entertainment. Sticky window decals, a little action figure, or a new sticker book, etc. can all keep kiddos occupied in confined spaces for chunks of time. There’s something about the newness and the surprise factor that make simple things all the more fascinating.
- Drink your water.
It seems so obvious, but it makes a big difference. If you fly much, you know the drill: take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up. Jaron is especially good at making sure we all have our water handy. It’s even more important on international flights. Some people say that staying hydrated really helps reduce all the yucky side-effects like jet lag and ankle swelling. It’s probably true. Those little airplane cups don’t provide enough water to keep a flea hydrated. Plus, they’re totally not kid friendly. Everyone needs their own water bottle. Flight attendants are typically more than happy to refill them too.
- Chill out
“No worries. Don’t be uptight. Don’t stress. Don’t freak out over the little things.” That’s what our friends said in that order. It’s true. It’s not like you can change it anyway. Forgot to pack underwear? No worries. You can buy those. Kid spills lunch all over their clothes? Take a chill pill. Failed to pick up your passports off the kitchen counter? Now, that’s a reason to freak out. But really, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids will likely be.
- Don’t overpack.
On more than one occasion, I have pulled two suitcases while carrying a car seat on my back and pushing a kid-filled stroller with my stomach while balancing a pack-and-play on top of the stroller handle. Crazy stuff. I was happy to ditch the pack-and-play when Q outgrew it. However, on our last trip to the States, I said, “Never again.” Not “Never again will I travel,” but never again will I attempt to pack every little thing. Traveling is challenging enough. Struggling to manage your stuff sucks every last bit of joy out of the adventure, especially when you add managing a little person to the mix. It’s best to have at least one hand free at all times. We are mastering traveling very light, and my trapezius muscles are thanking me!
Oh, and our friends packed for a family of 4 for two weeks in NZ with 3 carry-ons and two checked suitcases, plus the car seat. Total. Considering they had at least 20 pounds of our stuff with them, I’d say they definitely killed it! I am so impressed and proud.
Our friends say: “Even if your kids no longer use diapers, don’t forget the wipes, water bottles, a change of clothes (in case your luggage doesn’t make it), toothbrushes, passports, food, a blanket, the essential stuffed animal, and a very few small toys and activities in your carry-on.”
- Rock the routine.
There’s just something about routines that tells our brains what we’re supposed to be doing. On overnight flights, I make sure to change Q into pjs, brush his teeth, and do his normal bedtime routine to encourage the best possible sleep scenario. We carry on a small travel blanket that was gifted to us from a sweet church in Roswell, New Mexico and his stuffed dog. They are familiar and comforting. In the morning, he gets dressed and brushes his teeth, which signals that he can start his day.
- Talk about it.
New experiences are often so abstract and even scary for kids, but the more we talk through what’s coming, the more successful their travel experience can be. Read books about travel. Show kids pictures. Talk about your routine on the airplane and let them know there might be lines at the airport. Talk about airport safety, what you’ll do when you get there.
Long before you leave, it’s great to help your kiddos get involved in the planning process. Q’s friend had heard about the glow worm caves. She thought they sounded so cool so we made sure to put that on our agenda. Today, when they were getting ready to leave, we asked the kids to help us plan what they’ll do together when we see them in America next.
- Snacks. All the snacks.
Kids (and parents) are happier humans when they’re well-fed. In order to avoid any opportunity for “hangriness” (that’s hungry and angry at the same time) to take over, pack snacks. Lots of them. Plan for the worst-case scenario: you sat on the tarmac with no flight service for 3 hours. Your child refused to eat any of the airplane food on the flight. Your flight was delayed so you didn’t have enough time to get food during the layover. And, you had to stand in a two-hour line in customs, which delayed your access to food even further. I haven’t ever had all of those happen on one trip, but flights and airports are sometimes unpredictable. Let’s be real, eating also keeps kids occupied, which is an added bonus. Take enough nutritious snack options to keep the family happy for the entire duration should you need to. We love individual packages of peanut butter and almond butter, nuts, fresh fruit (but not too much because you can’t bring it in to NZ), cheese sticks (for early on), sandwiches, rice cakes, non-sugary snack bars, pre-sliced raw veggies… you get the idea.
- Ask for help.
Or simply just take the help that is offered. Sometimes you just need an extra hand, or you’re not sure where to go. Fellow travelers and airport employees alike can be so helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Do I need to declare this?” or “Could you please fold this stroller for me?” or “Could you keep an eye on my kid while I just take a little nap?” Just kidding!! 😊 But really, ask for help.
And our number one piece of advice…
- Take your time.
Don’t get in a hurry. I learned this really early on in our parenting experience when flying domestically with a wee one by myself. The truth of this statement is amplified a hundred-fold when traveling internationally. The world is a better place when you’re not having to rush, when you can walk through the airport at the pace of your toddler, and when an urgent need for a potty break doesn’t derail the entire plan. Of course, there are exceptions where you have to frantically run through the airport. In that case, refer to #2. However, you can set you and your kids up for a really successful travel experience by getting to the airport plenty early, planning ahead for long enough layovers, and building in time to let the wiggles out.
In fact, “Take your time” is pretty helpful advice for traveling anywhere with kids. Here’s the truth: when traveling with small children you’re probably not going to get to cram 15 hour days full of museums or multiple beach stops. Traveling with small kids may mean you have to skip the surf lessons (unless you have a baby-sitter in tow), take more frequent breaks, or opt for the half day instead of the multi-day tour. However, you are going to get to see and enjoy things together that form deep memories and develop broad world-views. And those things pay dividends that no dollar amount can measure. We say it’s a totally worthwhile adventure!