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My Top 10 Tips for Traveling Abroad with Little Ones

October 2, 2012

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I don’t claim to be a jet setter with my kids but we have traveled a few places and we most recently traveled to France in the summer. I spent months and months planning and organizing this trip. When I thought about what I wish I would have been able to find quickly and in one list, these are the tips I would have wanted. I hope they help you on your next trip!

10. PACK LIGHT. I’ll start with the hard one but I think it’s important. Try and pack your family into just carry on luggage. Why oh why would I suggest something that would appear to make your life harder? It isn’t – trust me. Imagine getting to your amazing European destination only to discover little Johnny’s bag didn’t make it. Your brain is already on overdrive trying to figure out how to get to the car rental place, how to ask for help in another language, where you’re going to get your first meal. Believe me – whatever you can control, CONTROL it. Other than the obvious that you don’t want to lose your luggage, packing light has so many other benefits. Each person has their own small suitcase that holds their clothes, their toiletries, their shoes, their toys. There’s no mixing up clothes and rummaging through a giant suitcase looking for someone’s underwear, it’s there. The kids can carry their own luggage if they’re old enough. A 4 year old can easily wheel a small carry on suitcase around the airport freeing up your hands to carry the rest of your belongings. When you’re packing, rather than thinking of every single thing you might need, think only of what you WILL need. This is easier said than done. Often Moms will bring everything they could possibly need just in case. Get rid of that mentality. There are grocery stores and Walmart type stores where you’re going. People there have kids too – if you need something you forgot, you can buy it there. Also, cars in Europe are not always as big as they are here. Try fitting 4 huge suitcases in your European rental…this may end in divorce 😉 If you have a baby you can also bring a diaper bag. So for a family of four including a baby you can usually each bring a carry on (not for baby), a diaper bag for the baby, and a personal bag each. Do a small load of laundry once per week of vacation and you’re good to go!

9. RESERVE THE BULKHEAD SEATS. Yes, pay that extra money and reserve these seats. It will be some of the best money you’ve ever spent. It gives you just that little bit more room that can make such a difference. When the kids get restless in their seats they can sit on the floor and play. You have three less people in front of you to worry about and you’re usually close to the washroom. If you have a baby, reserve the seats that accommodate the bassinet. Your baby doesn’t have to sleep on your lap – bonus!

8. RENT YOUR BABY EQUIPMENT. This is the key to being able to pack light. You’re not going to be packing your entire household and bringing it to Europe. Most large cities have a baby equipment rental company, just Google it for the city you’re arriving in. We used Baby’tems in Paris. Some of the items they rent include: strollers, cribs, car seats, high chairs, baby monitors, tubs, bed rails, etc. The best part is that many will meet you at the airport with everything you’ve rented. They even brought us a large pack of diapers (again, so I only had to pack what we needed for the plane). I highly recommend checking out this option before you travel.

7. ID BRACELETS. No one wants to think about losing your child but the unthinkable can happen and if you’re in a foreign country where your child is unable to speak the language then you need to prepare them in case something happens. I bought these ID bracelets from Vital ID. They’re simple. They include the child’s name, address and most importantly, the cell phone number you can be reached at while in Europe. If your child is old enough, explain to them what the bracelet is for and to find the closest Mommy with kids and show her the bracelet if they’re lost. My kids also thought the ‘superpower wristbands’ were quite cool.

6. THE IPAD. If you’re a parent with an iPad then you’ve probably already discovered the magical powers this device has with your small children. The best part though, is that the iPad frees you up from bringing a whole other suitcase full of toys. It is your tv, your movie theatre, your books, your games, your colouring pad. In short – it pretty much covers everything. Again, we’re packing light, the iPad lets us do this. So while I did bring a few toys for my boys to Europe (and when I say few, I mean a few small toy dinosaurs and a couple matchbox cars) I didn’t see the need in bringing much. The kids didn’t need toys, they were out discovering and exploring the surroundings. If you feel like your kids may want more toys to play with, ask your hotel. The hotel we stayed at in Paris had a bin full of toys waiting for the kids in our room. Have them pick 3-4 small toys to bring from home and the rest is up to their imagination.

5. TEACH YOUR KIDS ABOUT WHERE YOU’RE GOING. Familiarize your children with the country they’ll be visiting. It will be a lot less of a shock to them if you’ve been talking about it for months. If you’re going to a country that speaks another language then play music in that language, watch a movie in that language and of course, if you speak the language then speak to them in it. Teach them a few words as a lesson that it’s always better to try and speak in the language of the country you’re in than assuming everyone speaks English. A simple hello, please and thank you can go a long way. Take out a map of the world and show the kids where you’ll be going, how far it is relative to you. Will they understand? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s about planting the seed. Have a theme dinner before you go showing them the types of food they may eat while there. Food can always be a sticky subject with toddlers. If you introduce the different foods to them before you go, you will hopefully have an easier time getting them to eat once you’re there. You can also go online with them and look up all of the landmarks you plan to visit. Show them the Eiffel Tower and talk to them about it and it’s history – they’ll be a lot more excited about it when they see it if they’re familiar with it. Travel to me is about fun and education. I want my kids to get the most out of every vacation we go on. Take the opportunity to teach them about the world.

4. BRING A BABY CARRIER. We used ours a LOT. Try using the subway with a stroller – you can do it, but it’s not fun. Cobblestone streets and very narrow sidewalks also make it difficult to use a stroller. You can get baby carriers now that carry children up to 45lbs. Now while I’m all for kids walking, in some cases having them strapped on to you where they can’t get away is just a matter of safety – busy airport, amusement park, etc. We did rent a stroller as well but having that carrier made all the difference. I even had a lady in Paris stop and chat with me about the carrier and how Hugh liked it – see, it even bridges gaps between cultures! 😉

3. McDONALD’S IS YOUR FRIEND. I know, I know, terrible yes. Trust me, I’m the last person I thought would be saying this but it’s true for a few reasons. First, 99.9% of the time McDonald’s will have a clean bathroom with changing facilities for a baby. Many, if not most restaurants in France don’t have a high chair let alone a diaper changing table in the washroom. Second, McDonald’s has WiFi. There are no internet cafes in remote France. You may even be staying somewhere with no internet. All McDonald’s have free WiFi. Third, it’s familiar. So while you’re trying to immerse yourself in another culture and speak their language and eat their food, sometimes you just need that little piece of home to cure that homesickness. And last but not least, many have an indoor or outdoor playground. After all, the vacation is for the kids too and to a 3 year old it might as well be Disneyland, they don’t know the difference. So go on, go to McDonald’s in Europe – I won’t tell. 😉

2. BRING OTHER PEOPLE. This one is an option of course but if you can swing it, swing it! Now I’m not talking babysitters. I’m saying bring other people just to have other people around. So that the kids have other people to talk to. So that when the kids go to bed you can socialize with other adults and pretend you’re on an adult vacation for a few hours a night. My in-laws came with us for the first half of our trip and then my brother and his girlfriend met us for the second half. It REALLY makes a difference. That ten minutes in the morning you can blow dry your hair while your little one is eating cereal with Grandpa? Priceless. Sharing the cooking with someone else? Also priceless. Your kids getting a chance to spend an extended period of time with your friends or relatives is also a great learning experience for them. Seeing the world through not only your eyes but someone that may be older or younger than you with different life experiences will always enrich your children.

1. GO WITH THE FLOW. Yes, you’re going to get lost. Yes, your kids are going to lose their marbles at some point (if not many). Yes, your visions of sitting outside with a glass of wine at night may not always work out that way. Relax and go with the flow. This a great opportunity to teach your kids how to deal with these situations. We were lost for 8 hours when we first go to France. Yep, we are awesome with directions! 😉 While it was definitely a bit disconcerting, I was just so happy to be in France that being lost in France wasn’t really a bad thing! When your kids lose it on the plane – because they likely will at some point during the long flight – keep calm and carry on. How you react to the situation will show the other passengers how they should react. If you start losing it, they will too. Try all the new and funny foods you never would at home. Throw back those oysters and show your kids that’s what life is about, trying new things. I knew our trip wouldn’t be smooth sailing and that’s part of the reason I wanted to do it. Putting us in a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable situation was how I wanted to teach the kids about adaptability and resilience. Your kids may not remember the details of this vacation but they will remember how the vacation made them feel, how much fun they had, how Mom & Dad acted towards them and each other and how they felt when all was said and done.

Have you traveled abroad with your kids? What are your best tips for surviving and thriving on vacation? Leave your comments below.

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This article is the first in a series of ‘How Do You…’ posts. To view the other articles in this series click below!
Julie Miller – “How Do You Avoid Fake Smile Photos”
Lindsay Nichols – “How Do You Find Inspiration?”
Michelle Wells – “Loving Two”

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