AKA how to travel internationally with kids, and not loose your mind.
No, we are not crazy. Yes, it can be done…dare we say and be the best thing you ever did.
Yes, there will be hard moments, but goodness will it be worth it.
For years, we daydreamed about taking an international trip. We MISSED Europe….but the kids, they’re so little, to take them at this age would be crazy! To go just ourselves and leave them for that long at this age, how could we do that!
All the while daydreaming and booking NOTHING.
After a few years of being stuck in that wanderlusting, never traveling, quicksand we decided NO MORE. We aren’t waiting any longer, we are taking that trip we have been fantasizing about…and we’re taking the kids along with us dang it!
Our girls were 8 months and just about 3 years old, two kids three and under, and we booked a trip to Italy, for a month.
That was our first trip internationally with the girls and we haven’t looked back since.
Hard at moments? YES.
Incredible at moments? YES.
A life-giving adventure with memories we treasure and are SO dear? YES.
Worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
Our philosophy on traveling with kids- parenting is hard, really hard, every.single.day. no matter where we are. At the end of most days I am exhausted. So why not be in the place I’ve been dreaming about while doing it all?
We hope these tips for traveling internationally with little ones are empowering and an inspiration to you!
Hope for the best, expect the worse. Although, Luke the undeniable optimist in our marriage, would say to never expect the worse…”You are just setting yourself up for failure!” My mama self says though hope for the best, pray for the best, expect and prepare for the very, very worse.
Traveling with kids internationally is ALL about your expectations. When we flew to Italy with our toddler and infant, we had three flights ahead of us before stepping foot in the land of gelato and pizza. I prepared myself mentally for 24hrs of potential meltdowns, knowing we had a month ahead of us of pure bliss. It could go swimmingly perfect and you have angel babies or it could be a complete disaster, including but not limited to myself getting peed on without a change of clothes (Note- ALWAYS bring a change of clothes for everyone, not just the babes…rookie mistake, I know).
Will you get to go to that romantic restaurant that just looks so hip and trendy and is date night central? Get to go to every single incredible museum in the city? Nope. But you will get to experience a new country with your favorite people in the world, and in this season of life, that requires an adjustment of expectations.
Good, Bad, Great, Horrible…it WILL be worth it.
TAKE IT SLOW
If at all possible extend your trip for as long as you can possibly afford to time and money wise. It was SO helpful on the days the girls were just.not.having it, that we could say scrap this, let’s head back to the apartment and try again tomorrow. Knowing we had time built in for this was so clutch…because we all know if kids are anything at all, they are unpredictable.
We aimed to see one site a day. Typically between public transportation to get there, making time for wandering, and meals, that was an entire morning in and of itself.
Our days typically looked like a slow breakfast at the apartment, out for adventuring to one activity for that day (Our little one would nap in the Ergo at some point here), and then out to a restaurant, picnicking, or back for a homemade lunch. The afternoons were spent at the apartment- both so the girls could nap and we could take a breather. Once they were up, we were either feeling energized and ready to go explore again or would just stay in our neighborhood for playground plays, after dinner strolls, and of course and always GELATO.
If at all possible, get on the new time zone as quickly as possible. Jump into the new rhythm right away, no matter how tired you are. The first few days everybody will feel groggy and a bit out of it, but being in the new country will completely energize you and quickly mask any jet lag.
Expect sleep patterns to be a bit mixed up for a few days, but the kids will adjust. Just stay consistent and expect nighttime wakings for a few days. It took both of our girls (3 years and 8 months) about 2-3 days to adjust and return to their normal, peaceful sleeping through the entire night schedule.
LESS is so much MORE. Another benefit to booking an AirBnB….LAUNDRY. We packed for a month in Italy for our family of 4 in one large roller suitcase and one carry on (yes- no Pack ‘n Play, no car seats, no high chair or clip on…read more on that below!) Each person got about a week’s worth of outfits and two pairs of shoes. If we were going for less time, I would have paired down on that even more and planned on just one large suitcase for all of us.
The less you pack, the more free hands you have. The more free hands you have, the happier your babies are. The happier your babies are, the more you are not loosing your mind…and actually able to enjoy your traveling- call me crazy, maybe even the transit part 🙂
And all the families traveling internationally with kids said A M E N. Most all major airlines offer the ability to book a bassinet if you are traveling with an infant. This glorious small baby bed hooks onto the wall in front of your seats- meaning you don’t have to hold your child for the entire flight.
Simply call your airline, tell them you are flying with an infant and you would like to reserve the bassinet. They will move you up to the bulkhead row and reserve the bassinet for that little one, FOR FREE! Just make sure to check in with the flight attendants as soon as you arrive to your gate, to ensure they have the bassinet and that answered prayer is YOURS (typically there is only one).
Bonus Hack // Slide your nursing cover over the bassinet and put a portable sound machine in there and it blocks out a lot of the light and sounds that would wake baby up!
Our youngest resisted the bassinet at first because it was a new environment, but with some snuggling, nursing, and the above hack she ended up sleeping almost the entire 6 hours on the overnight flight there….now the rest of us, not so much. But, HALLELUJAH.
This was hands down what made traveling with our girls in Italy doable and enjoyable. One in the stroller, one in the carrier…free hands for us. Our little one (8 months at the time) would nap in the carrier daily, allowing us to still adventure and not miss out on a thing.
Our favorite carrier by far while traveling is the Ergo. We also have the Solly Wrap and love, love that for when the babies are super little, but the Ergo was sturdy, quick to take on and off, and allowed for easy naps while on the go.
The best of the best travel stroller right here. This beast of a stroller has lived through a month of cobblestone streets in Italy, the beaches of California, the hills of San Francisco, planes, trains, and automobiles, and it is still going strong. Durable, lightweight, easy to fold up quickly, comfortable for baby, and doesn’t break the bank.
Gosh, the dreaded car seats while traveling with kids. Why is there not a better solution for this yet?! For years Luke and I have been brainstorming up a Shark Tank worthy idea to solve this problem…alas it continues to be a hiccup, an essential and important one all be it, but a hiccup in every adventure with little ones.
Our personal preference is to avoid bringing the car seats whenever we can, because that just makes us and the kids happier travelers 🙂 We will either opt to reserve one if we are already renting a car (although our experience with that has not been fabulous) or if heading to a major city were we can rely on public transportation just leave those massive things AT HOME. In Rome, as we stayed in the city the entire month besides one day trip, we simply booked a driver through Sixt MyDriver to and from the airport, as they had an option to request car seats.
When in the city- trains, buses, trams, metro, you name it and we are on it. Our older daughter loveeedddd riding all the public transportation, in fact she would meltdown if she found out we weren’t going on the tram that day. Every country will be different, but in Italy we experienced that people were polite and willing to give up their seats for the kids or mama with the Ergo about 75% of the time.
By and far our favorite way to travel with kids. Booking an apartment instead of a hotel provides SO much more flexibility and room to breathe. We booked a two bedroom, two bath apartment in Italy- us in the master, our toddler in the smaller bedroom, and our infant in the large bathroom (crazy or genius? We say genius, but this is a no judgement zone here- it’s dark, quiet, and a baby sleep inducing cave).
The AirBnb not only was less expensive than a hotel room, but we also had a kitchen AND the ability to do laundry. This way we didn’t have to eat out for every single meal, save money, have a cozy home base, and pack less.
The game changer for us was finding an AirBnb specifically catered to families (This one in Rome). Our host had a toddler bed, crib for the baby, high chair, kids dishes and utensils, and children’s toys and books…yes, I know. What?! Just about the best thing this mama ever heard. On AirBnb there is a Family Friendly search option; when at all possible we book apartments with these amenities already there for us. The kids can enjoy their new “home” more and so can we, win-win 🙂
To get $40 off your first reservation, book through this link HERE.
We knew we had three flights to get through and approximately 24 hours of travel. So we needed something to keep the transit exciting and everyone reasonably well behaved. Enter wrapped up airplane surprises.
We bought 3-5 small, packable “presents” for our toddler that we wrapped prior to leaving (read- I wrapped them with old Christmas paper on the way to the airport): A sticker book, a bag of gummies, a few Golden Books (thin and light!), and a water coloring book (our very favorite activity for traveling with kids- no mess, no stray parts, and reusable over and over).
Before taking off on each flight or if we had a longer layover, she got to unwrap one gift. SO much excitement, SO much anticipation, SO many new gifts to explore, SO much leverage 🙂
ONE FOR YOU, ONE FOR ME
Traveling with littles is so enjoyable for the whole family if you have the right attitude. And so many activities were both exciting for the girls and a joy for us- city parks, new restaurants and food to try, huge monuments, fountains and piazzas, riding the trains and buses, the list goes on.
However, believe it or not the kids were not thrilllledddd with going to see say St.Peter’s Basilica. We weren’t living in Rome for a month without going to see the Vatican though, right?
One for you, one for me. We go to see St.Peter’s that morning, so after nap time we go play at the playground down the street for the 1000th time and go browse around that kid’s bookstore she had been eyeing. And really as a parent, it’s all a joy- because like we said you are in a beautiful new country, exploring new places, with your favorite people in the world, what could be better?
Bonus Hack // We would also implement this concept with each other! There was a few things both Luke and I really wanted to do, but knew it just was not best for the kids. Luke was dying to go visit this Monastery (die hard theology nerd that husband of mine), but it was a mile hike uphill with no means to take a taxi, the opposite of child friendly. So one day I stayed in Rome with the girls and he got to take his dream day trip, and visa versa.
CUT DOWN ON THE MULTI-CITY TRIPS
I think what really made our international travel with little ones so enjoyable was that we stayed in the same destination the entire trip. We weren’t trekking from Venice to Florence to Rome to Naples…we stayed in Rome the entire time, and it was beautiful.
The transit, we think, is the hardest part of traveling with kids. So we cut down on that as much as possible. With all future international trips, we plan to visit one, maybe two, cities if we have more time. This really allowed us to settle in, take it slow, and not have the stress of packing up and moving from one city to another with babies in tow.
JUST DO IT
It is that simple. Just book the trip. You will figure out the details as you go and everything will fall into place. But stop just dreaming, and start GOING. You won’t regret it.