Whew! We just traveled from the Midwest to Okinawa, Japan. I have to say, international travel with small children is not for the faint of heart, but it most definitely can be done. Travel with kids is tough. Travel half way around the world is a whole other ball game.
We kept really low expectations beforehand, and when it goes well, you may be pleasantly surprised. Once you arrive at your destination, it will all be worth it. I lost sleep for months over our upcoming international travel, and it was all for nothing. Simply put, it is what it is. Now that we are here in Japan though, I wouldn’t trade our challenging travels for the world. Here are a few things that I learned on our journey to the other side…
1. Pack lots of food and snacks, plus some.
I’ve read many times not to over pack, and while you shouldn’t take too much, it is very important to pack smart. Our travels took us nearly 3 days, and we were without access to quality food for our son for quite some time. When your child is hungry, it is possible food will be unavailable from the airline or available for purchase. If your child eats solid food, pack lots of easy to eat food for your baby or toddler.
Most importantly, remember to pack formula, even if your child is breastfeed and even if your child is on cow’s milk. If you breastfeed and become sick and your supply becomes compromised for any reason, it’s important to have a quality formula that your baby will tolerate. The same goes for cow’s milk. You may not readily have access to it. Always take a small can of powder formula as a backup. Then no matter what your child will always have access to nutrition.
Know that if you take a bottle or sippy cup with you, it is not safe to wash it in an airplane bathroom. The water is treated and not safe for drinking. You can take it to a flight attendant and ask to rinse it with bottled water.
2. Pack a carry on with enough for 2 days.
Like I said before, I’ve been warned not to over pack, but packing smart goes a long way. If you get delayed what will you do? We were delayed and it resulted in our travels lasting 3 days, rather than 2 days. Before we departed, we packed one carry-on piece of luggage that contained 2 days of clothes, pajamas, and toiletries for each family member.
When we were delayed and forced to spend an additional night in a foreign hotel, it was no problem. I watched as many families were forced to wear the same clothes for 3 days. It can be done; however, international travel is tough enough. Having the comfort of clean clothes and the ability to shower and shave goes such a long way.
3. Start sleep debt free.
You may already know I’m no fan of sleep debts, as I recently wrote about helping your baby recover from a sleep debt. Traveling internationally is unfortunately a guarantee for loss of sleep. It is what it is. There is simply no good reason for starting out with a sleep debt. In the days leading up to your trip, keep things low key. Get as much rest and minimize over stimulation as much as possible. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
And if your child get sick right before you are about to leave (like mine did) then keep your fingers crossed and know you will make it through it. We all do.
4. Plan for a major loss of sleep.
When you travel internationally, there will be a significant loss of sleep. If your child is an amazing sleeper and sleeps anywhere and everywhere, I’m so glad. If you ready my post on how to help your baby sleep better during travel, you know my child is far from a good traveling sleeper sometimes. So if you are in the same boat as me, sleep loss will happen.
The good news is sometimes the whole travel process is so new and exciting that your child will tolerate it better than you imagine. My sweet sleepless son slept 2 hours in 24 hours, and all things considered, he tolerated it quite well. It was less than ideal, and it wasn’t the amount of sleep I’d hoped he would get, but it was the way it happened. And you know, we made it, and he was okay.
5. Keep a few surprise toys.
I love hiding or buying a few interesting toys before the trip. When we travel internationally and push our child to new limits, toys that are new to your child are just the ticket. I picked up a few toys at the dollar store and took a few hand-me-downs from friends.
The new toys went a long way while we were traveling. Many times babies and toddlers enjoy toys that aren’t even toys at this age. So feel free to pack a few random things…like a jump rope or a door stop or an old necklace safe for a child to play with.
6. Expect jet lag to be difficult.
Recovering from a sleep debt is tough. My biggest tip is always to be firm and consistent, but when you are dealing with a severely overtired child, flexibility is key. You may need to bend the rules or do things you normally wouldn’t.
One night I held Jameson until he fell asleep in my bed. It was what he needed that night to get through it all. It’s okay. Doing a few things out of the norm during travel and then getting back on track once your child is more rested is completely reasonable and realistic.
7. Plan for a few meltdowns.
If your child is screaming his little head off while on the plane. Do. Not. Fear. You are not the first parent experiencing this and you will certainly not be the last. All kids do crazy, crazy stuff when they are tired and in new, unfamiliar situations. You do not need to feel guilty about this. Others may judge you. Unfortunately, that may be part of the experience. We’ve all been there. Simply do the best you can and move forward. There are things you can do before your trip, however, to help your child better cope with runaway emotions.
8. Remember it will come to an end eventually.
No matter what, your travels are temporary. We will all arrive at our destination, and traveling will end. I always try to think of challenging, difficult situations other parents and children around the world are forced to endure. An international trip around the world won’t make or break your child or your parenting skills. Children are incredibly resilient, and sometimes, we assume they are not capable, when in fact they are very much capable of surviving international travel.
- 9 Tips for Successful Air Travel with Infants
- Road Trips with a Baby
- Or see the whole Traveling with Kids series!
What are your thoughts about international travel with a baby or toddler? Have you done it? Are you afraid to try it? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!
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