If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to travel internationally with kids, you’re in the right place because I’m going to tell you. When our family first moved to Okinawa, Japan I swore up and down I was never going to leave the island until my husband’s tour was finished. It’s hard to tame temper tantrums at home, let alone when you are spending an entire day traveling!
Which means I was never going to leave for 3 whole years. I made such a bold claim because traveling internationally from the US to Okinawa was honestly so bad that I never wanted to do it again unless I was forced.
Turns out that 3 years is a pretty long time, especially when your spouse is away and you live in a foreign country. So at 27 weeks pregnant with our second child, I was prepared to travel internationally from Japan to the US with an almost 2 year old. Let’s just say that I had low expectations.
After 25 hours of straight travel—from the time we left our home in Okinawa until the time we arrived at my dad’s home in the Midwest—I learned a lot about surviving international travel with kids:
Rest as much as possible in the days leading up to your trip.
There is no such thing as tiring a child out enough before international travel. It is pretty much a guarantee that everyone will lack sleep by the end of the trip. Staying as rested as possible before the trip helps both kids and adults maintain stamina throughout the travels. It’s also incredibly helpful to keep things very low key and routine leading up to the trip.
Plan for delays and extended travel times.
Things often run smoothly with international flight times, but there is always a chance for delays. And if you are delayed, it could extend your trip by 1-2 days. Pack enough clothes and snacks in a carry-on bag to get your through if you find yourself in that exact situation. The frustration of trip delays is only compounded when you experience lack of food and clean clothes.
Plan to get pooped or puked on at least once.
If you are traveling with kids, it’s almost a guarantee that your outfit or your child’s outfit will need to be changed out of necessity. Puke and poop are gross, but they are far grosser when on your clothes and you can’t change for an indefinite amount of time. Even the stress of travel may cause children to experience upset tummies. An extra set of clothes in your carry-on will save your sanity.
Weigh the pros and cons of the car seat.
Once your child enters the toddler years (18 months and above) the use of a car seat on an airplane has both pros and cons.
- It’s awesome to have a 5 point harness for a very active toddler.
- You know your child is safe and in their seat.
- It allows your child easy access to kick the seat in front of them.
- It gets pretty uncomfortable after long periods of time.
- It is very cumbersome to take on and off an airplane.
Honestly, it could go either way depending on the temperament of your child. My son was almost two and I thought the car seat was necessary; however, once in the actual situation, I found my son kicked the seat in front of him and this really made other passengers angry.
Hindsight: Checking the car seat as luggage was a better option for us. He was able to lay down in the seat and fall asleep. He also had more room to play with toys, and it was far easier come mealtime. It is slightly stressful if your child becomes unruly; however, the benefit of allowing your child to sit in a regular seat is better than the benefits of the car seat.
Consider bringing essential oils.
I know I talk about essential oils on this military wife blog quite a bit, but this is a situation when I found them incredibly useful. If you have a child who experiences a difficult time sitting still, essential oils can help keep kids calm during travel. Essential oils also offer amazing support for healthy sleep. So if you are looking to help your child sleep well while on the road, essential oils can help support that. I made pre-diluted blends for my son, and I pre-diluted a few oils for myself to use as well.
Oils I used on our last trip:
- Lavender to promote relaxation and support sleep (1 drop lavender to 15 drops olive oil blended in a 5 ml roller bottle)
- Peace and calming to promote a calming and relaxing mood (1 drop peace and calming to 15 drops olive oil, blended in a 5 ml roller bottle)
- Cedarwood to support sleep (1 drop cedarwood to 15 drops olive oil, blended in a 5 ml roller bottle)
- Thieves Vitality to support a strong immune system during travel.
For myself, I used Valor and Stress Away essential oils throughout the trip to help promote a relaxed and calm mood in myself. Let’s face it: International travel is a surefire way to test any mother’s patience and essential oils worked wonders to keep me sane during the trip.
Expect little to no sleep for yourself.
Hopefully you do sleep at some point during your travels, but in my experience this is not the case. I slept maybe a few winks at best during all my international flights with kids. If you have older kids (school-aged and above) sleep is far more realistic. I personally struggle sleeping sitting up, but with a toddler sleeping with ninja moves in the seat next to me, it was beyond impossible. I regularly helped my son re-position himself while he was sleeping to prevent falling out of his seat.
Know that it’s temporary.
No matter what happens, your time traveling will only last for a day or two. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so bad. And if you are truly missing your family, it’s worth a few challenging days of international travel with kids for several amazing weeks with friends and family.
Want more on parenting?
- Traveling with Kids? 8 Ways Essential Oils Will Save Your Sanity
- The Secret Only Moms of Toddlers Really Know
- One Simple Trick to Help Kids Fall Asleep Fast
- What No One Tells You About Parenting Toddler Boys
What’s your best tip for surviving international travel with a toddler? Let’s chat in the comments!
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