TOP TEN TIPS AND TRICKS FOR TRAVELING WITH SMALL KIDS
How to survive and thrive when taking trips with little ones.
Number One: Keep family travel documents together and handy
Make Sure All Passports are Up to Date Well in Advance of Your Trip
Nothing ruins a planned trip like realizing your passports aren’t in order. Always double-check all documents as early as you possibly can. Also, make sure you have enough pages. Some countries, like Germany, require two completely blank pages for entry.
Learn from my mistakes, and please always get the extended passport when getting baby’s first passport. While we had traveled extensively before having Lily, we made the mistake of thinking we would travel much less when she was born. We didn’t bother selecting the additional pages option when we got her first passport at three months. As a result, we had to get a completely new passport for her after three years and thirty-something countries. There’s no extra charge, so go ahead and check that extended box!
Other Important Documents
When traveling with a small child, always bring their birth certificate with you (the original if possible). Some countries will ask for it. Also, make sure to carry health insurance cards in case of emergency, keeping in mind that international coverage varies widely amongst insurance companies.
Number Two: Global Entry cards are a must
Going Through the Global Entry Lanes Saves a World of Time and Trouble
Global Entry really does save an immeasurable amount of time when traveling internationally, even to and from Mexico and Canada. We were able to slide Lily in when she was a tiny baby, but we eventually had to get her a card. Her interview was comical, but I’m so glad we got a card for her as well. We now breeze through on international returns. A sweet bonus: we always get TSA Precheck on even domestic flights. It’s a win-win.
Check with Your Card Companies Before Signing Up
Many, if not most, credit card companies reimburse you for the $100 Global Entry application fee. The fee is nominal considering the benefits you receive, but at free, who could say no?
Number Three: Travel with lightweight car seats and strollers
Travel Car Seats
I often hear from parents that the very idea of lugging around a standard car seat stops them from traveling. There are so many great travel car seats on the market, don’t let that stop you! My personal favorite is the Cosco Scenera Next. It weighs almost nothing and is a breeze to install. It travels so well that it’s been around the world twice with us. I’ve bought it twice and will continue to purchase and recommend it…it’s just that easy to use. There are plenty of other great options. Don’t feel like you’re stuck with your conventional car seat. It will be ready and waiting when you get back home.
The same rules apply to strollers. Why you may love your everyday stroller, it’s probably a bit heavy and unwieldy for, say…the cobblestone streets of Europe, or the uneven urban streets of Vietnam. I highly recommend getting a travel stroller. Again, I have a favorite. The Gb Pockit has been a lifesaver for us. The Pockit is such an essential that it’s often in the background of my travel photos (see above). Our friends first gifted it to us before we took off on our huge journey, and we had no idea how amazing it was. The Pockit is featherweight, and quickly folds down into such a small package that we are usually able to stick it in the overhead compartment with no problem. It has saved us so much time and stress. Plus, putting it overhead eliminates the risk of airline loss. It’s just so practical that it’s a no-brainer, at least to me. The Pockit has been so useful to us that we actually cried when we lost ours. My husband accidentally left it on top of our car in Switzerland, and we lost it somewhere in between Interlaken and Zurich. We quickly realized that we needed to get over it and buy another one.
A Note on Carriers
I’m a huge fan of the Ergobaby 360, but there are a lot of fantastic carriers out there. When it comes to hiking and nature walks, a stroller just won’t do. I love the Ergo for its flexibility and durability. My friends and family joke about all of the places Lily has been in her carrier. Here she is in the rice fields of the Philippines, just hanging out.
Number Four: Bring lots of snacks
A Full Child is a Happy Child
Not to state the obvious, but a hungry kid is not a kid you want to travel with. Even if we’re flying first or business (always with points) and there’s a full gourmet meal on board, I make sure to bring lots of healthy snacks. For us, that includes cereal puffs, whole grain crackers, baby carrots, apples, and other fruits. I sometimes grab cheese from the airport lounge as well.
It’s All About the Packaging
Younger kids loving having fun containers to open and close. I try to rotate containers, so Lily always has something that feels “new.” It turns snacking into a bit of a game, which helps keep her entertained longer.
Don’t Forget Your Snacks
I tend to get hungry on long flights, and not always for what is offered in-flight. If I have a few minutes, I always throw in a few snacks for the adults.
Number Five: Have treats ready for takeoff and landing
Sometimes, Healthy is Overrated
I fully break rule number four when it comes to takeoff and landing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s prime bribery time. When Lily turned two and had to start sitting in her own seat, I found that she really wanted mommy as the plane took off and landed. To keep her in her seat and avoid getting scolded by flight attendants, I started carrying little treats with me specifically for the beginning and end of flights. With babies and young toddlers who are still nursing, breastfeeding during those times works wonders (or a bottle). It worked like a charm with Lily until one and a half. With older kids, I’m not opposed to taking extraordinary measures to help get and keep them in their seats. This is the only time I pull out the unhealthy stuff. Lily loves Kinder Eggs, and I adore them because the toy inside keeps her entertained long after the chocolate has been eaten (ok, for 5 or 10 minutes).
Number Six: Get special headphones for children to enjoy in-flight entertainment
Best Twenty Dollars I’ve Spent
Frozen. Headphones. Need I say more? Lily asks for them at the beginning of each flight. She loves them so much that she sometimes puts them on at home, even when she’s not watching or listening to anything. Along with her Minnie Mouse blanket, getting her headphones out settles her into her flight routine and makes things a lot easier for mom and dad.
Number Seven: Invest in a durable tablet
Indestructible or Next Best
I cannot emphasize this enough—I’ve already lost an iPad, so I know. Amazon makes a fantastic tablet for kids that is virtually indestructible and is protected if your kid does actually manage to destroy it. It is set only to kid-friendly programs (unless you change it, and there is the possibility to toggle between adult and kid settings) and has a variety of great educational shows and games to watch and download. I always download a few Disney movies before a long flight.
Number Eight: Scout local family events beforehand
Local Family (and family-friendly) Events Keep Everyone Entertained
Most of the world is incredibly family friendly—I’ve found some many great festivals and family events, particularly in Europe, but all over. Do some Googling and look at Internet boards a few weeks before you go. You’ll find some great events for virtually any destination.
Summer festivals are a great option. In most European countries, there are at least a few every week during warmer months. Wineries often host great events that include activities for kids. I used to joke that Lily has been to more wineries than playgrounds. There’s still a lot of truth to that statement, but the playgrounds are definitely winning these days.
Number Nine: Consider hitting the road
Automobiles for the Win
Car travel can be so much easier with small children. We’ve driven around Europe several times, and we love it. Over the summer, we picked up an SUV in Milan and drove to Alba, Italy. From Alba, we drove into France, where we spent time in Nice, Antibes, Toulouse, Marseille, and Aix en Provence. We drove into Spain and spent an incredible few days in San Sebastian, then Portugal to explore Porto and Algarve. Exploring by car was the perfect way to really get to know each region.
Renting Versus Purchasing
Renting a car is very easy in most of the world. Most major rental companies are international, and a US license will more than suffice. AutoEurope is a great place to start when renting a car in Europe. Another option is Open Europe. We just discovered this program, and it was great for our summer trip. You actually “purchase” a car—Peugeot in our case, and drive it for between 21 days and six months. We had a gorgeous SUV that felt like it was really ours. We actually had a hard time saying goodbye at the end of the summer.
Number Ten: Enroll kids in local classes for longer stays
Activities are International
On our longer stints, I was always looking for activities to keep Lily engaged. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are several international music and gymnastics programs. While abroad, Lily loved participating in Kindermusik and Gymboree.
There were also plenty of English language offerings at smaller schools in many locales. Honestly, Lily also learned quite a bit in environments where English was not spoken. She participated in a program in Vietnam, where she was the only English speaker but somehow managed to find common ground with the other kids. It was a great experience for her, and it opened my eyes to the importance of cross-cultural education. When you’re staying in a destination for more than a few days, you want it to feel like home. Throwing a class or two into the mix definitely helps create a stable schedule, smoothing that inevitable transition.