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A tale of international travel with toddler in tow

Ethanairport_smFor anyone out there holding back from traveling overseas because of kids, I say GO! Go today! Book your tickets because the experience is well worth it. My husband, 25-month-old son and I just returned from a trip overseas. We are all alive to tell the tales, and the tales aren't nearly as bad as they could have been or as I was told they might be.

We started out with a quick three and a half hour flight to Dallas. No problem there. Our son was lovely and charming. Then we had a three-hour layover that turned into a six-hour layover which included boarding our plane, hanging out for about half an hour in our seats, and then deplaning and waiting for a new plane because ours had some sort of leak. Greaaaat. Our angel turned into Tantrum Boy while we were waiting but at least we were in the airport where we could move around and annoy different people instead of the same ones continuously. A lovely woman came over and gave him the happy meal toy that her daughter did not want. It was a car! Hooray for kind strangers. We finally boarded the plane and continued on our 10-hour flight to Zurich. For nine and a half hours, our little Boo was the perfect traveler, never leaving his seat, playing happily or sleeping. Then as we started to land, he decided he had had it. He screamed for about 15 minutes. I am sure our fellow passengers only remember the last 15 minutes and not the first nine and a half peaceful hours of the flight.

He took to the time change with no problem at all, sleeping and napping at what would be his normal times back home. He loved taking the trains from place to place, the lake, the kids who ran around him speaking different languages. He was a great little explorer and it was amazing to watch him experience new things in new places. He even started repeating some of the words back in Swiss German. We didn't go on as many long day trips to other countries or other parts of Switzerland as we would have had it been just my husband and I traveling, but we got to do so many other cool things we wouldn't have done without him being there with us.

Our flight back home was longer - 11 hours for the first leg of the trip, 4 hours for the last leg - and he was once again an angel for the entire first leg of the trip (11 hours!! We got lots of "I had no idea there was a baby there!" and "What a good traveler your son is!"). But then on the shorter 4 hour flight home, he had a tired little cry right as we started to walk off the plane. I must have looked like I was going to cry because a nice gentleman stopped and commented how great he was on the flight from Zurich since he had been seated near us on that flight. I am very thankful for kind fellow travelers.

What worked for us: getting our son his own seat, waiting to board until the last group is called, LOTS of new toys separated by type in large ziplock bags, books (the slim preschool-age reading books are perfect: light enough to pack a dozen of them), stickers, stickers, stickers (we got the slim books that had 500+ each in them), lots of DVDs and a DVD player that has a four-hour battery and not the short two-hour battery, lucking out by having a six-year-old girl sit behind him on the Dallas-to-Zurich flight who made him laugh and played peek-a-boo, lots of snacks (thank you, fruit leather!), water (they only came by twice on the long flights - wassup with that?), having the flight attendants refill his milk cup, pillows, our Combi Savvy Soho stroller (so easy to fold up and carry and to open) and just going with the flow while we were there and not forcing an itinerary when it didn't seem like something he would be up for. 

He was a lot easier to fly with as a baby on a quick flight to NYC, but we are glad that we took him on this adventure at this age. I love that he talks about some of the places we went, and things or people we saw. For us, the long 20-hour days of traveling were totally worth it. So take your toddlers overseas - I hope you all have a wonderful experience as we did!


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Welcome home!!! I'm so glad the trip went well. Andrew, like his father and I, doesn't sleep well on planes... so usually at the end of all the travel, when we are home again, it's TOTAL meltdown. Sounds like your guy is quite the little world traveller! It's always so nice to get the complements after a flight - I can only assume thesed are other (sympathetic) parents.

Thanks for this post - some great tips! We're planning a trip to Japan this Fall so this suject has been on my mind. My son will be just about 2 and I'm a little nervous about dealing with the time difference. How is he adjusting now that he's back?

We *just* got back from international travel with my 4.5 year old and baby; they did quite well, I think. As well as can be expected. Spending several hours in the Bush international airport in Texas can make anyone crabby, dont'cha think? Books, and toys, and herbal sleep tincture, oh my! Fionn did get a little fussy and whiny on the last flight, (and believe me, he is a LOUD whiner!) We flew to Mexico when he was 1 year old...I remember being mortified whenever he made the tiniest peep. Now I feel like people can just deal. We all do our best and that's all we can do. The pressure to keep up appearences by being quiet and pleasant and completely still for an entire day is just too much, at least for my little guy.

Marlynn, glad your trip went so well. It's good to hear, we're on our way to Europe the first part of August and I've been dreading the long flights too!

We did just do a 12 hour road trip with Anders and we were absolutely amazed at how well he did. We'd planned on maximizing the nap times and getting as much driving done while he was sleeping, but surprisingly, he only slept for about 2 hours of the 12 we spent driving. The rest of the time, we sang songs, did stickers, read books, etc. And, we did it without the DVD player that everyone keeps suggesting! We might still have to break down and buy one for the Norway trip though...

Chika - while he adjusted right away to the time change over there, coming back was a little harder. His naps weren't right on schedule and he woke up in the middle of the night the first two nights for about 10 minutes but that was it.

NoPo Mama - have fun on your trip to Europe! A 12 hour road trip is an amazing feat in itself - that's great that you didn't use a DVD player at all on that trip! I must admit, the DVD player was one of the tools that saved us on our flights. I preferred that he watch silly Thomas the Train antics over some of the violent scenes in King Kong. Have a great trip to Norway!

We are taking our 16 month old from Florida to Thailand next week. There are 3 different flights, the longest one being 14 hours. We have taken him to Japan before when he was 10 months old. He did very well on the flight - slept and nursed the majority of the time. Now he is much more active and not nursing so we will see how it goes. I am bringing plenty of new toys, books and snacks to keep him busy!

Thanks for the blog post. We're leaving for Indonesia from the US August-Sept and dreading the flight to Indonesia since it'll be 8 hrs to Frankfurt and 15 to Indonesia. There's an hour layover in Frankfurt and Singapore. We hope to make it. Coming back we're stopping in Frankfurt and travel a bit for a week.

We're taking our 18-month-old to live in Africa for 9-12 months, anyone have any advice on the plane ride, vaccinating for East Africa and health/welfare while there? Any links to other sites would be greatly appreciated! We'll be sad to take a break from P-town and all the great mama networking. Thanks!

our baby will be 18 months when we travel to thailand. worried about time change and the flight. can an 18 month old focus long enough to purchase a DVD player?

curious to see how your trip to thailand went. let me know, worried about vaccinations, travel time, time change blah blah blah.....it will work out, i know....just wondering how it went and any advice?


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