When my husband and I told people that we were going to take my then 1 1/2-year old son Liam to Italy for 10 days, everyone looked at us like we were insane. I’m sure that every person had a vision of us chasing after a screaming little one through the airport, then implementing every strategy in the book to keep him quiet during the 11-hour flight. And they were right! But, despite some minor meltdowns, I am SO happy that we made the trip as a family. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I can say that all of that family time drew us closer to one another. Here, my top 10 tips for traveling internationally with a toddler:
Buy the extra seat
Unless you’re traveling abroad with a newborn, I highly recommend spending the money on the extra seat. You’ll have to strap your little one into a car seat during most of the flight, which will keep them contained and (semi) occupied. At first, my husband and I were a bit hesitant, but honestly, the car seat helped our son sleep for a couple hours at a time. (He loves the car, so I think he associates his car seat with comfort.) Buying that third seat also meant that we occupied our own row, so we didn’t have to worry about annoying other passengers if he got fussy during the flight.
A side note: DON’T use your daily car seat on the flight. Not only will it be incredibly heavy to tote around the airport, it will also get dented and scratched as you go from the plane to the hotel, etc. We opted for the Cosco Scenera NEXT Car Seat, which was easy to carry, super affordable and comfortable. Plus, you can hook the car seat to your luggage with these travel straps.
Stock up on 530493403943 snacks
I don’t care if your toddler is a big snacker or not, food is the number one way to prevent a meltdown during the flight. Double check with your airline regulations, but we brought crackers, chips, candy, cookies, fruit/yogurt pouches, etc. (Literally we had to have a bag JUST for our snacks.) Honestly, this was such a lifesaver for all of us. Even my husband and I ate the snacks because let’s face it: in-flight food usually sucks!
Make sure to pack snacks for both your departure and return flights, PLUS food for your actual trip. You never want to be stuck in a hotel or out touring the city with zero snacks on hand.
Also, check to see if your airplane has milk available. Ours didn’t, which was absolutely terrible, but luckily Liam was fine with a water and a little juice.
Use a bottle, sippy cup, pacifier or food to prevent ear pain
Your toddler probably doesn’t know how to unplug his or her ears, so make sure to offer a bottle/cup of water as the plane takes off. I stopped giving Liam his bottle about a half an hour before we boarded just so he would be super thirsty on the flight.
If your baby or toddler doesn’t take the bottle, don’t panic. Now’s the time to break out the snacks! The chewing/swallowing motion will help to relieve the pressure in their ears.
Another option: Buy Earplanes, tiny silicone earplugs that are designed to relieve ear pressure and cancel out noise. We tried these, but Liam pulled them right out!
Buy dozens of small toys, puzzles, games, etc. from the Dollar Tree
Much like it pays to pack a million snacks, stashing a bunch of small toys in your carry-on will keep your little one busy for most of the flight. Think: stickers, books, cars, action figures, crayons, coloring books, puzzles, etc. I bought a bunch of tiny foam letters and numbers and did a couple of learning activities on the flight as well to keep him occupied. Also, don’t forget to bring along your little one’s favorite blanket, stuffed animal and anything else that will remind him of home.
We also got our little guy a tablet. This was a major treat for him as he doesn’t normally have one. We made sure to break it out on the flight, so he would be distracted by his “new toy” for as long as possible.
Get yourself an umbrella stroller
I don’t care how cute or expensive your stroller may be, DO NOT bring it on your trip. It will absolutely get dirty, banged-up and damaged, and the last thing you want to do when hopping on and off trains is fold up a giant, heavy stroller. We took our little umbrella stroller everywhere, from the streets of Florence to the Vatican to the steep hills of Sorrento. Trust me, getting a cheap umbrella stroller is THE best thing you can do. We loved the Baby Trend Rocket Lightweight Stroller.
Bring your meds on the plane
Sickness happens at the worst times, especially on germ-packed international flights. Bring elderberry syrup, Tylenol, cold meds, stomach meds and cough meds for your little and also pack some Airborne or Emergency C and some daily vitamins for you and your spouse. There were so many germs on our trip, so we ate vitamin C like candy. Worked like a charm!
Stay as central as possible
Going in and out of taxicabs, buses or trains with a stroller and car seat is so exhausting. If possible, stay in a hotel that’s central to most of the spots you want to visit. While we stayed in the heart of Rome for the first week, we did take the train and cabs to many places, which was a little difficult after a while.
Avoid hotels that aren’t “family-friendly”
The last thing you want to do is be that couple with the screaming baby while the rest of the hotel patrons are on a romantic trip or honeymoon. Ask your hotel if they have amenities for children (cribs, room service, a working fridge to store milk, etc.).
Our hotel in Rome did have a mini fridge, but it never felt very cold (and I am super picky about milk) so my husband and I bought a small bottle of milk for my son at night, then got milk in the morning at the restaurant downstairs. A little stressful, but it’s better than having a child screaming for a bottle at 2am.
Prepare for jet-lag
Traveling is exhausting, and jet lag for a little one is the worst thing ever. If possible, fly into your destination at night, then go to sleep after you check in. If you end up arriving mid-day like we did, do whatever you can to stay awake for as long as possible. We made the major mistake of sleeping for six hours in the middle of the day and my husband and I never caught up. In fact, we went to bed at 6am every single night! Luckily, Liam adjusted rather quickly.
If you’re an avid planner who likes to schedule your itinerary minute by minute, then I suggest leaving your child at home. Children, as every mama knows, are unpredictable, so if you want to enjoy your trip, then you’re going to have to go with the flow. For example, I was so persistent about getting my son a crib in our hotel room, but he literally didn’t sleep in it once. (I am very particular about his nighttime routine, so sleeping on his own is a must!) But, in Italy, how could I blame him? He’s in an entirely different place and sees mom and dad sleeping in a big, comfy bed just a couple of feet away—of course, he’d want to sleep with us! Sure, it was uncomfortable—a sweaty toddler, no air conditioner and three people in two twin-size beds pushed together will definitely result in at least a few sleepless nights—but, as with everything else in motherhood, you learn to adjust.
Make a list of 5 things you absolutely must see, then make a tentative plan. Make sure to keep a couple of days open as you may want to relax on those days or use one of the days to see something if your original plans fell through.
If you’re set on traveling with a toddler (which I 100-percent was), then DO IT. There will always be an excuse not to travel (timing isn’t right, you want to save more money, you can’t take off work, etc.), so why not go and enjoy yourself now. Yes, it is TOUGH, and there will be meltdowns and possibly people staring from time to time, but who cares? Sure, we weren’t able to see EVERYTHING we wanted to in Italy, namely, the rest of the Almafi Coast, Cinque Terre, the city of Pompeii, but that just gives us another reason to go back—possibly toddler free!