Everyone has taken some sort of journey with kids, and we all know with small ones it's nearly impossible to travel light. They need more changes of clothing, pajamas, spares, extras, toys, loveys, and so forth. With new airline luggage restrictions, it's easy to focus on the what to take and how to keep it under the minimum and forget the other important things to consider when traveling internationally with kids.
Let's get packing out of the way first
Packing is something you'll do right before you leave, so it's more important to focus on the things you need to do further in advance. But, if you're like me, it helps to have a bit of an idea and plan in place when it comes to what to take.
First, you don't need as many clothes as you think you do. Most hotels offer a laundry service, or can tell you where to find a laundromat. Barring that, most detergents offer small, travel size individual packs. I've washed kids clothes in the bathtub and sink.Try to stick to one outfit per day max and one pair of PJs for two nights max. Go less if possible, and get mix and match outfits.
Roll clothing, and bring small toys that your child can use in a variety of ways. Since you'll mostly be on the go,you shouldn't need too many toys. Determine what's truly essential versus what feels like a "failsafe" item for you. It's important to keep the size small enough to fit in a carry bag since you'll mostly need things to entertain while waiting, whether to board a plane or enter an interesting sightseeing spot or riding a tour bus. For example, bring cloth books that can be squished and folded, instead of board books.
If you need, you can consult a site that offers detailed packing tips, such as this one.
Talk to your pediatrician about ways to maintain health and stay healthy. A quick visit to discuss where you're going and any particular preventive measures you need to take is worth the time. Ask about what to bring to help prevent illness, or what to have on hand in case your child does fall ill. Ask your insurance company about health care abroad. Elsevier, one of the top health care publishers, offers some information and tips about international travel and children's health in an article.
The US Department of State has a comprehensive Web site that offers information about passports, travel warnings, and more. Scan the site for information about your destination, and check it before leaving, as well.
The travel part
Long air trips are frequently daunting to parents. With proper planning, though, it can be fine. Most airlines' websites offer specific information for parents traveling with children, such as this site for parents at American Airlines. I find that checking in can be the hardest part because it usually involves distracted parents, long lines, and bored kids, as well as the carry on bag juggling act. My husband and I divvy the chores: one designated "pack mule" who carries the bags, and one designated "child wrangler" who keeps the kids close, safe, and entertained with waiting games (for example, I Spy, small books, or large beads on strings, etc. Sitting and waiting on a plane is a lesson in patience for both you and your child. Entertainment, walks on the aisle (if it's safe), and food can break up the monotony of sitting. Ask the flight attendant if your child can see the galley or learn a little about the plane.
Dealing with jet lag
Even if you just cross one time zone, it can be tough on you and your small children. This article offers some really great tips for dealing with jet lagged parents and kids.
Stay loose, flexible, but have plans and backup plans. Don't let yourself get too intimidated or overwhelmed, and remember, it's okay to cut something to have a slower day. Travel can be stressful and it's most important to enjoy yourself and have fun, not go go go. You're the expert for yourself and your child, so do what you know works for you and what you think is best. Enjoy!
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