The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Internationally with Toddlers
Last month I wrote an article about what not to pack when flying. I mentioned that my babygirl Kisura (aka Kissy) was getting ready for an international trip to Tanzania. Well afterwards, I received a flood of emails asking about my secrets to traveling with toddlers and some calling me names I fail to repeat. I’m going to assume the angry emails came from childless people who were subjected to noisy flights with kids that did not have the tools they needed to keep them entertained during the flight *shrugs*. So that inspired me to write this post.
The low down dirty truth
We’ve traveled to Tanzania before but it was with my first born. He was 9 at the time but now he is 14. Older kids require less. Less luggage. Less monitoring. Less chaos. Less questions. Toddlers ask a trillion questions (if you are reading this I’m sure you already know lol). My little Kissy however, thinks she is a 30yr old woman trapped in a 3yr old body. She is such a little diva. Full disclosure, Kisura traveled to Tanzania with just her Dad *gasps*. Yes, Drew is a super husband. I don’t know too many men that will dare to fly alone with kids, especially one in the terrific three’s. I will be joining my clan in a few weeks, but I secretly felt nervous for him. However, I never let him know. Even until this day I haven’t told him that I was frightened that my baby would do a “Home Alone” and get lost in the airport because she saw a Minnie mouse toy and ran after it.
I kept trying to convince him of all the fun they would have spending daddy/daughter time together. I went out and bought any and everything I could think of to keep her entertained. I guess he drank the kool-aid because he believed me. Turns out they did have a blast. He took lots of pics (per my request) and he said the stewardess on each flight loved her. Apparently he got compliments on every flight (4 in total) about how well behaved she was and how adorable they were together. Drew even told me a story of another little kid around Kissy’s age that was sitting behind him and this poor little fella was not a happy camper. I guess that was his official sign that he was doing an awesome job. So, here is my complete guide to traveling with a tot:
Bring that token toy
Every kid has that one (maybe 3) toy items they go absolutely crazy over. It’s that one item that they want to sleep with, bathe, buckle up in the car and feed their food to. Well for Kisura, its Minnie Mouse. She has this one particular stuffed Minnie that now looks like it belongs in a homeless shelter. I knew she would want to bring that embarrassing looking toy with us so I hid it a week before the trip and casually pointed out a new stuffed Minnie Mouse while we were in the store shopping for carry-on luggage. Here is a great link for boy and girls toys.
Shop together for a kid themed carry-on suitcase that rolls
Most international flights allow you a free carry-on sized suitcase and a personal bag. These are not the bags that you check to go under the plane but the ones that go over your head in the storage bin at your seat. If you purchased a ticket for your kid then they get to bring 2 bags of their own too. Children under 2 fly for free so this rule doesn’t apply to them.
Examples of personal items are bookbags, purses, laptop bags and even strollers. Make sure you verify the luggage restrictions with your airline prior to the trip. Trunki has a very cool looking brand of suitcases that ingeniously also function as a ride for the kid in case they get tired of pulling their own suitcase. I have not tried them out yet because they weren’t available in store when we were shopping together.
I took Kisura with me to the store and let her test out and choose her luggage. It made her extra excited about the trip. It was my way of tricking her into wanting to pull her own luggage. It worked! Click here for a link to the roll-on luggage that Kissy choose. The only reason it was not a Minnie Mouse suitcase was because they didn’t sell them in store. I definitely did not bring this to her attention.
Remember they can also bring a backpack as personal item as well. Skiphop has some of the coolest and cutest backpacks on the market. They are shaped like animals and insects. I let Kissy shop online with me and I was surprised she chose the solid colored lavender Northface toddler bookbag over those adorable Skiphop bookbags.
I was crushed inside but hey a girl knows what she wants. Her toddler sized bag was still perfect, cute, and very chic. She wore it most of the time but it conveniently had straps that attached to top of her dad’s carryon suitcase. Of course Kissy’s stuffed Minnie Mouse rode shotgun on top of her carry-on
Crocs and Socks
Yes you read it right. Crocs are the perfect shoes for airport travel. They quickly slip on and off your feet and they even have the convenient strap in the back that flips from front to back. So the shoe can function as both a quick slide-on and secure sandal when you need the shoes to stay put. It’s literally the ultimate kids shoe.
Honestly, I used to detest the sight of Crocs but they look really cute on little feet and come in so many different kid designs and colors. Bonus points, these shoes are just about indestructible and will last a longtime. Grandma got a pair for my eldest when he flew with us to Africa before Kisura was born. I turned my nose up at them at first but those shoes lasted forever. Mainly because no one will steal them. He wore his with socks on the plane too lol. The socks are essential on the cold airplane ride so bring a backup pair. Not to mention when walking through security at the airport the socks will protect your kids feet when they have to take their shoes off.
Make it fun
Play games in the airport along the way like ‘I spy’ or if they can count tell them to help you find the number or letter of the gate. Take the time to explain where you are going and let them go to the window in the airport to see the planes landing.
For the creative and artsy children consider looking at some of Holly’s craft corner items. She has really awesome travel ideas such as a DIY-travel-mat and gel clings for the airplane window. The gel clings are a really great idea if you will have window access. It will keep the kids busy sticking and re-sticking for a while. I’ve never met a kid that didn’t like stickers or bubbles. These gel clings don’t leave a mess nor do they get stuck like actual stickers. My suggestion is to periodically give your kids a different activity or goody in their bag one at a time. Otherwise they will get bored with everything all at once. This is what I call my slow release technique to make the entertainment last for the full flight.
Wipeable Activity Mats
Melissa and Doug is one of my favorite educational toy companies. They have a great selection of wipeable mats and other fun and stimulating toys.
Don’t forget to pack the goodies. These are essentials and I use these as bribing currency during emergency situations. Therefore, do not put the valuable snacks such as favorite candy or chocolate in their bag. Hold on to these treasures and use them as bait, as needed. She gets rewarded with her treats later after being a good listener and helper. Works like a charm for me and it is way more peaceful than arguing.
Also do not forget the headphones for the tablet. I got her a cute pink and white pair of wireless headphones. They are bluetooth and the lack of wires minimizes a lot of chaos. You will not have to worry about them tearing up the cable or plugging and unplugging it. This way they can listen to the tablet without disturbing other people on the plane with the volume.
I’ve mentioned a few games already but books are also fun games and are educational. I’m all about making every moment for kids a teachable moment. Just make sure you buy books that are are on your child’s stimulus level. I got her this ‘A is for Africa‘ book because it was an A to Z book that fit the theme of the trip. This wasn’t a book she could read herself but it was full of pictures for each letter and was a great educational activity that we did together before she left for her trip. I knew it would help her process the different location she was moving to. There are so many cool kids books available so get a few that are have characters and themes you know your child will enjoy.
A few other games I packed were memory games and of course a small board game or two. These are both links to Melissa and Doug products because I really love this brand. They make great fun educational tools. If you can’t tell by now I used to be a pre-k teacher!
The tablet can also be a great learning tool if you download the right games. I love the PBS Kids app because you can use it offline. Wifi is not always available in flight (or the car) so this is a gem. You just have to take the time to individually download each game within the app when you do have wifi access. So as soon as I downloaded the app, I opened the app and then downloaded all of the games within the app. After doing this once she was good to go. Most importantly its FREE and the games are super educational. I couldn’t believe the quality of games they offered for free. Such an honorable company that’s true to its mission.
Put them to work in the airport
The easiest way to wear a kid down is to let them be active. Well that means you will need to ditch the stroller and let them walk. That pesky stroller will be one less item you will have to drag through the airport and they never want to stay in that thing anyway. As I mentioned previously, I tricked my daughter in to carrying her own luggage by taking her shopping and letting her choose her own kids carry on suitcase. The fact that she chose her own luggage made her feel in control and super excited about the trip. She was so thrilled that she even packed her own suitcase. Of course I went behind her and took out most of the candy and snacks but she didn’t even notice. It was cute watching her decide what she was going to pack. I was impressed she got all the essentials, plus waaaaaay more.
Don’t forget the neck pillow
Neck pillows can totally be bought at every airport if you don’t feel like packing one. However, be prepared to pay higher prices. The bonus is that’s one less thing to worry about packing. Otherwise, save a few coins and buy it early. They come in kid sizes. If you are going on an international (or long) flight you do not want your kid without one. The pillow is more than a comfort vessel. It is also another item that will keep them entertained and distracted. Therefore, do not pull it out at the beginning of the flight. Wait until its closer to nap time. Remember do not pull all your tricks out the bag at the same time and Safari Njema (Happy Travels).
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