January 1, 2015

International travel with a toddler

In November of last year we took Amelia with us to Ireland, which as I look back on our blog it looks like we never really mentioned it.  So now’s as good a time as any!  We booked our airfare for our November trip in June, so I had 5 months to research and prepare for flying overseas and traveling internationally with a toddler.  I don’t think we could have been more prepared!  The trip was a hit and we had an amazing time as a family.

First off you may be wondering- why go through the hassle of bringing a 14 month that won’t remember any of the trip on 12 hours of plane rides?  First- because we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Amelia behind for 10 days, second- finding childcare for 10 days isn’t exactly easy, and third- we really wanted to go to Europe again before having a second child and the only way to do that was to bring her with.  We chose the closest European destination with the shortest flights- Ireland- a place that has always been close to the top of our travel list.  We also believe that while Amelia won’t “remember” the trip, impressions of what she saw and did will stay with her.  We hope that all the time we spent hiking and outdoors while in Ireland will have helped to nurture her love of the outdoors and all of the different foods she ate and experienced will have expanded her taste buds.

Now that you’ve got a little background on our trip I’d love to share the successes of our experience abroad with a toddler.

  • When you get to your flight’s gate at the airport, let the gate attendant know you are flying with a lap infant.  I went to ask the gate attendant a simple question having nothing to do with Amelia, and when she realized I was traveling with a lap infant she immediately set about moving our seats to give us a third seat for Amelia’s use.  This third seat was a lifesaver for our overnight flight!
  • Bring a Boppy type pillow.  The plan was to use this for her to sleep on in my lap, but with the third seat I was able to horseshoe Amelia in the extra seat and she slept like a baby for 5 hours on our flight while momma happily zoned out to a couple of recent movies.
  • Snacks, snacks, and more snacks.  The amount of people handing this advice out online is overwhelming and it couldn’t be more accurate.  We packed Amelia’s own little backpack and the front pocket was just for snacks.  She figured out where her food was quickly and didn’t let us forget it.  (And don’t forget a munchkin snack cup- this was great for on the go in her carseat or stroller.)
  • Normal, everyday things were almost always better than toys.  The biggest hit on our trip was momma’s wallet.  In the month leading up to our trip she was fascinated with my wallet, so for the trip I packed it full of coupons, promotional cards, and my old school IDs (and used a different wallet for myself).  She LOVED it.  She spent many hours on our trip pulling everything out of the wallet and trying to put it back in.  We also brought a few of her favorite toys and books, but just enough to fill her small backpack.
  • Bring an Ergo/comfortable baby carrier.  Wearing Amelia allowed us to zip through airports for tight connections and to use public transportation without worry of her being snatched or wandering off.  It was also fantastic for all the museums/old houses we toured that weren’t stroller accessible.  She spent more than a couple of naps in the Ergo while mom and dad were happily touring old castles.
  • Skip the diaper bag and bring a portable diaper changing station (I brought this one– not an affiliate link) to throw in a normal backpack.  The changing station would hook to our stroller and had a pocket to fit small snacks/disposable bibs if we just wanted to grab it and not my whole backpack.  It was perfect!
  • Bring a travel friendly stroller.  Several months before our trip I picked up a MacLaren Techno XT on Craigslist.  We chose this stroller because it’s lightweight, sturdy, AND fully reclines for sleeping.  There were several afternoons when it was time for Amelia’s nap and instead of returning to our accommodations we would just recline the stroller and continue on our day as she napped on the go.
  • That brings us to accommodations.  Book vacation rentals!  Our vacation rentals were always cheaper than hotel/B&Bs and we had a bedroom to put Amelia to sleep in at her normal bedtime (7pm/8pm) while we could still enjoy a few glasses of wine and watch a movie, plan the next portion of our trip, or just chat.  It was perfect!  Not to mention having a full kitchen to prepare snacks, refrigerate leftovers, or to eat our takeout in was just convenient (you can also cook if you choose to!).
  • My last tip would be to bring your own carseat AND gate check it (at least TO your destination).  We would have saved hours of hassle if we had gate checked our carseat.  Amelia’s carseat was lost somewhere between Minneapolis and Dublin and initially we didn’t think it would be a problem.  We got to our car rental agency and requested a carseat only to find that NONE of their 3 carseats safely buckled into our chosen rental car.  We ended up having to trade our automatic rental in for a manual transmission car (which ended up saving us money and Nathan had a grand old time driving it so it worked out) just to get a safe and proper installation for the rental agency’s carseat.  But then when once we got Amelia buckled into the safely installed carseat it became apparent that European carseat standards are vastly different than the US’s (forward facing starting at 9 months and NO chest clip).  We lost over 2 hours of time trying to get the right carseat safely installed.  Next time we will go through the hassle of hauling the carseat through airports to ensure we have the right seat on arrival.  The airline did find our carseat and got it to us 24 hours later and even returned the rental carseat for us, but it made for an extremely stressful first few hours in Ireland (especially after having not slept for over 24 hours!).

The trip was a once in a lifetime experience and we had so much fun.  Amelia loved being with her parents non-stop for 10 days and we loved having her alongside us as we all soaked in the culture, food, and beauty of Ireland.