International Travel with Kids is scary…
Back in September, I took a trip to Europe with my 2 daughters (and thankfully my parents!). Signing up for international travel with kids is intimidating. I was nervous about the long flight with such young kids. It was different from the quick-ish trips we’ve taken so far, but it actually went well!
I thought I would share what I found super helpful on this trip – and what we didn’t need. If you don’t want to read this whole thing you can jump to my must-have travel gear.
One thing I’ve learned through just our domestic travels is to pack light and be super-efficient, especially at the airport. I decided not to bring our car seats with us because I didn’t know if they would fit well in our rental car. We beat my parents to the airport so Jordan parked and helped me get our bags checked (1 bag for me, 1 for the girls). Then I made my way to security on my own with the 2 girls.
My go-to airport strategy with the girls is :
- Wear Reagan until we get through security. I use our BabyBjorn Mini Carrier in the airport since it literally takes 30 seconds to get her in. It’s also very lightweight and compact.
- Push Peyton in the stroller -only take the stroller with 1 seat through security to gate check. I check the other seat for free as a child seat/stroller.
I did bring 2 carry-on bags through security, my diaper backpack, and a tote. The backpack was stocked with all of the diaper essentials for ~12 hours (diapers, wipes, cream, etc.), jammies for Peyton, and fresh clothes for both girls to put on once we landed. In my carry on I had my computer, iPad, travel documents, and an extra shirt and sweater for myself. I use a Longchamp Le Pilage bag for trave. It fits everything I need with room for airport purchases like magazines and coloring books for P. This carry on strategy works well for me. I can easily grab my electronics and put them in their own tubs, and I can easily find any baby items I need to pull out. I have gotten pretty quick at breaking down the UppaBaby Vista to fit through an x-ray machine too!
Once we get through security I put Reagan in the stroller seat and have Peyton ride on the PiggyBack or walk with me. At the gate, I pick up a gate check tag and pack my stroller away into the TravelSafe bag. I wear Reagan again while we board. For our connections I kept our stroller packed up since they were pretty tight and we needed to hurry to make them. The TravelSafe bag has wheels and a handle making it easy to roll.
Since I was traveling with my parents we made sure to get 3 seats together for myself, Peyton and my Mom. Our route leaving was PDX to Vancouver to Heathrow. We left Portland around 3:15 so we got Peyton a decent lunch before we left. We were served dinner on the plane to Heathrow. I started trying to get the girls acclimated quickly on the plane. I changed P into her jammies so she knew that she would need to sleep after dinner. She got to eat dinner, then she watched Toy Story 4 on the in-seat entertainment system, and fell fast asleep before it was even halfway through. Reagan also slept pretty well for nearly the whole flight after nursing.
We had a relatively smooth flight with the girls but I packed to be prepared for anything. Having the right kid’s travel gear is essential for a comfortable plane experience. We made sure to have plenty of snacks and activities available to keep Peyton engaged. My favorite things to have on hand to keep a toddler distracted on a flight are Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads, Water Wow coloring books, and the ImagineInk coloring books that you can find in the Target dollar spot for $3! Wireless headphones were a major improvement over past attempts we made to get her to use headphones.
Dealing with Jet Lag
I don’t think there is any magic way to make sure you have an easy time with jet lag. I think a lot of this is also dependent on the child. We have cousins that live in France and have tried many methods to help transition their toddler when traveling to the US with limited success and long nights. I got really lucky with working to get the girls on the new schedule when we got to Europe.
Since we left in the evening we planned to get the girls to sleep ASAP and adjust them to the new time zone once we landed. This strategy worked well for us since we landed at 11:15 am. We were able to just spend the day as if it was a regular day and ate/slept on the typical schedule we would at home. I think the biggest help was getting them to eat at normal times to help get their body’s internal clocks to understand the new schedule. I have heard of parents having success with melatonin but we didn’t try that.
The best thing about Europe is the transportation options! Traveling through airports internationally is quite an adventure, but at least once you arrive you have so many options for transportation.
As mentioned above we rented a car (shout-out to Hertz Gold Club!) which was great. By some miracle, we actually fit 2 kids+car seats (rented), 3 adults, all of our bags and stroller in the car! We rented the car because we spent most of our time in Surrey visiting family and where we used to live. We drove into the city one day, parked in a carpark near Harrods, and wandered from there. It ended up costing about the same to drive in and park as it would have to buy all of our train and underground tickets. We know the area pretty well so driving in was easy. If it had just been me on my own I certainly would have taken the train though.
If you’re traveling throughout Europe you are probably going to be taking the trains or underground systems. We had a great experience with all of the rail options we used. My Dad and I took the girls to Disneyland Paris while my mom stayed with my Great Aunt. To do that we actually did the following route:
- My mom dropped us off at Heathrow where we took the Heathrow Express to Paddington
- Paddington Station to Kings Cross/St. Pancras – there is a tube route here but it was rush hour on a Monday so we grabbed a black cab instead.
- Eurostar St. Pancras to Marne-la-Vallee – there is actually a direct Eurostar to the Disneyland area which we opted for.
We took the Eurostar to Disneyland Paris vs. stopping in Paris because it was already such a full day of travel. We wanted to be able to check into our hotel and breathe a little. The next day we took the Metro to Paris and used a combination of the Metro and cabs during our day in Paris. Nearly all of the train stations we encountered were very child and stroller friendly. There are a few with no elevator, but you can check the Metro website to see where you may run into issues with a stroller.
Cabs are another great option, especially if you are staying in one of the larger cities since they are readily available at any time. We used a few cabs and children do not have to be in car seats for them. Our connections in cabs were very quick so we felt comfortable with this, however, we would not use them for any long distance. Pro-tip: the Uppababy Vista will fit in a Black Cab without having to fold it down… and you can fit in there with it too.
We took the Uppababy Vista with the toddler seat, rumble seat, and piggyback attachments. This stroller was a great option for us because it is really flexible and it handles well on some of the older cobblestone roads. Between the stroller and the BabyBjorn Mini, we were set with our travel gear!
Must-Have Kids Travel Gear
Hopefully, some of this information is helpful to anyone heading out on a long trip in the near future. If you aren’t into reading too much about our experience here are the products that I swore by to survive our international trip!
I will be sharing a very long overdue recap of our time in Europe in the next month or two, so stay tuned if you want to hear about what we had fun doing and seeing with kids!