Travelling overseas with small kids

Having done two overseas trips in two years I thought I might have some ideas to share with you guys about travelling OS with young kids. Last year we had a 7 and 4 year old, this year an 8, 6 and 4 month old. It’s been different this year – a baby will do that to you – and we also made the (mistake) of not stopping over on our way to Rome so I’ve got a few more hints and tips to share with you.

Here are my posts from last year on the subject:

What I learnt from our long haul flight to London
Travel packing tips

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I thought I’d break it down into sections: before you leave, the flight, travelling, accommodation and baby stuff.

Before you leave

If we hadn’t had two family events to go in Europe over the past 2 years I can’t say that it would have been at the top of my list. It seems too hard, too expensive, too far and did I say too hard? But now that we have done it I’m so glad we have. We’ve been to some amazing places, created some memories that will last a lifetime and while it has been tough at times, any holiday with kids can be. On both years we have purchased our early bird flights as soon as we could to get some really good deals. This year we made $1700 for our adult fares (which I think is cheaper than when I went back packing in 1998). We booked all accommodation through AirBnB which is really reasonable and much cheaper (and more facilities/room) than a hotel room and have done a lot of our own cooking at our apartments/villas. We also have done a little train/bus travel which can be easier and cheaper than hiring a car and can be done from home before you leave. Getting organised and doing your research will have you save money from the get go!

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Packing cells that I used last year have been trotted out again and truly are lifesavers when it comes to packing for us all. This year I culled SO much more stuff than what we took last year and again I could have taken even less. Buy some new stuff for everyone before you leave: a couple of items and they will happily be worn over and over again because they are new. Anything missing can be bought while you are away (nappies included that take up valuable luggage space).

From Rob: make sure you can carry pretty much all the luggage in one go as you will be asked to of it (or split between two parents) at some point on the trip. Can you lift the heaviest bag into the overhead compartment on a train if required? Go the gym and start weight lifting in preparation!

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I got the girls bigger onboard bags for this trip compared to last as we inevitably buy presents and gifts for friends and family that we didn’t have room for in their bags. Make sure that you check what the kids have packed in their bags before you leave: Harps had packed the complete work of Brambly Hedge and Daisy the complete works of Snugglepot & Cuddlepie which were hardly small books to take. I was glad to get those out before we arrived at the airport.

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Try and get your kids involved in the planning. Go the library and get lots of books on the area that you will be visiting. Get them to look at maps, learn some words. If they take some control over the planning they will be likely to be more interested and excited about where they are going. Daisy (8) was particularly keen this year and much more so than a year ago.

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Pack a power board. One adapter needed for LOTS of devices (iPads/phones/camera battery/laptop) one of the best tips I have had from my friend Nikki that really is a game changer.

Preparation Tips
  • Buy early bird flights (available in October for the peak summer season the following year)
  • Use AirBnb for accommodation for more room, more facilities and less cost than hotels
  • Use packing cells for bags. Whatever you have packed, halve it. SERIOUSLY. Anything missing you can buy when you are there.
  • Check bags of kids who have packed themselves
  • Get kids involved in planning
  • Pack a power board. One adapter for LOTS of devices is a game changer
  • Can you lift the heaviest bag into the overhead compartment if travelling on a train?
On the Plane

Last year we made the mistake of not booking in kids meals when we booked our tickets, this year we did and it made a difference to food being eaten. I forgot snacks (even though I suggested that myself last year) and of course the biggest one was not doing a stop over. I think it was because of timing that we didn’t do it, but I can tell you when we got off in Dubai after 14 hours of flying we were cursing the fact we were not heading to a hotel for a swim and good nights sleep rather than hoping on another 5 hour flight to Rome. Those 5 hours were not pretty my friends, not pretty at all. We were ALL completely off our faces given we had left home at 3am the morning before: a bridge too far for all of us and one that has me waking in a cold sweat now about the return trip next week.

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This trip, thanks to Maggie, we had the bulkhead seats with the bassinet for her. This meant extra leg room for us all (thanks Mags) but also had us right near the bathroom where so many people tend to loiter and stretch their legs. AND of course, having a chat with the cute baby. I was given a Fly Babee bassinet cover before we left and I can tell you it saved us towards the end when Maggie was so over tired and so over stimulated – she was in there and zipped up and uninterrupted from well meaning people. Also I was surprised at how small bassinets are: Mags is just 4 months and was filling it out. Any baby over about 1 would struggle to fit into them I reckon. Also just because they are in a bassinet doesn’t mean that when that seatbelt sign comes on that they have to be pulled out, whacked back into their seat belt and held. *shudder*

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Plane Tips
  • Book children’s meals in (to make sure they have a better chance of being eaten) plus they come with a whole lot of snacks that can be kept aside for later in the flight
  • Book a stopover FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY DID WE NOT DO THIS?!
  • Invest in a Fly Babee cover if travelling with a baby small enough to fit into a bassinet
  • Pack spare clothes for everyone for carry on (lost bags, spews, accidents always happen)
  • Pack a little pack of Nurofen/Panadol for the flight. I witnessed bottles being confiscated at check in from desperate looking parents
  • Grit your teeth and get on with it. It’s only a day out of your life. A sense of humour and not one of doomsday panic helps (says she who tends to fall into the latter especially with a baby)
Travelling

I have discovered that sight seeing with small people is a series of bribes. My 5 year old complains about walking from the bath to the lounge room so it really is a stretch to ask her to pound the cobblestones of Rome or London for hours at a time just because YOU want to. Bribes are where its at. Bribes and clearly outlining expectations and plans before you start off, and did I mention bribes?

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We would start off the day by working out what we wanted to do/see. Keep this to a minimum and try not to get frustrated if kids can’t see the benefit or wonderment of the Roman Forum or Big Ben. We would pick one or two things to do, work out the distance it would be and give them an understanding of how far that was: we will be walking to school and back and then back to the School of Arts (for example) so they got an idea. Then it would be, we’ll get half way, stop for a juice and pastry and then when we get there and do what we want, have an ice cream. You get the drift. There also had to be downtime in the middle of the day/afternoon for a few hours. The girls needed this time as outside was quite overwhelming. They would watch something on the iPad or draw, read. A bribe for another ice cream or a ride on a  carousel would work for getting through another sight seeing activity, drink and dinner of an evening.

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Cooking meals in your apartment also allows for some home comforts when you are out of your comfort zone and tired/adjusting from jet lag. Supermarkets in Europe really are the bees knees and so cheap compared to home (plus I find them really interesting!) you can have snacks for going out and about.

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Apartments also mean that you can tag team with your partner either at night for an explore or during the day while one of you minds the kids, you can go shopping or explore and then swap. Most apartments also have washing facilities which are essential when travelling. That shit never stops no matter where you are.

Remember that just because you are away, the fights and same troubles that happen at home will STILL happen. Try and go with the flow and let it be…kids won’t understand why you’re extra disappointed in their fighting at the Trevi Fountain. At least it’s a fight in an exotic location right?

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Travelling Tips
  • Plan your day without too much in it. Let kids know the distances to go
  • BRIBE with ice creams, a little toy, a juice, a tasty Italian donut
  • Allow for fights and washing and normal every day frustrations to still be around even though you are away and be ok with it.
  • Plan downtime for the kids in the day, every day. Apartments are golden for this.
  • Use supermarkets: cook at home, take snacks with you during the day
  • Tag team with your partner during down time in the day or at night for exploring/shopping
Baby Stuff

We would not have been able to do this trip without one item: a pram. I was all good to come over with just a baby carrier (we have lots of different kinds: baby bjorn, ergo, sakura slings) but after a few trials before we left (and the fact that Maggie is so little still) I found them to be hard work. We both got hot, I got frustrated having a baby on me all the time (I must have failed the baby wearing business) plus if we sat at a  restaurant I wanted to be able to eat a meal. I LOVE our Joolz pram at home but wanted something small and compact for our travel. That’s where I found the BabyZen YoYo pram.

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The main reason we chose this was because it fits so small it fits into the overhead luggage compartment. That means you can use it right up until the departure gate and then have it as soon as you get off that plane (and dear GOD do you want to have the baby off you after 14 hours straight of them on you). It’s been a lifesaver. We can have Mags in it when we are out and about and she has slept in it. It’s been a rocker inside when we’re on the couches and just a general lifesaver.

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She’s only JUST big enough to be in it at 4 months (good head control is all that’s needed) but I do think that there is a newborn attachment for it for younger babes.

We used this Phil & Teds travel nest as our portacot for Mags. While a couple of the apartments have had cots in them, this has been great and has doubled as a bag for fitting in all of Rob’s stuff into it as well.

As Mags is still just breastfed, we haven’t needed all that much STUFF. I have waited to get to our various locations before buying nappies, they all generally work the whole world over and things won’t end if you don’t have your preferred ones. Nappies take up a whole lot of space, don’t waste it, it’s valuable!

Babies don’t need many clothes, a couple of things that can be washed and you’ll be right. You can always buy stuff if you need to. Just make sure you have access to a washing machine!

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Have you booked a car seat if hiring a car? Make sure you know how to install it, or be prepared to google that shit because they will NOT help you. You’ll be lucky to get a car seat even if you have booked one in. Can you pick up the car without all the family sitting and waiting? If you can, do it! Nothing like an argument over car seat installation with a tried wife and screaming baby to feel alive!

If you are still breastfeeding and partial to mastitis bring along some just in case antibiotics. You do NOT need to be dealing with doctors, chemists, translations or the awful side effects so just have a spare course ready to go.

Baby tips
  • Choose your carrier wisely: pram or carrier or both
  • Allow down time and good sleeps during the day, babies will crack the shits if pushed too far
  • Don’t overpack. Buy nappies there and don’t take too many clothes (except for on a plane, you’ll need the lot)
  • A bassinet or pram cover (like the Fly Babee) can be a saviour for blocking out light and stimulation for an overtired baby
  • Don’t stress about routines too much, they will all go out the window
  • Be prepared to install that car seat, or have an argument when the car seat you have booked in isn’t there.

And most of all? HAVE FUN. You really don’t remember the tricky stuff (well it takes a few months for the pain to disappear at least) and then you just remember all the good stuff. The stuff that you will look back on when you are old. The real soul stuff. And we have been lucky to have plenty of those.

Happy travelling!

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What have I missed? There’s some seasoned travellers out there so tell me EVERYTHING!

Comments

  1. Some great tips! I really admire you guys for just doing it and not letting the daunting prospect kill off the idea. I love those Phil & Ted porta cots. The only way I say. Thanks for sharing your trips with us. It’s been beautiful to see here on the couch breast feeding!

  2. wonderful! … a medal is what you deserve beth!
    how good are you and rob! plus you’ve blogged!
    in awe! you are a teacher! …
    love the photo of harps with her ice cream! ab/fab! … love m:)X

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have literally just booked flights for our first O/S holiday with kids and will be bookmarking this post! I didn’t book the kids meals but have plenty of time to add those. And I’ll need to get hubby to have a read, as I think he needs a reminder of how different a family holiday is going to be… Big change from what he’s expecting!! Have the girls been interested in taking photos? I’m considering getting my 5 year old a camera, to get him more involved, but I’m not sure he’s old enough. He’s turning 6 when we’re away, so maybe. Your suggestions on getting their involvement are great. Thanks again! And it looks like your family is having a ball.

  4. Kim Abbate says

    I’ve absolutely loved following along your travels via your gorgeous pics. What fabulous memories you’re creating for your girls!

  5. Fantastic tips. Agree with them all. We have just returned from 4 weeks in Tuscany and Germany with our 4yo son . We could not have coped without our gogo babyz and car seat on the plane (and for car hire). We even managed to strap our son into it from asleep in bed from our transit hotel in HK and onto the plane (HK airport security were awesome with “the baby”) without waking, which meant he got his full nights sleep. Having him strapped in the car seat when we were traveling meant no worrying about him running off etc. If you have a child young enough for a car seat I can not recommend highly enough. We use it traveling on train, and plane and bus too.

  6. This is fantastic! So much good stuff. And that pic of the girls laughing is absolutely priceless. Divine.

  7. OMG! How brilliant is the Fly Babee! I just jumped on and checked it out. Also loved the tip about the power board. Fantastic!

  8. Great post! We also travel a lot with our kids as are expats and the one thing I would add is not to worry about taking too many toys/activities on the plane – it’s just more stuff to carry and my kids either end up running up and down the aisles (when toddlers, shudder) or watching movies/playing on iPad the entire time. They play with toys/colour for such a short amount of the flight it just isn’t worth it, particularly if they are young and you have to carry it all. So agree with the “just grin and bear it” attitude to flying, it’s really not that bad and over before you know it!

  9. A few years ago my family travelled overseas…. Oh, ! . I just realised how many years it was. There were four kids, from seven to 12, plus Mum & Dad. It went very well. I think we’re good travellers…used to long car trips etc. … Though I discovered I get airsick (I’m fine everywhere else 🙁 )
    We hired a campervan for half the trip and did a whirlwind tour of the sights in Italy, France, Germany & Spain (two days in each or something….) The other half we used a hire car and only stayed around Holland, with a few days in England. It was mad and very stressful for the parents I think, but hell, so enjoyable. I have soul memories definitely.

    A thing to do before the trip, especially with whirlwind trips, is to ask if the kids want to go anywhere in particular. For instance – I wanted Venice and gondolas & Eiffel Tower…. We stuck mainly to big cities for our trip due to time constraints, but drove through lovely places. Also, we weren’t afraid to go late into evenings – very stressful for the parents I’m sure since they were driving, but sometimes it was the only option…and it gave some real soul memories (riding a gondola at midnight through Venice? Absolutely **amazing**…. 😀 )
    Also, let the kids choose a diary to write about the trip in. When you get back, see if the kids want to choose some photos and make a PowerPoint/ other collage diary thing of the trip, the stuff they liked best. Helps keep the memories!

  10. Great post! You have been visiting some of the beautiful places we’ve been & called home. Has been wonderful seeing it thru your eyes. We took our 7 week old (now 10 yrs!) to Ireland for 2 weeks, then time London & Paris visiting friends. We decided to pack a bunch of nappies so we’d have them ready as we were constantly traveling on that trip, but also to give us the inevitable space needed for presents, souvenirs, shopping etc! Worked well.

  11. Awesome tips Beth. Youve fotnit all down pat. Have loved following your travels. Xx

  12. Fab tips & looks like a wonderful holiday, so worth it. We did Paris & Berlin last year w a toddler & Penang when he was 6 months both great. We flew Korean air to Europe and you get a stopover in Seoul – meals, hotel included – its basically just over night and then back on the plane – but great to break it up.
    Best thing for my toddler on the plane was a roll of packing tape – put it all over the place he rolled his cars on it – peeled it off etc. Hours of amusement.
    Other tips:
    Plenty of down time – parks, playgrounds were fab for this (you’ll also take more in and feel like a local)
    Adjust your expectations of what you will see & do – you’ll see a whole range of stuff through children’s eyes that you would not otherwise see – we met so many nice people that our son interacted with – much more so than when we travelled as a couple
    – We have started a family tradition and collected a small item from each country that we put on our Christmas tree each year, reminding us of our travels
    – tag team like you said is great, we did this a bit and everyone got some time out to see what they wanted – also as you can spend lots of time in the evening in your accomm, one persons job can be to go and source fab food & treats to bring back..

    I think my toddlers highlight was when the garage truck went down the narrow street directly outside our Paris apartment window. He was so happy.

    I chuckle about him also screaming in a Berlin museum and when I asked him to be quiet he said ‘nein, nein, nein!’ – who knew he had picked up some German! Happy Days!

    • Also meant to say – we house swap – saves so much money which means you can travel more or for longer.
      So great to be in a house or apartment – plenty of space, they had all the kids stuff so we brought heaps less stuff.
      You really get to live like a local – they give you all the insider tips on cool things like markets, events, shops etc. You can meet their friends/neighbours too which is also handy & nice.
      Planning the next swap now – for next year – I’m hoping it will be Italy – your photos have motivated me to get onto it!

  13. Brilliantly helpful!
    <3
    Pia

  14. I was just counting this morning and in the past 18 months my kids have done more than 20 flights (all flights were more than 6 hours each). They have become the best (and easiest) travellers because of it. When we flew from Syd to Abu Dhabi last week I was nervous as I was still in the early recovery stages from surgery and in a lot of pain, but I swear I didn’t hear a peep from them for the full 14 hours.

    You’ve got some brilliant tips. Keep it simple and if you have the basics, you’ll be right. A spare change of clothes is a definite must. And the other is not to have the doomsday panic as you said, I find that kids are generally better than their parents expect them to be. I know so many people who don’t take the opportunity or spend so much time panicking about the plane trip beforehand, just a waste in my opinion.

  15. Great tips thank you! And I got a good laugh too ?. We’ve scaled back our travel ENORMOUSLY since having kids but I can’t wait to get back into it properly and show them our amazing world, experience that with them and see it through their eyes. It’s a different type of travel but one I’m looking forward to immensely.

  16. We have been traveling with kids since they were 6 months old and if you love travels, your kids will love it too, I think if we get panic about all these practical staffs, our kids will develop a negative perception.

Trackbacks

  1. […] you ever heard of a Fly Babee? Beth from BabyMac’s tips for travelling overseas with small children are brilliant. She used the Fly Babee over her in plane bassinet. Such a clever […]

  2. […] written a great post on travelling overseas with small kids and be sure to check out some of her destination posts including San Gimignano, Florence, Lucca and […]

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