11 Things You Should Know About Traveling Abroad with A Toddler
I will be the first to admit that traveling abroad with a toddler scared me to death. Not so much the whole being-somewhere-new-with-Brody part of it, just the idea of getting there. As an infant, Brody travelled with us frequently. By the time he was 6 months old, he had been on over 10 plane rides and traveling seemed simple. My how things can change when these sweet, adaptable little babies grow!
I should preface this by saying Brody is a ball of energy. I know all toddlers are, but he’s the type of toddler that will not sit still. He’s Mr. Independent. Wouldn’t even watch a television show if I tried. He’ll push himself through avoiding a nap if something exciting is going on. Oh, and the toddler tantrums are in full force in our household. Need I say more?
To summarize, Brody is not the ideal travel buddy. If you are in the private Momma Society Facebook group, you probably read about my break down on our flight to the East Coast over the Summer (hint, I cried).
Despite all of these things, my husband and I have always agreed that we never wanted having children to get into our way of the things we love and the things that bring us joy. One of those things is traveling. So early this year, we bravely booked flights to Italy and began planning our two-week itinerary.
Now that we have been back for a little while and had time to reflect on our trip, it was an amazing trip made even more special by experiencing Italy with Brody. There were tough moments and a few times where we would have liked to do or see things that just were not practical with a toddler, but there were so many little moments that we had together that will forever be in my memories. Licking gelato cones while watching the gondolas float by, the little Italian boy by the sea that picked Brody up and hugged him dearly as we splashed in the water, and the evening running around the Piazza in Rome chasing bubbles. These are the moments my motherhood dreams were made of. These are the moments that bring me home from one adventure just itching for the next!
With our Italian adventure behind us, I thought I would share some of the travel tips and tricks we learned along the way. I'll also sprinkle in some of my favorite pictures we took on the trip!
1. Toddlers Do Better On Overnight Flights
On overnight flights, there are far fewer distractions from the crew and the other passengers. The lights are dimmed down, the stewardesses come around passing out drinks a little less, and the other passengers aren’t roaming around the aisle nearly as frequently. These are all major advantages when you are trying to coax your toddler into sleeping on the flight. On overnight flights, we always change Brody into a pair of footed pajamas and go through our little nighttime routine with him. On our overnight flight from the US to Venice, Brody slept almost the entire time (even through an hour of crazy turbulence). As a comparison, our flight back to the US was during the day and Brody didn’t sleep a wink.
2. Pick Your Seats Strategically
I’ll let you in on a little secret; Brody had his own seat on both international flights even though we did not buy a ticket for him. How did we manage this? With some strategic seat selecting. When the airlines allow you to choose your seat, your initial reaction may be to select a set of two seats on the left or the right of the plane so you have a window. No one likes to sit in that middle section with no windows and people on all sides of you. However, this is the exact reason you should sit in the middle section. Book your seats near the end of the plane, picking both of the aisle seats in the middle section (leaving 1-2 empty seats in between you and your partner). If your flight is not sold out (which international flights frequently are not), there is a good chance that middle seat will be unbooked. Let’s be real, the middle seat, with no window, in the middle section of seats at the back of the plane is about the least popular seat someone would ever choose by choice. When you check-in for your flight, double check that the middle seat is still empty. If it is, try asking the gate agent if it would be ok if you brought your little one’s car seat on board with you for an empty seat in your aisle. Both flights we did this for, the gate agents were so kind and marked off the seat as “reserved” in their system. As passengers and standby flyers were being moved around, that middle seat stayed open for Brody. Having Brody in his car seat on the flight was a godsend. Here’s a little diagram of the two seats we picked.
3. Exhaust Your Toddler Before The Flight
Our number one goal before we loaded onto the airplane was to make sure Brody was wiped out! Our flight to Italy went from Phoenix to Atlanta to Venice. We had a 5 hour layover. Initially, this concerned me since it was making our time to our destination even longer. After some thought, I realized this was a blessing in disguise. Five hours was enough time for us to leave the airport. Our bags were already checked in and we had time to go explore. We ended up going to Zoo Atlanta during our layover and had so much fun checking out all of the animals and letting Brody run free. This was a big contributor to Brody sleeping through almost our entire flight to Venice.
4. Figure Out How To Change Diapers On Airplanes Beforehand
Confession: I am terrified of the airplane bathrooms. For some reason, I have these visions of getting stuck in there, or being sucked through the hole, or getting some crazy virus from the germs in there (strange, I know). So the thought of bringing Brody in there with me to change his diaper was just not happening. We mastered the art of the stand up diaper change on this trip. When we are flying, we usually dress Brody in an outfit that is easy for diaper changes. His little linen short overalls that snap open and close are our go-to at the moment. We let him stand up in the seat, quickly remove the diaper, wipe up the mess, and immediately bring the dirty diaper to the trashcan in the back. It is so much simpler than trying to use a tiny airplane diaper-changing table with a squirmy toddler.
5. Pack The Bare Minimum; You’ll Thank Me Later
I am a recovering over-packer. My husband is a bare bones kind of guy. He packs the necessities and the necessities only. He doesn’t think about what if the weather is rainy? What if the weather is cold? What if we decided to go to the pool? Etc. He is of the belief that most things can be purchased at your destination if they end up being needed. After 10 years together, I’ve finally adapted this belief system as well. Since we were jumping from city to city during our time in Italy, hauling as little as was absolutely necessary was important. Let’s be clear, when you are traveling with a toddler, you’ll be bringing a lot of gear. My rule of thumb was if we were not absolutely sure we were going to use it, we did not bring it.
I’ve typed up my whole packing list for traveling with a toddler. It tells you how many diapers we packed, what activities we brought on the plane, and what gear we used. Just click below and I’ll email you my list.
6. Plan One Activity Per Hour Of Flight Time
Speaking of activities for the plane, we packed a mixture of old and new little toys and activities. Some were a total bust and some were great entertainment. Brody has no interest in tv or iPad apps at the moment, so we didn’t even bother bringing the iPad with us. We packed about one activity per hour of flight time. If you download the packing list from the link above, you’ll notice there are a ton of toy ideas listed. After a little miscommunication at the airport our bag of toys ended up in our checked baggage on our flight home, so we frantically bought every toy in sight at the airport shops. The thought of 11 hours with zero entertainment was not going to happen. Some of those toys, like Duplo Blocks, were not a good idea for Brody’s age (18 months), but they would have probably worked well for a toddler who was a little older. Below were the biggest hits for airplane entertainment (besides the stewardesses coming around offering snacks and drinks).
7. Tour Guides Are Awesome
We spent two of our days in Cinque Terre with a private local tour guide. Cinque Terre is composed of five little coastal villages and one of the main attractions in the area is hiking to each of them. Since the hike can be a bit strenuous, having a guide allowed us the flexibility of getting to hike, while always having the option of going with going another route if we were getting tired or Brody was being cranky. The guide also knew all of the fun playgrounds to stop at. We would not have been able to see nearly as many sights in this area had we not had a guide with us.
8. Toddlers Love Transportation
Keep in mind that the simple things are often the most exciting to toddlers. Our trips on the subways, trains, and ferries were probably some of Brody’s favorite memories in Italy. Hanging out at the train station, riding on subways, seeing all of the boats at the marinas and the excitement of watching the airplanes take off and land at the airport are simple sources of entertainment to break up the trip.
9. Plan For Lazy Days
Be sure to leave some days on your trip with no agenda. We scheduled one of these days into each of the four places we visited. Sometimes we used these days to sightsee and other times, we literally sat on the beach for an extra day or hung out in the apartment. The lazy days with no plans are almost always my favorite.
10. Stay in Airbnb’s
On most of our adventures, we stay in Airbnb’s. They are usually convenient to the sites we want to see and they almost always offer more space than a hotel would. With a toddler, the extra space is more than necessary. Below are the Aibnb’s we stayed at during our trip.
If you’ve never used Airbnb before, feel free to use this referral link for $35 off your first booking! Full disclosure: I'll get a credit too for referring you.
*In Sardinia we stayed at an amazing little boutique hotel called Albergo Santa Maria. It has beautiful gardens on site, it is walking distance to the beach, and houses a restaurant with the best food we had on our entire trip.
11. Jet Lag is Real, Plan Accordingly
One of the toughest parts about traveling abroad for anyone is the jet lag. It usually takes us about 2 full days of feeling hungover to adjust. Since Brody slept most of the overnight flight to Italy, he adjusted quickly to the new time zone and schedule. Coming home we had 2 nights of waking up around midnight and falling asleep before the dinnertime. Keep your calendar open for a couple of days after your return to get back on schedule.
Traveling with an Infant? Check out the tips we learned traveling abroad with Brody when he was a baby.
Have you travelled with your toddler?