As my kids get older (and more fun to travel with) I have come to realize it’s actually wonderful to travel internationally as a family. Expose them young, not only to different cultures and cuisines, but to the ins and outs of traveling. When you’re a child it is all an adventure, from the passport line to the emergency briefing at the start of a flight to the baggage claim area (conveyor belts!).
I’m no expert on traveling internationally with children… yet. We’ve done it for the last two years, and I can’t wait to continue the trend. For my kids, it only takes one trip to have “favorites.” Favorite airline? KLM. Favorite airport? Amsterdam. Favorite airplane video game? “Popper.”
Here are a few tips for making international travel a success.
1) Prepare ahead of time
By this I don’t mean to tell them all about the destination – that is more fun to discover while you are there. The best way to prepare a child for a trip is for them to be well rested heading into it. So we work extra hard at an early bedtime the week before we leave.
Another way to prepare them? Warn picky eaters that it’s a whole new world, and that they might have to choose the thing they dislike the least to eat and be satisfied with that. Don’t ruin your vacation by trying to coddle the food-specific manias of a picky eater (you won’t find Kraft mac and cheese at any of our cooking destinations!).
2) Have snacks and water for the flight
Depending on which airline you fly, service can vary. As in, sometimes your little one will really want a bite to eat or a cup of water and there is no flight attendant to be found… for a long time. Make sure you have a couple of travel-easy snacks and pick up an extra bottle of water in the airport before boarding.
3) Don’t rely only on screens
Our kids don’t do a lot of screen time normally, so getting to watch movies or play video games during a flight is super fun for them. But if they do that the whole time, they are missing out on some of the fun and the chance to interact with you. It’s a wonderful thing to hear your child voice his or her discoveries about travel, whether it’s about the plane itself (“My chair has buttons to press!”, the views from the window (“We’re on top of the clouds!”), or the meal (“Which one is the dessert?”). Look at the flight tracker together to see where you are. And remember to make them catch some sleep on the way there.
I always pack a small notepad and colored pencils for my boys to use on the plane (and on trains and in hotels). They use them as travel journals and make pictures of what they are seeing. It’s fascinating to find out what makes the cut in the mind of a child!
4) Give everyone – including yourself – a break
Remember, it’s your vacation too, and you’re calling on your kids to really put up with a lot of hours of travel, sleep deprivation, and a complete disruption to their normal routine. Give them a break, and yourself one, by saying “yes” a little more often and “no” a little less. If that means they get dessert even if they didn’t eat all (or any) of their dinner, so be it. If that means they get to run back and forth at the airport gate during a long layover, so be it. Just so long as they don’t deserve other travelers! And if that means asking for another of those little bottles of wine with your dinner – so be it!
Do you travel internationally with your kids? What are your tips for making it successful for everyone?
By Peg Kern
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