Wednesday, June 27, 2012

International Travel with a Toddler

Playground fun in Budapest!
Everyone wants to know what it is like to travel with a +12 month old.  Either people are convinced that it cannot or should not be done for the sake of the parents or for those traveling around them.  Well, I have two answers to that line of thinking: 1) Parents put up with a whole lot of discomfort for the long-term benefits of having kids -- traveling is the same thing.  You will be greatly inconvenienced for about 5 hours but then it's all over and it is a lot of fun.  And,
2) to everyone traveling around me, I get it that you are uncomfortable, hungry, tired, whatever and consequently, my kid doesn't impact your life at all.  We will be in your life for all but a moment so just return his little backwards hand waves and give him a smile!

Calvin is a little past 12 months and he is fully mobile.  He walks, runs, can climb up sofas, ladders and chairs and has a knack for finding anything remotely dangerous or electrocute-y.  He is a tornado with endless energy and has zero comprehension of self preservation.  Stairs? Let's go down head first.  Is that a ladder? Let me climb up it and then throw myself off backwards.  No challenge is too great or scary for him and I am constantly on my toes.  There is no more "checking out" while I'm with him.  It is all hands on deck. All of the time.

So, you may wonder, why on earth would you bottle up the energy of an endless tornado into a small confined space like the 1 square meter you are provided on a train, bus or airplane?  Because it is so worth it to watch him explore new places.  Calvin is international.  He lights up a room and infects everyone around him with his backwards wave and coy smile.  He is not shy and he charms everyone.  I watched him flirt with two women on the train today and "talk" to the man sitting across from us, all within 3 minutes.  He loves pointing out all of the doggies we walk past and identifying airplanes and helicopters overhead.  And above all of that, he is an excellent traveler.  We really hit the jackpot here because even with a snotty nose and feeling all icky, Calvin doesn't complain when he travels.  He will squirm all over you on the seat and threaten to bash his head into the window to look at the passing trees, but he doesn't cry or complain.  What more can you ask for really?

Our lifestyle here is much different than when we lived in the States.  For starters, we don't have a car.  Therefore we have to walk, bus or train anywhere we want to go.  That is OK but it poses its own challenges.  For our trip to Visby, we had 2 hours by train, 3 hours by ferry boat, 1 hour by walking and bus.  That was a LOT of travel for the little guy and we were constantly moving, waiting in lines or sitting down.  It is wearisome on ADULTS so whenever you put that amount of strain on a one year old you are in for some surprises.

Most of my advice is based on my own personal comfort so you should assess what is important to you and then take these tips with a grain of salt, combine it with your own situations and experiences and go from there.  All kids are different, blah blah blah, but I think these are sensible tips and can be incorporated into adult and family/kid trips alike:

  1. Pack light. 
    • If it isn't essential, leave it at home.  Unfortunately kids come with a lot of shtuff and their moods and attention spans vary with the minute so it is tempting to pack a variety of foods, toys, binkies, etc.  DON'T.  The less you schlep, the happier you will be and the faster you can move.  (I like to run through airports so speed is important to me).
    • For our 3 day trips, we can pack our adult clothes and Calvin's stuff in a medium sized Kelty hiking backpack and his diaper bag.  It CAN be done.
    • +
      3 days in Visby -- I carried Calvin, Jon carried our stuff and the stroller carried the carseat.  LIGHT as a feather folks!
  2. Buy diapers, food, etc at your location.
    • This goes with #1 -- if you can purchase the bulk of your kid's shtuff at your new location, you won't have to pack as much.  Do a little research before you go and find out locations of local grocery stores.  Again, not schlepping all of that shtuff is worth it in the end.
    • I know there are American companies that will arrange for diapers to be shipped to your hotel but it is just as easy to buy things when you are out exploring.  Just make sure you have enough to get you to your destination plus a little extra if you end up getting delayed.
  3. Tire your kid OUT before you get onto any confined transportation.
    • You may not want to board first if you have a tornado kid.  Use that time to keep your kid moving. Let her/him run around, climb on things and wreak a little havoc.  Better in the open airport than on the airplane.
    • Some airports have kid-friendly playrooms.  Hit those up right after you check in and spend a good amount of time there for maximum wearing-out ability.
    • Unfortunately, this plan will also wear YOU out but you gotta sacrifice a little for the long haul.
  4. Schedule your flight around nap times.
    • This is not always possible but it should help keep your kid on schedule while you are traveling and s/he might be able to nap on the flight.  It's a dream scenario to have your kid fall asleep in your arms for ALL legs of your journey.  We have gotten close but only because we had ample running around time in between the train to plane transits.
    • With any luck, you will have fully enacted #3 which will counterbalance any off-schedule napping that might have occurred.  Sometimes both Calvin and I will nap on the plane -- oh what sweet sweet dreams those are!
  5. Stay hydrated.
    • Pack extra formula, breastmilk, juice, water, whatever to keep your tornado fully hydrated.  If you follow the above steps, your kid will be tuckered out and a little dehydrated.
    • Airport security doesn't restrict fluids when it comes to children.  The worst I had to do while traveling to Budapest was take a sip of Calvin's formula. 
  6. Bring 3-4 high value, small toys and 1-2 high value books.
    • These are the slam dunk toys and books and they will occupy your child for longer than 5 minutes.  You only have 4 of them max so you can take 1-2 out on the outward journey and 1-2 out for the homeward journey.  Calvin is in LOVE with this one book that has heavy-duty flaps.  We must have read that book for 30 minutes.  It was perfect because it is a quiet activity that he could do for a long time and we were fully engaged with him.
    • I'm all for electronic distractions but they aren't always possible when you are in flight or moving from place to place.  If a cardboard book is lost at the train station, it isn't as essential as an ipad or iphone.  Use your smarts and save the electronic distractions to avoid nuclear meltdowns only.
  7. Carry your kid.
  8. We both love Ergo!
    • This one might not work if your kid doesn't like being carried around in a baby carrier.  Sadly I'm not paid by Ergo Baby for this awesome recommendation (wish I was) but I can 150% recommend the Ergo carrier.  I have carried Calvin in it since he was a week old and we are still going strong.  I've swung him around to my back now since he is a bit heavier, but it has been a lifesaver to use while traveling.  When he was a baby-baby, he would fall asleep in it and my arms could rest from holding him while we were on the plane.  Now that he is bigger, it allows my arms to be free to push his stroller or navigate the world more freely. 
    • Has your child ever resisted being put back into his/her stroller?  I bet!  The Ergo (or any carrier really) is perfect for those moments when you just need to GO GO GO but don't want your arms to fall off from fatigue.  My Ergo travels in the bottom of the stroller and has saved us from many a meltdown.
    • $100 has been the best investment ever!  
  9. Pack your patience.
    • One of my girlfriends jokes that she gives all of her patience to her child so that she has none for anyone else.  I can completely relate so during travel times, I'm sure to be extra patient and remain calm and flexible.
  10. Have fun with your kid.
    • Traveling is a lot of fun and by taking your kid(s) with you, you are introducing them to the larger world.  New sights, sounds, languages, smells (sometimes) will open your child up to seeking out new adventures when they are older.
    • Jon and I had so much fun just getting a coffee in the shadow of a church in Budapest and watching Calvin dance on a drainage grate.  I mean, seriously?  Of all of the things in the square for Calvin to dance on, he really loved that sewer grate.  OK - I'm game.  Let's dance little man!  And to be honest, it was a lot of fun!
  11. Identify the main things you want to accomplish and abandon the rest.
    • This isn't really a travel tip as it is more of a vacation planning tip.  For each new place we have seen, we have had our 2-3 "must do" activities and left the rest open to exploration.  For Budapest, we wanted to see one museum and go to the baths.  We did both of those things and really enjoyed them.  The rest was just gravy on top and we without a strict schedule, we were able to let Calvin dictate the pace of our day.
    • Respect your child's limits.  This will prevent meltdowns and in the end, everyone will be happier. We had to bail on a museum tour a little early because Calvin was over it, but we saw what we wanted to see.  
In the end, you shouldn't let the fact that you have children prevent you from traveling.  We had our "adult" vacation in Vienna and brought Calvin with us to Budapest.  Comparing those two trips, I think we had more fun in Budapest.  Taking Calvin meant that we slowed down a little and saw things that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.  We made it a priority to find playgrounds to give him some time to play in the dirt and sand.  Calvin found these huge statues of dogs (because he loves them!) which I never would have seen because they were behind me.  It is nice to see the world through his eyes and the world is pretty amazing.

Leave your own tips/advice in the comments section!


  1. I can attest that Calvin travels well! He was the least grumpy of any of us at any given moment of the travel to and from Visby. Of course, I would have been less grumpy if I had my own private moving bed to cruise around in too! No seriously, he is a go with the flow kind of kid. I think he takes after his parents that way. He is going to be so stoked to have all these cool pictures and videos of him playing all over the world.

    Great tips from an experienced travel mom!


    1. Thanks Erica! He was sick-ish on our trip to Visby as well so you got to see him at his worst. I'm not sure we can claim any credit to his laid back nature. I just keep nurturing it as much as possible and continue to travel with him for as long as we can. So far so good!


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