Friday, July 20, 2012

12 Tips for Traveling Internationally with Young Children

Whew - well, we made it.  
Me and the girls(3yrs and 3 mo.) around the world.  
For the past three weeks we've been visiting our family in the States.  It was a truly wonderful trip, and many members of our family were able to meet baby Lila for the first time.  
BUT this trip meant me flying across the world with our girls.  
by myself.  
truly something, if you had asked me even a year ago, that I would NEVER have thought I could do.
Yet there I was - barreling through the Tokyo Airport, a novelty to all Japanese travelers for sure

sweaty-American-lady pushes giant-luggage-cart with one hand and pulls giant-American-double-stroller with other hand

I got quite a few stares.
BUT the Japanese were their usual gracious selves and after recovering from the shock of what I was doing, many offered to help me push the stroller - all the while commenting how "kawaii" (cute) my girls were.

Needless to say I learned a lot.  So I'm here to share it with you!  
Traveling internationally with kids isn't easy, but it can be done without too much grief.
Door to door our travel time was about 24 hrs.  And before you go thinking - "well, she's just one of those people - laid back, doesn't require much sleep, super organized, etc. etc. let me assure you- I'm not.  
I love sleep.  
I'm hardly ever laid back, and organizing is not my strong point.  
It's really just all about attitude and preparation.  I tried to be brief in my tips, so that the post wouldn't end up looking like a novel, but if you have more questions, feel free to send me an email at jessica(at)sewhomegrown(dot)com!

1. Organize, Organize, Organize
Like anything else, having the right tools and organization is key to making your trip a success.  My go to tool - Ziploc Bags.  I get out a bunch of gallon size Ziploc bags and start labeling - *Passports and Boarding Passes, *Change of clothes, *Medicines, *Snacks, *Fun Activities, *Nursing Supplies *Diapers and Wipes
To me these are crucial.  I know where everything is, and it's not a jumbled mess inside the carry-on.
2. What Not To Wear 
I like to wear a cross between a cute outfit and a comfortable outfit.  For me, this means yoga pants, a tank top, and a cardigan.  For nursing, this is perfect, because the nursing tank with a cardigan gives you perfect access.  I also have a wonderful nursing cover that my mom made me - I highly recommend one if you're going to be nursing on a plane.

3.Eat, Drink, and Be a World Traveler
These are the types of things I pack in our Snack bag - Chocolate covered pretzels, Cliff Bars, KIND Bars, Starbucks VIA instant coffee, fruit snacks/fruit leather.  There are some great suggestions for grain-free snacking here, if you need that.  In the airport we try to eat semi-healthy.  Fruit is important because of the fiber.  You can also usually find a yogurt parfait thing - which does have more sugar than I usually want in my yogurt, but it's probably better than a candybar...

4. Just please don't throw up on Mommy... - Meds to Bring
In my Ziploc bag for meds I bring the following items: for me - ibuprofen, migraine medicine, anti-nausea medicine, Tylenol pm(usually for jetlag problems) for the kids - children's/infant Tylenol, Benadryl, children's anti-nausea medicine.  Just be sure the liquid medications are within the oz limitations.  You never know what illness could instantly come upon your child - they get sick so quickly, and it's best to be prepared.

5. Just Pack It, Pack It Good
So I believe on international flights you are allowed 2 suitcases per person, but there's no way I could handle all of that luggage by myself - so I packed 1 suitcase with clothing, and 1 suitcase with everything else: shoes, toiletries, gifts, etc.  The BEST way to pack your clothes is to roll everything up as small as it will go.  Worry about the wrinkles when you get there.

6. The Terminal - waiting for the plane
I brought our stroller with us, mainly for use in the airport.  You know how 3 year-olds are - FAST.  One minute they're standing beside you, the next they're hiding in a rack of souvenir clothing.  So I use the stroller to establish boundaries.  Either they sit in the stroller, or walk beside with one hand touching the stroller.  Once we get to the gate - we play all kinds of games, such as: Simon Says, a stretching game where we each think of stretches to make the other person do, or we play with toys(princesses and such).  I try to think of things to do to move around, 'cause there isn't a lot of moving around on a 12 1/2 hr flight to Tokyo.

7. Passport Please
I mentioned this before in the first tip - but I put all of our passports and boarding passes and customs documents in a Ziploc bag.  I get really nervous about these documents.  I check my bag about 50 times between the house and when we need them at the airport - in case our passports sprouted legs and arms and crawled out of the carry on.  Then when it's time for us to use all that stuff, I just whip out the Ziploc bag.  That way I'm not trying to hold 10 documents while wheeling the stroller.
8. Activities for the Airplane Ride
The first and most valuable tool I have for this situation is our iPad.  It's a lifesaver(especially when we got stuck on the plane at the gate for 4 hours...).  But if you don't have one, or can't afford one because you spent all your money on tickets to fly overseas, here are lots of other suggestions.  My three year old loves these mosaic activities by The Orb Factory.  She literally will do them for an hour.  Of course coloring activities are great - the Color Wonder markers are a revolution.  and then we always try to sleep some.  This usually doesn't happen until the last 4-5 hrs of the flight.
9. Are we there yet? - Disembarkation
 When we land Charlotte is usually two things - thirsty and incredibly tired.  I forgot to pour some juice into her cup the last time the flight attendants came by, so she was really really thirsty until we were able to buy something in the airport.  She is also so tired she usually cries the whole way off the airplane until we get the stroller.  Another plug for the stroller - when they are so tired after the plane ride they don't have to walk through the airport.  So the best things to remember are to snag a drink for them as the flight attendants pass through the last time, and just help them do the best they can.  If they are old enough, talk to them before hand, and prepare them for the tiredness they will feel.  Then at least they'll be expecting it.  When we get off, the first stop is the bathroom where I immediately change everyone's clothes.  It makes us all feel better to be in fresh outfits.  Then we head on to customs.

10. I was like, Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh
 I was really nervous about the whole baby thing.  After all, I was getting ready to trade our days for nights(Japan is 13hrs ahead of Florida).  But overall she did great.  Even better than me or Charlotte.  One suggestion for breastfeeding- don't go too long at night without nursing.  I just let her sleep('cause I wanted to sleep too) but I ended up getting a plugged duct.  It resolved a few days later, but wasn't any fun.  This hasn't been as much of an issue coming home, she's woken up plenty at night.  I didn't want to pay $1,000 for her to have her own seat - a sizable savings. and I just put her in a Baby Bjorn carrier.  That wasn't great, but it worked.  I would suggest bringing at least 3 changes of baby clothes, plenty of diapers and wipes, and if you formula feed bring way more than you think you will need - you never know when you might hit a delay.
11. Um, the Sun is Where the Moon Should Be... - dealing with jet lag
This is probably the worst part of traveling with little ones.  After all, the travel part only lasts 24 hrs...but jet lag lasts for a few days.  Here are my tips:  
*plan low key activities - I know if you are sightseeing this may be difficult, but especially the first day you probably need to just relax with your kids.  Here are some of our favorite low key activities -
I love the simple, yet adorable crafts from this website:

Read Books
Watch Movies
Play Outside at least 30 minutes(rain or shine to help your circadian rhythm)

*Drink lots of water - this just helps everything
*SLEEP - The first day I let my 3 yr old take a nap 1 hr longer than she usually does.  The second day, it's 30 minutes longer than usual, and by the third day I try to only let her sleep during the day like she normally would.  At night, it's a little trickier - but we try to have a snack and drink ready before we go to sleep. because she will wake up hungry, then if she has a difficult time going back to sleep, we let her listen to a story on the iPad or from a CD.  Obviously the baby can't do that - I just try to keep her room super dark and if she's awake just rock her.  I don't do anything to give her the idea that it's time to play.  We're still having jet lag right now and it's not fun(it's day 2 for us), but I know it won't last forever.

12.  Attitude is Everything
You control how you feel about this whole thing.  I could choose to get exasperated with my kids, or make up a team name and cheer for them as we go through security or customs(our team name was "The 3 Princesses").  I could choose to spend energy being frustrated at delays, or just take deep breaths and accept the things I can't change.  I gained a lot of confidence too - because I did it!  I survived, and it was worth it to me.

I hope this has been helpful - and I would love to hear any tips you may have!
I'm off to try to rest!


  1. Girrrrl, you are my hero! Loved reading the tips, but moreso appreciated your attitude and can-do spirit. ; ) I am so glad that all was well!

  2. Amazing! I'm impressed! I'm not super organized either, but I'm a list girl when it comes down to it, and I make lists (almost like inventories of what should be in what bag, etc.) of what I need to pack and rely on that.
    I don't have any intentions to travel internationally by myself with two kids anytime soon but should something amazing come up, I will definitely be referring myself back here!!

  3. Great tips , wish I had these before I travelled. I also pack some small individually wrapped "presents" -eg plastic animals - for melt down moments , nothing beats parcel opening to pacify a small child.

  4. Great post! We use the vacuum seal bags for packing; they are amazing and if you unscrew the cap, you can squish the air out by leaning on it (w/o a vacuum)...saves a ton of suitcase space and no to minimal wrinkling of clothes!! (Done it for years and I still don't understand's like magic!)


Thanks so much for commenting! If you have a question, make sure your email is in your profile or leave it in a comment so I can answer you. Otherwise email me at jessica(at)sewhomegrown(dot)com - Have a lovely day!

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