mother and toddler in airport flickr / Scott Sherrill-Mix
Small World

The Quick Guide To International Air Travel With A Toddler

Most people don’t want their kid to turn into that person who says “Well, golly, I ain’t never been out this county, much less this country.” Because that is the sign of a gullible rube who will be fooled by the first fast-talking monorail salesman they meet. (Just ask the residents of North Haverbrook.)

Obviously you want your kid to be worldly and capable of adventure. How how do you give them a lifetime of passport stamps? By getting them the hell out of America while they’re still young. If you feel like it’s impossible to cross oceans with your kid, it’s time for a handful of crazy-useful tips on traveling abroad with a toddler.

Papers, Please?

First, get your official documents in order. That means all the passports, visas, and any associated documents required to enter and exit the countries you’re visiting. Keep in mind you’ll need these documents for everyone (including babies).

Processing this paperwork takes time. Get it done long before your trip. And don’t forget, if you’re traveling alone with your kids you’ll need a notarized letter from your partner saying you have permission to take them out of the country. Which means you probably have to fess up that you’re taking the kid to DJ in Ibiza.

Double check those documents. Then triple check them. Then make sure only one adult handles them. Put them in the same order, in the same container, in the same bag, every time.

Pack It Up

You’ll doubtless have a serious plan for packing bags based on everyone’s needs and the regional climate you’ll be traveling to (so only shorts, obvs). But before you start, consider the bag itself. Whether it’s a ride on suitcase that transforms into a bed at cruising altitude, or a super-stowable stroller, or any number of incredibly lightweight luggage options to give your back a break, you can expect better traveling with better gear.

Take just as much care (if not more) in packing your carry-ons. These bags are your lifelines to sanity as your kid slowly becomes a restless monster halfway across the Atlantic. Here are a few carryon tips from the pros:

  • Pack enough clothes and supplies for 2 days of post-arrival survival. Just in case.
  • Bring extra outfits for your kid. But also for yourself, because that Go-Gurt, juice, or vomit will inevitably land on you too.
  • Pack all e-devices with a full charge and don’t turn them on until you’re in the air.
  • Memorize the number of bags you have. Count them pre-boarding, before disembarking from the airplane, and once you reach the jetway at your destination.
  • Buy small inexpensive toys your kid has never seen. Wrap them individually, pack ‘em up and dole them out one by one over the hours.
  • A wide variety of snacks is better than a single snack. A snack that takes a long time to eat is better than one that vanishes quickly.
  • Leave the Shopkins and other small, easily-lost toys at home, or spend your trip trying to get your bulk between the seats to retrieve a tiny ice cream bar with a stupid face.
  • Other toys should be open-ended and stickable. Think magnet toys, interlocking blocks, stickers, paper or felt boards. One game-changing trick for littler ones — sticking painter’s tape to the tray table. For unknown reasons, 1-to-2-year-olds love that shit.

Security

One ex-pat dad, writing for the Wall Street Journal, makes 2 incredibly valid points based on his many years of transoceanic travel with children: everybody was a kid, has had a kid, or will have kid, so don’t ever apologize or pander because of yours. Also, you will never ever see any of these people again. So, basically, travel like nobody’s watching.

There is an exception: when you get to the security line, smile your ass off and be polite as possible. Those TSA agents can either make your life better or worse. Grease the wheels with kindness. And when you get to the belt and body scan, take your time. It’s not your fault if the frustrated ass behind you didn’t get to the airport on time. You’re not obligated to make anyone’s life easier at the expense of freaking your kid out as you stress about unlacing shoes and turning on laptops.

Preboarding

You know how airlines offer to let families with small children board early? It’s a trap. The last thing you want on a long flight is to add 30 extra minutes of seat-sitting. If your partner is with you, leave them with the kid while you schlep the bags on, or send them ahead while you give your kid extra time to run. Then, hustle on at the last minute and get your seat.

In-Flight

There are a couple things you can do to improve your in-flight experience. Here are more pro-tips:

  • Make friends with flight attendants. They have what you need and can make things way easier for you.
  • Take an aisle seat because your kid will want to get out and walk around.
  • Better than an aisle seat is grabbing the bulkhead seat. Sure, you don’t get under-seat storage, but it’s easier for your kid to stand up or play in front of their seat.
  • Ease altitude earaches with chewy snacks or suckable candies.

A Note On Jet Lag

A jetlagged toddler is basically a nightmare. You can fight the monster by getting them trained to the local time of your destination right away. In other words, if it’s noon in Paris (and that’s your destination), don’t let them sleep. Night flights will help you with this. The inevitable quiet darkness and airplane white noise can help you get them down when you need to get them down.

Finally, when you reach your destination stay up until the sun goes down. It will help them get their bodies adjusted to the time shift. That shouldn’t be too difficult considering you’ve just conquered an international journey and are way too proud and excited to sleep.

That’s one less monorail driver in the world, Dad. Way to go.

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