By Fredrica Syren:
My husband and I share a passion for traveling, and we have traveled all over the world together since we met. Once we had kids,
we just assumed our traveling days were over. To our joy, we have realized that traveling is not over, but the way we do it has changed a bit. We no longer stay in B&Bs or hostels of course, and we don’t spend as much time on the road. Today we have three children, and all of them have been traveling since they were babies. They do so well and seem to like going places.
This year, we took a 2-week trip to France and Spain, and had a great time. Over the years, we have learned that, with some great planning, traveling internationally with kids can be a really fun experience for everyone. I have to put it out there that, hands down, we have found Lufthansa to be the absolute best airline when flying with kids. They are super helpful, friendly, patient and always accommodating; they make an effort to seat us all together. Heathrow Airport is the best airport to get stuck in because they have many restaurant options and even have a play area for the kids, which is great. Here are some of my tips for a more relaxed and enjoyable international vacation for the whole family.
Rent a home or do a home exchange – Ever since we became parents, we have either rented a vacation home or done a home exchange, just to make it comfortable for our family. With a home instead of a hotel room, we have the option to cook our own meals and we have more space for the kids to move around. Home exchange is something we really like also because, with a little work, we can stay in someone else’s home for free while they stay at ours. Here we have the to option to focus on families, so the home naturally comes with high chairs, cribs, changing tables and toys. We really have enjoyed the homes we’ve stayed in, which have ranged from a huge house in a very upscale area to a small bohemian apartment in a trendy area. Most of the time, they have included a car, too. Homeexchange.com is the place to find them, and homeaway.com and airbnb.com are our favorite sites for finding rentals.
Hotel – There are many family friendly hotels that offer play areas, cribs and other things to make a family’s stay more comfortable.
Good traveling bed for baby – We used to have a Graco Pack and Play, but it was just too heavy, too large and inconvenient, so we finally replaced it with a GoCrib bed. It’s so light and comes in a backpack that can easily fit into a suitcase. It’s inflatable, so all you do is blow it up with a pump. This portable baby crib is meant for camping but we just love it. Here is also another great traveling crib.
Bring staple foods – I have found that, by bringing some simple staple foods like rice, lentils, quinoa and almond butter, I can easily make a fast meal in a pinch, which is good if we get into our rental late and all stores are closed. This is especially important to my family, who are vegetarians, as there can be limited options at night.
Research city before going – Find out what good, friendly, kids’ activities like parks, beaches, nature preserves, museums, etc., are available at the location. As well, find some good family friendly restaurants. I also try to locate a good organic food store close to where we’ll be staying. Happy cow is a great app that can help you find organic grocery stores and good restaurants.
Find a farmers market – Most cities have farmers markets where you can great produce and other local foods at good prices.
Bring an easy but comfortable stroller for kids – It’s so essential to have a good stroller for little kids because it can be overwhelming for them to walk in a new city with tons of people or when out sightseeing. My little ones even take naps in our double stroller when we are out. Make sure the stroller is easy to collapse and light enough to handle because in some cities and airports you can suddenly find yourself having to carry a stroller up and down stairs. On our last trip, we had to carry our stroller upstairs to our apartment for storage each day.
Skip driving too far – Driving in the car is no fun for kids, so we try to limit the time. When we do drive, we make sure to stop frequently and let them run a round for a bit.
Bring a few new toys for entertainment – Flying, driving or sightseeing might be fun for the first couple of hours, but little ones do have short attention spans, so I have found that bringing along a few “new” toys makes a huge difference. They do not have to be fancy or expensive things, just a few never-seen-before-wow items to keep them entertained for a little bit.
IPad, a life saver – We’re a family who watches very little TV, but I admit that IPads are a lifesaver to get kids to sit still and
keep them busy for a bit on a plane, train or car ride.
Bring small snacks – I have found that small treats and snacks also can be a fun distraction for kids. I like small raisin boxes and small bags of nuts that keep little hands busy.
Bring food – I always bring sandwiches, avocado, fruits, nuts and cut up veggies to eat on long plane, bus, car or train rides. Finding suitable food for kids has been hard for me, so having some with us helps a lot. I never rely on airlines to provide foods that my kids will eat. Half the time, it’s something the kids just don’t like, and sometimes the airline forgets our vegetarian meals.
Give yourself plenty of time at airport – Because checking in for international flights for families tends to take a bit longer than normal.
It might seem like a ton of work to get your family on a vacation, but really it’s not that much. And the experience of sharing a different culture with your children is priceless.