How We Survived International Travel With Two Young Kids

posted in: France, Humor, Vacation 74 comments

how-we-survived-international-travel-with-two-young-kids

As you know (because I’ve reminded you about 8,502 times), we went to France for a family vacation recently. 

I honestly did not know if we would emerge from the trip unscathed, still sane with good memories intact. Young children can be challenging to travel with, and multiply that by two, both aged under 5, add on the 13,000 flying miles both ways – well, that’s a perfect recipe for a disastrous holiday.

In the event that you do decide to (foolishly) go on an international trip with your family in the future, you may want to take some notes  on how we survived the whole thing.

1. We collected an insane number of frequent flyer miles. I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but collect enough to get free business class tickets for at least two adults. Now, I am not bragging. We ABSOLUTELY CANNOT afford to fly business class ANYWHERE, if it was on our own coin. I scraped together over 5 years worth of accumulated points on my credit card, and converted them to miles. My husband had been doing a fair amount of business travel, so in went those points. He has no points left on his credit cards either. But we flew business class (we did have to pay a child and infant fare for the children), and it saved our asses on the flights both ways. The space allowed them to sleep during the long (14 hour) flight. The endless supply of snacks and water was a lifesaver. The additional baggage weight allowance was a blessing because we all know children need a lot of crap stuff when traveling.

2. We learned to love screen gadgets. I know, we’re not supposed to ply our children with technology for long amounts of time. But when you’re looking at hours of travel (this includes waiting at the airport, waiting for baggage, travel to the airport from home, and from airport to your accommodation overseas) – bite the bullet, let the kids play on the iPad or tablet. Put some educational TV on it if it makes you feel better. Believe me, it helped keep my kids occupied when they were bored, and it meant no whining or tantrums. Oh, you do need an equal amount of tablets and children. Because, one must have what the other does. Again, we are not wealthy braggarts who have iPads coming out of our ears. The kids used a banged up, cracked second-generation iPad, and we bought a cheap Samsung Galaxy tablet for the trip.

Toddler

Playing on my laptop during our downtime in Paris. The iPad and tablet are in the background. Clothes, optional.

3. We embraced all the chocolate. For me, that is.

4. We gave up the idea of a routine. If you’re going to a different time zone, trust me on this, just go with the flow. That you’re actually traveling is already “un-routine”. Don’t worry about nap times, snack times, meal times, bed times. Do what feels right. See how the children are feeling. If they are tired, they’ll sleep. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat. Get back to some normalcy once your bodies have adjusted to the time difference.

5. We had fun. The most important thing. Ditch the daily worries aside. Do extraordinary (to you) things. Try something new. Let the children try something new. Go with the flow. Be flexible. Focus on happiness. Embrace the small things. Take pictures. Be together. Just have fun.

4 year old running

These things worked for us. They might not work for you. Likely, they won’t. You know this is tongue-in-cheek right? I’m wiggling my bum as I free-write this. Please don’t call me a snobbish, pretentious, sanctimonious ass for suggesting flying business class, handing children aged 4 and under iPads, and plying them with sweets. 

PS: We had fun. No one was the worst for wear. I have a lot of chocolate stains on my clothes.

What tips do you have to survive international travel with kids?

Alison
I am a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother to four - two boys, born December 2009, May 2012 and boy/ girl twins born September 2014. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the world's biggest sports brands, I traded in launch parties, product launches, and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Aside from this blog, I am a contributing writer at Everyday Family. My writing has also been featured on Mamalode, Families In the Loop, andThe Huffington Post.
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  • February 17, 2014 Andrea

    I like your tip of leaving the routine at home. This is vacation! The last (only) time we went international with kids, we slept when we were tired and drank wine when we were thirsty. I mean, we drank wine. The kids did other things.

    So glad you had a wonderful time! xo
    Andrea recently wrote…Old School Blogging: Valentine’s Day EditionMy Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      Sounds like the perfect vacation to me!

  • February 17, 2014 Kerstin

    I can co-sign every single one of those. And I want to clarify that I’m not sharing the chocolate. And I definitely would invest some cash to buy tech gadgets to keep the kids entertained, because nobody touches my iphone!
    Not having enough miles to fly business class is basically the reason I’m not taking my family to Hawaii – I’ll just wait until they are old enough that they can stay at home and then I’m taking my husband (I don’t know if there will be enough $ to go around for him, but I’m flying business class for sure ;) )
    Kerstin recently wrote…Old School Blogging – Valentine’s EditionMy Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      When we were figuring out how many miles we needed to get everyone into business class, we were short somewhat. I told the husband – you fly coach and I’ll do business class with the kids. ;)

  • February 17, 2014 Nicole

    OMG. So jealous that you had enough miles to fly business class! We’ve used miles for two family trips to Hawaii but were stuck in Coach with the common folk. Thankfully we lucked out with extra seats on a few of the segments. Tell us – how did the uptight business travelers react to your family in business class? It makes me smile just thinking about it!

    Love the advice to ditch the schedule and go with the flow. The first time we went to Hawaii, my oldest wasn’t two yet. The first morning she woke up at 3 AM. She crawled into bed with us, but we all gave up and went outside and ran around like loons at 5 AM. It was awesome!

    Can’t wait to hear more about the trip…and see more pictures!
    Nicole recently wrote…What is Love?My Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      Everyone in business class were nice – heading to France. Coming back though, the flight was really full and we were smack bang in the middle aisle. The toddler cried out once briefly because he was protesting something his brother did, and this old man a seat in front on the right GLARED at us. He wouldn’t stop staring, shooting us dirty looks. It was the ONE and only time he made any noise on that long flight. Needless to say, we were not impressed.

      You mean you haven’t had enough of France yet? :)

  • February 17, 2014 Ilene

    Alison, I have never traveled internationally with my kids, but I know that even within the US changing time zones, all bets are off. I’ve plied them with candy and gadgets galore before! And I get the business class thing. I think that makes perfect sense!

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      I’m glad you agree, Ilene! You’re right, all bets are off. They have to be for our sanity.

  • February 17, 2014 Stasha

    I can definetlly confirm that traveling in bussiness and first class is the way forward with kids. I saw my fair share of online kid meltdowns and none of them happened on a sky bed :)
    Stasha recently wrote…Monday ListiclesMy Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      Oh my god, the bed was AWESOME. Also, our flight’s First Class was off limits to kids. Not even kidding. I did have a look though, they had their own corner!

  • February 17, 2014 tracy

    It’s not easy – but like you say, everyone needs to do what works best for them. I’m thinking red wine and chocolate could get me through… xo
    tracy recently wrote…Why I Can No Longer Shop At CVSMy Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      Your children are so good though. Drink the wine, give me the chocolate ;)

  • February 17, 2014 Christine

    I think that the one major thing that holds us back from traveling internationally is the cost of plane tickets. We’re saving and saving our frequent flier miles and hope to pull something together sometime soon. That’s how we were able to do Hawaii over the summer. We embrace all of these tips when we travel as a family, especially #5. That’s the point of it all, right?
    Christine recently wrote…Click. Snap.My Profile

    • February 18, 2014 Alison

      Yes, exactly! Having fun is the most important really. We are now obsessed with making sure that we can collect frequent flier miles on everything – credit cards etc. :)

  • February 17, 2014 Allie

    I’m so glad to hear it!! I’m already anxiety ridden about our trip to Spain at the end of May. The flight is overnight and “only” 6 hours but if the boys don’t sleep it could get ugly. I absolutely plan on packing every screen we have to make sure they can zone out when needed. I’m not opposed to throwing some caution to the wind and just letting the boys indulge!! Luckily, I’ll have my dad and stepmom there as well. It’s always best to have 2:1 adult ratio with my boys.
    Allie recently wrote…The Rundown: Payoff WeekMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      I think you’ll be fine, Allie! More adults than children, prepared to just go with the flow, and prepared with screens. The 6 hours will whiz by!

  • February 17, 2014 another jennifer

    Sounds like great advice to me! Our kids have small, inexpensive tablets we bought through a business association my husband belongs to (at a great discount!). They save our butts when we travel. I also think #5 is super important. If you all can’t have fun, then what’s the point!?
    another jennifer recently wrote…The Gift of HopeMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Exactly! Some people stress too much about everything when traveling, and just forget to have fun.

  • February 17, 2014 Julia

    I don’t know how people traveled with kids before Ipads.
    Julia recently wrote…Valentine’s DayMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Sheer patience and creativity. :)

  • February 17, 2014 Shell

    I don’t know how we would make it through long trips without tablets. I’ve only ever flown with my oldest, but we do long drives with our three kids of 10-14 hours. We load up the tablets with new apps and movies and they do really well during the trip.
    Shell recently wrote…ISO a Mom Friend Who…My Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      They are total lifesavers!

  • February 17, 2014 Nina

    I’ve yet to do an international trip with my kiddos, but we took a quick three-day trip to the snow this past holiday season. I agree about technology. I’m normally staunch about not allowing any screen time, but for this trip, I even downloaded a math and counting app on my phone to keep my kiddo from going too crazy. I also usually don’t care if he’s bored (I think it’ll force him to be creative) but there were definitely trying times for him and I had to meet him halfway!
    Nina recently wrote…How to Be the “Bad Guy” and Still Parent EffectivelyMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      I agree about not worrying too much about boredom, because I do think it makes the children get creative – at home only though. When on holiday, everything is turned upside down for them, and at their young age, it’s hard for them, so they act out. Hence, gadgets. :)

  • February 17, 2014 Rorybore

    LOL — all great advice. I am the parent who will totally resort to bribery to snag a few extra moments of peace and quiet. I fully believe it’s a skill they will need to learn later on when they are the adults; so in fact, it’s actually quite sound parenting. ;)
    We toss the routine out the window on holidays too. That’s the best advice right there.
    We don’t look so much at the clock all day long to ensure that certain times happen at specific times: it’s more that the events themselves happen. My kids have a bedtime routine at home – I will still follow it (bath, snack, book, song, bed): it just might start at 9pm instead of 7 pm on vacation.
    And then sometimes, you just wipe their feet with a baby wipe to get all the sand, dirt and roasted marshmallow droppings off and toss them into bed, hoping the Doritos dust on their fingers doesn’t stain the sheets. :)
    Rorybore recently wrote…Monday Music Gets Me Moving: AnthemsMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      I agree, following a routine, regardless of hour, is wise. We did try to do that most days, after they’d settled down somewhat. It’s comforting for them to have some familiarity.

  • February 17, 2014 Tracie

    These are great tips. Especially the one about giving up the routine.
    Tracie recently wrote…Growing Up In Fundamentalism – BJU, GRACE, And Sexual AbuseMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Thanks Tracie!

  • February 17, 2014 Ginny Marie

    Great advice! We haven’t traveled internationally, but we had a long day of travel (about 12 hours) when we flew from Chicago to Alaska. Our digital devices saved the day! :) I also bought each of my girls a binder and filled it with stickers, coloring pages and blank paper. That also helped keep them occupied.
    Ginny Marie recently wrote…Your Spin Cycle Prompt {week of 2/17}My Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Stickers, paper, pencils/ crayons are awesome, yes!

  • February 18, 2014 Tamara

    Amazing. 14 hours. We did 2-3 hours to Florida and I wondered HOW THE HECK people do it for longer. All I could think is more room to roam around than our crushed JetBlue coach seats. Or..they drugged their kids!
    Anyway, I’m all for whatever works. On the way home, we let Des pick marshmallow after marshmallow out of a Lucky Charms bag, for two hours. Even if he was rainbow colored and we gave him food dyes and he’ll probably poop rainbow for years after that.
    It worked, though!
    Tamara recently wrote…One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Des Fish.My Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Hey, whatever works, no judging!

  • February 18, 2014 Lisa

    Love these tips! My hubby and I went to Paris in December 2012 and my kids have been wanting to go since then. Even though they are a bit older than yours, the idea is scary. It’s about an 8 hour flight and then a 6 hour time change for us. I’m am not sure how my kids would fare – it was tough even for me! If/when we do go, we will definitely be employing the use of screens and I will have to let go of the schedule, I low! :-)
    Lisa recently wrote…Sunday Supper – Crock Pot Ranch Pork ChopsMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Your girls will be just fine! 8 hours will breeze past. The final destination is so worth it.

  • February 18, 2014 Greta

    We haven’t flown anywhere with all four yet! Someday, though I’m not sure if it will be international. I’m so glad everyone survived and you had a good time!

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      I’m glad too! Phew.

  • February 18, 2014 Lynda

    What an amazing trip…I wish we had been able to travel abroad with the kids, {not as of yet} but one day….I love your post and photos Alison :)
    Lynda recently wrote…#Move Nourish Believe Challenge with Lorna Jane Week TwoMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Lynda, I hope you will travel with your kids soon!

  • February 18, 2014 Angela

    I embrace the ipad on domestic plan trips. If we are in the air for more than an hour, it’s fair game to me! ;)
    Angela recently wrote…Being a Yoga MamaMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Co-sign!!

  • February 18, 2014 Natalie

    These are wonderful tips, and I’m so glad you guys had fun and went with the flow…which is sometimes the hardest part…just letting go. And when did your big boy get so big? I’m so glad you had a wonderful time!
    Natalie recently wrote…Some of Our Favorite Books…My Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      4, Natalie, 4. Sigh.
      And thank you!

  • February 18, 2014 angela

    Throwing out routine is smart. As is having fun :)

    xo
    angela recently wrote…Snowflakes and storiesMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Those were really the easy parts. :)

  • February 18, 2014 Jessica

    I travel quite a bit for work and for pleasure, and I have no idea how families with young children do it. Particularly in those situations when the children outnumber the parents….oh my! Glad you got through it!
    Jessica recently wrote…Canal Cruises in Paris: A Boat Ride on the Canal Saint MartinMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Now you know: chocolate, gadgets and flexibility. :)

  • February 18, 2014 Naptimewriting

    I needed this. We have two transcontinental flights this month (four, if you count the round trip, which I don’t because what if we don’t live long enough to make it back?) and I’m a bit worried.

    I found a pair of used portable DVD players that can play separately or link together so we can ply the kids with whatever they ask for. I’ve ditched the old idea of wrapping tiny presents for the kids throughout the flight because DVDs and cookies should be enough, dagnabbit!

    Chocolate. All the chocolate. That is now the top of my packing list. Clothes can be worn for several days in a row, but without chocolate, nothing works.

    Glad you made it back intact and happy!
    Naptimewriting recently wrote…Public Service AnnouncementMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Ooh, good luck, Christine!
      Yeah, don’t bother with the little presents etc. Just hand them a device with suitable entertainment and cookies, and cross your fingers.

  • February 18, 2014 Allie

    I am beyond impressed! I have traveled tens of thousands of miles, by car, with my kids and even ventured over the border to Canada, but I don’t think I could be on a plane that long with my kids (especially such young ones). At least when driving, I can push the eject button (by pulling over:)), if need be.

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Hah, yeah, there is no eject on the plane, hence our eagerness in embracing WHATEVER WORKS. :)

  • When on holiday the routine can take a holiday as well is my motto. Especially when travelling!
    So far we have only tried road trips with the girls, we invested in a portable dvd-player system for the car. Best buy ever!!
    Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes recently wrote…A sour kick for Valentine’s day: El Jéfé’s Citrus Cocktail with Elixir d’AnversMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      I can imagine that would be awesome!

  • February 18, 2014 Galit Breen

    Love this, you! You have to embrace what works and let go of whatever doesn’t, don’t you?

    I’m so glad you had a fabulous time and amen for the chocolate! :)
    Galit Breen recently wrote…Busy HandsMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Amen for chocolate indeed. xo

  • February 19, 2014 Lady Jennie

    Never mind that this was written tongue-in-cheek, there is some good solid advice in there! :-)
    Lady Jennie recently wrote…Saint ValentinMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, my friend!

  • February 19, 2014 Elaine A.

    You definitely have to let the routine go! My kids were up until 11 p.m. while were in Canada last July because, well, that’s about the time it starts to get dark. ;)

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      That is late! My kids stayed up late some nights too, it was just inevitable seeing as we were out and about so much.

  • February 19, 2014 Poppy

    When my youngest was about a year old she somehow smacked the drink off a tray of a first class patron (on our way to coach). Traveling with kids is tough. You do what you gotta do. I love hearing and seeing all the pictures from your wonderful adventure.

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Oh my, oops!!

  • February 19, 2014 Amber

    Glad you survived! We had to travel with one kid internationally so it wasn’t horrible. We’ve done several stateside trips with both our kids. So long as I bring lots of stuff for them to do, they’re okay.

    Mmmm. Chocolate.
    Amber recently wrote…Hey, It’s Okay Tuesday!My Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Chocolate saves the day. Every. Time.

  • February 19, 2014 Ashlee

    Woo you are one brave mama! I totally stand by you with forgetting your usual routine. All rules are off once you enter a completely different time zone. Just adjust accordingly. Seems like you had a good trip overall : )
    Ashlee recently wrote…Reevaluating Your Self-WorthMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      We did have a good trip, thank you!

  • February 19, 2014 Living Serenely

    I travelled with the baby and 3.y.o all on my own. I just wanted to be home for Christmas earlier as hubby couldn’t get off work until much closer to Christmas. It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. Ours was a 5 hour flight from Perth back to Malaysia… but I cannot imagine doing 14 even with hubby by my side. We would probably be driven completely insane by the end of it!
    Living Serenely recently wrote…One of my worst fears come trueMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      You’re very brave, Serene!

  • February 19, 2014 Kim

    I have never flown with my children. But based on some long car adventures, I can definitely see the wisdom in your words, Alison! Yes to space, gadgets, chocolate, and fun!
    Kim recently wrote…Old School Blogging – Valentine EditionMy Profile

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Amen.

  • February 19, 2014 My Inner Chick

    It’s all about the experience…

    and that includes embracing the chocolate!

    Superb photos of your babies.

    PS. When my kids were small, we traveled to London. It was HELL!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • February 19, 2014 Alison

      Chocolate truly makes everything better!!

  • February 20, 2014 Angela

    Screen devices are amazing lifesavers when traveling with kiddos! I just have one, but we travel several times a year to Europe to see my parents, and we have since he was about 2 years old. When he turned 3 we got him an old used iPad and loaded it up with some fun letter and number games…. and a bunch of episodes of Bubble Guppies, Diego, and other kid shows. It makes travel so so so much less stressful. It’s always hard being in a new situation and being unable to get up often or run around, and allowing him to watch shows or play games (as much as he wants while we travel) smooths so many of the difficulties we would have otherwise.
    Angela recently wrote…Ultimate Guide For The Best Kids TabletsMy Profile

    • February 21, 2014 Alison

      Angela, you’re absolutely right!

  • February 21, 2014 Rabia

    I think this is one of those cases where you do what you gotta do!! Traveling is stressful and mom and dad being stressed is not fair to the little ones. I say just do whatever you need to do to make sure the kids are safe, calm, and engaged.

    • February 21, 2014 Alison

      Ditto that, Rabia!

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