It's no secret that the French and Americans don't always see eye to eye; but they both concur on one point. Both thought my husband and I were nuts to travel overseas this past spring with our two babies. Nuts? What is a little 9-1/2 hour flight to France and a huge time change to little ones? Moms in our playgroups grew wide-eyed and when I told them we were taking our two small children -- 2 year old Teegan and 5 month old Maya -- on vacation to London and Paris.
Even French and English women stopped us many times on the streets, and remarked that they couldn't believe we were traveling with our babies. I didn't think it was odd at all. Well, maybe a little -- like when I began to pack and realized I had to somehow fit 150 diapers and a box of wipes into our luggage. But we did it; we took the plunge and had an awesome trip. And I've come away with a list of invaluable tips for anyone else brave enough to give it a try.
Here are some of my best tips for traveling abroad with babies:
Get a plane seat for each child.
Yes, it is tempting to save the extra money and hold them on your lap, but you have to think, "Am I going to be able to hold him/her for nine plus hours?" I tried holding my daughter Maya on my lap for about an hour one day and realized it was pretty tiring. And forget about sleeping on the plane at all if you are going to be balancing kids on your lap. If you bring your car seat, your baby will sleep longer since he is already used to sleeping in the seat in the car. It is comforting for him to have a bit of home.
Get your passports early.
Yes, even newborns need their own passport. Apply ahead of time -- ideally several months in advance -- so you're not caught off-guard. And note that as of 2001, both parents are required to approve the passport application for a child under age 14. Find out more here.
Bring things for your toddler to do on the plane ride and in the hotel room.
We packed a Thomas the Train backpack full of coloring books, crayons, thin paper books, cars, trains, stickers, flashcards etc. And don't forget to bring new things to play with. I wrapped and brought over a dozen small presents. My son opened a couple on the trip over, one every morning of our trip, and a couple on the way back. He was very excited each day to open his present.
If your budget can swing it, bring a portable DVD player or laptop that plays movies.
This will be great not only on the plane but in your hotel room when all you can get is French TV. We brought DVDs of Bob Builder and Thomas episodes and my son was happy to see something familiar from home.
Bring lots of food for your little ones with you.
Mom and Dad will be able to find plenty of good stuff to eat abroad, but kids can be super picky. My son only wanted peanut butter and honey sandwiches and Cheetos every night. I luckily brought along a canister of those cheesy snacks, honey packets and a squeeze tube of peanut butter (we bought bread there). I also packed things like snack-size crackers, individual applesauce containers, small juice boxes, granola bars and fruit leathers.
As for my daughter, I was nursing exclusively, so there was no need to carry extra food for her. If you are nursing, you might want to carry along a light blanket to throw over yourself while you are feeding your baby. My daughter ate everywhere -- in front of Buckingham palace, in the London Eye, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and in the Louvre.
Leave the monster stroller at home and invest in a good, sturdy umbrella stroller.
In our case, we bought two umbrella strollers and each of us pushed one kid. After checking out the size of Paris sidewalks in Google images, we realized it would be impossible to take a double umbrella stroller.
Bringing individual umbrella strollers also saved us a lot of headaches when it came to public transportation. Everyone travels by underground subway in both London and Paris. This meant we had to climb up and down many flights of stairs with our little guys.
Because the strollers were so light, it was easy for my husband to carefully scoop up my son while in the stroller (think carrying new bride over the threshold position) and for me to do the same with my daughter. We got around very quickly this way. Another nice thing about the umbrella strollers was that we could just push them right onto the train in their stroller.
Pack light for yourself, but normally for your children.
We never did get near a laundry, so we were glad we packed more than enough outfits for the kids. We were able to wear our outfits more than once, but as any parent knows, kids get messy and will go through many changes of clothes.
My daughter was going through an especially drooly stage, so she needed many bibs. We were able to hand-wash these in the hotel bathroom. If you think you'll have time to do laundry, bring a sample-size portion of laundry detergent with you. Be forewarned: rumor had it that laundry cost about roughly $8 a load when we were there.
Pack enough diapers and wipes.
That said, this really comes down to your own personal preference. We had two in diapers, so we brought about 150 diapers for roughly 10 days. We could have bought the diapers there, but I price-checked before leaving for our trip and realized they would cost roughly 50 cents a diaper overseas. A bonus for us was that after we used the diapers we were left with plenty of space to bring home souvenirs.
Make sightseeing fun.
Museum after museum gets boring for little ones. My son is very into vehicles of all kinds, so we drummed up that portion of the trip. We made a big deal out of going on the trains, the double-decker buses, the boat rides and so forth. We pointed out different trucks, cranes and diggers. He loved it! And whenever he got antsy from sitting in the stroller, we stopped at a park and he chased the pigeons. This was definitely a big highlight of the trip for him.
Planning ahead will help make for an enjoyable trip overseas with your family. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong on your trip or how hard it will be to get around with your babies, think of it as a wonderful adventure that you are sharing with your children. My son still talks to all his playmates about the Eiffel Tower. Traveling abroad with little ones is nowhere near as daunting as it seems. In fact, we can't wait to do it again!