If you follow me on Instagram @amberwags or on Facebook in the Better Than Good Group, then you know about our recent trip to Spain with our 2 young boys. If you aren’t following, then get on it! Like now. Go on, I’ll wait riiiiiight here……..
Ok, now that you’ve taken care of that, let’s talk about travel with youngsters and more specifically, international trips involving time zone changes and long flights. Prepare to see pics of my family 🙂
This trip came about roughly 10 months ago when we found a fantastic deal on Next Vacay. If you aren’t getting their deals, you should consider it for sure. We get deal notifications regularly and this one in particular called to us because our oldest son (4.5yrs old) started Spanish Language Immersion this school year. Now, 10 months ago we didn’t know if we would like the school or if he would even get into it, but we were willing to take the risk. Plus, who doesn’t want to go to Spain?! Also appealing, is that our youngest (just turned 2), could fly without purchasing him a seat given that he was not yet 2yrs old. We bit the bullet. And after months of waiting, reading travel books, listening to podcasts, and my husband going down memory lane because he had lived in Barcelona for a 6 month long internship before, we finally made it to the month of the flight. Here you find how we prepared, our experience while there, and a few pictures too :). Don’t worry, there will also be a more Barcelona specific post for you guys.
Leading Up to the Trip
I am a planner and I am always the packer for the boys, so I made lists of what each person would need. I started with the morning routine and worked my way to bedtime for each of us. Things like loveys, sound machine, toothbrushes, Children’s Melatonin (more on that later), etc. Knowing our place had a washing machine, we decided to only pack clothes for 3 days plus what we would wear on the plane. So, of course, I checked the weather regularly to get a feel for what we would need.
Additionally, there were other things to plan. We had previously booked a VRBO to stay in for the whole trip, but we decided to do one night in a different location, so we booked that hotel. Since we were going to drive while there, we rented a car and car seats ahead of time. My husband also got his international driving license (hit up AAA for this). We also pre-booked a bike tour with bike seats for both boys. Don’t forget to check all of the passports to be sure everyone’s is current!
Day of Departure
When the day arrived to take off (see what I did there? planes take off), we couldn’t believe it was finally here. We were able to send the boys to school for half a day so we could pack up and double check everything. That was a lifesaver. After double checking it all, we headed out. Traveling can be a little stress inducing even without kiddos, but putting up with their shenanigans does add a new level to the experience ;). We got to the airport roughly 4hrs before departure, because we wanted to be sure our seats were together and we had the best situation possible. I recommend doing this if you can, but it does mean you then have to occupy your heathens (I’m sure they’re perfectly nice children). We got snacks, found a spot close to our gate with not many people, and we let them run up and down the aisle, play cars, get out that energy! And then, there was the bribe of pad time.
Tips for Kiddo Travel
We planned the flight specifically to be close to bedtime. This is key, especially with little ones. Be aware, however, that things could go terribly wrong and your flight gets cancelled (which we experienced when traveling abroad with our oldest son).
This can be your best friend on a big trip across time zones or on long flights. It’s naturally occurring in our bodies, so it is ok to take regularly. For us, it helped the kids calm down to rest on the flights, but it also helped our kiddos to quickly adjust to the time change once there. Check dosage and additives, but our favorite is Zarabee’s linked here for you.
Ok, so this one may have been more mental for me, but hey, my kids didn’t get sick on the trip. A couple days before the trip and throughout the trip, I had them take these Zarabee’s Vitamins with Immune Support each morning. Again, check dosage and maybe your kiddos are older and need something else, but it didn’t hurt. And again, they didn’t get sick, praise the Lord. (I promise I do not work for Zarabee’s, I just love their stuff) My husband and I took Emergen-C powder for a couple days. It could be totally mental, but we didn’t get sick.
This may also be more mentally helpful to believe I’m wiping away some of the germs, but my kids didn’t get sick. I took a couple packs of these along to wipe down the airplane tray, hands before meals, after we rode on the subway, etc. I am sure there are many versions, but this way you aren’t carrying around a liquid you can’t check onto the plane.
These are so handy to have with you! We took multiple sizes with us. I can feel your blank stares through the screen. If you have kids, you know that they often do not finish food and then 5 minutes later want a snack. I used ziplocs for this purpose on the trip almost daily. I also used 1 to store a few baby wipes in so I could carry a couple diapers and wipes with us for the day without carrying a giant, heavy bag. We took a couple of the large 2.5 gallon ones with us in case we bought wine or something to bring back, but we didn’t. Fail. We bought a few groceries and it was handy to keep cheese and meats fresh as well.
Things to Consider
Apartment vs. Hotel
So, this may come down to preference and availability. We found an apartment to rent through VRBO and it was great for us as a family! It had 3 bedrooms, so everyone had their own space. This was clutch because the boys don’t go to bed at the exact time and the youngest is more prone to waking up in new places. We loved having a kitchen, living room, and washing machine. It made a big impact on our comfort level as well as making it possible for us to not eat out every meal, every day. Some drawbacks may be the noise level from the street, but also we were more concerned with our kids being loud in this setting. We didn’t want to piss off the neighbors.
A hotel would be a nice choice if you want someone making your bed for you, or if there is a free breakfast. Typically, hotels are a little better about sound so you aren’t as likely to hear your neighbors or be worried they hear you. However, it is more difficult for everyone to have their own space this way. Trade-offs.
Find a Babysitter
We did not do this and I’m bummed about it. Finding a babysitter service would have been a trip changer. Barcelona is a city that comes alive at night. Most people don’t eat dinner until 9-10pm, but with kids and trying to keep them somewhat on schedule, we were eating by about 6pm. Having a babysitter even if for just a couple hours would have given us a chance to explore a little more unfettered.
Manage Your Expectations
In general, this is true. You don’t know how you or your travel companions may feel. However, with kiddos, I would say this is a total must. In our experience, the best idea is to plan 1 main event for the day and to pursue that in the first half of the day. Everyone is fresher before noon and full of more energy …and patience.
This can be very helpful for cities who offer apps for their subway, train, bus, etc system. Look into it before you go so you have an easy way to get around. It’s really nice to know ahead of time what line you need to get on and in what direction. Some will give you step by step based upon your location and where you are going. This takes out the need to think ;).
When traveling internationally, this is really nice as we increasingly rely on our phones for directions, finding good places to eat, etc. Some cities offer citywide WiFi, like Barcelona. It’s a game changer, but you do have to realize that the quality or speed may not be everything you need. Additionally, some cell phone providers (Verizon for example) have plans just for international travel in which you pay only for what you use.
Language and Cultural Norms
It’s a good idea to brush up on a little local lingo and be aware of some cultural aspects when you are traveling. I was lucky enough to have a personal guide, my husband. However, if you do not, it’s good to make note that even within a language there are different dialects and nuances. There are things to consider like body language, hand gestures, time of day different things are done, etc. Having even a brief overview of those cultural norms will help you get the most out of your trip.
So, there you have it. This is my overview of planning a trip. With or without kids, international or not, there are many things to consider. Do you love to travel? What do you find to be helpful or essential even in making those plans?