Before heading off on our first international trip with a 1 year old, I did research and talked to experienced friends about what to expect. I didn’t really find a lot of applicable advice online because my guess is that sensible people aren’t traveling internationally with little ones. This should have been my first warning sign. We went ahead and planned the trip for a flight to England for Christmas. I must admit that having family on the other side was SO great because I knew we would have help getting over our jet lag. I was told that babies don’t get jet lag. They just jump right in to the time zone, so I was pretty pumped about that. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t true for our kid.
**Just so you know, there’s positive help coming. It’s not all gloom and doom, but it was our first trip experience so I wanted to tell you why we arrived at the conclusions we did. If you want the recommendations without the story, go ahead and skip to them now.**
The flight to Manchester, England was 7.5 hours. We booked an overnight flight so that Kiddo would have the best chance at getting sleep. Before leaving, I talked to my pediatrician about Kids’ Benadryl and got the dosage we’d need for her size. We had a bulkhead seat and we’d seen others use bassinets that attached to the wall so we were going to do the same. My plan: kiddo would eat, sleep all night, and wake up when we had to put the bassinet up for landing. I knew there would be deviations to my plan, but how bad could it be? Pro parent tip: NEVER ask this question, even in your head.
Kiddo was restless and fussy from 6 pm til 9 pm. As all toddlers do, she had 8 arms and legs and grabbed everything in sight. So we fed her dinner, played, put her in her pjs, and then gave her Benadryl and waited for the magic to happen. It didn’t. Not until they finally turned the lights out at 9 pm did Kiddo conk out and go to sleep. The catch was that we had a blanket on the floor and she laid on that, not the nicely installed bassinet that we expected. Mainly because the bassinet was something she had to be strapped into and that wouldn’t work for her.
Well, around 11:30 PM our usually happy kid woke up because of noise and turbulence and proceeded to be fussy. Until she vomited. Chunks went all over my husband’s lap, my hair, the floor, our seats–you get the picture. My husband had to completely change his outfit in the tiny plane bathroom. Pro travel tip: always take a couple pairs of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost.
Then I changed my top and got Kiddo out of her vomit-soaked pjs. And scraped vomit chunks from my hair. My husband and I got no sleep. It was mostly a nightmare of a flight. But she did wave to everyone as they left the plane. Then we expected to get our gate-checked stroller, but were told we’d pick it up at baggage claim. So we carried her through the airport, customs, and down to baggage claim. Kiddo proceeded to vomit 1x for the next 2 days because we suspect the flight messed with her inner ear and her balance was off or it was a virus. Also, it took 4 days for her to get acclimated to the time zone there and back. Just a heads up. No one told me this before I went.
On the flight home, we did much better because we knew what to expect. It was a day flight, so we were prepared for 0 naps and potentially vomit. If you expect the most dire situation, anything that isn’t is considered better right? Here’s what we did differently on the flight back.
1.BOOKS. We had bought a new book before the trip that we saved just for the flight. Kiddo LOVED this book. Touch and feel was perfect because it was something new to look at and feel without the obnoxious noise. She had very little interest in the screens or games, but this book saved the day. I think she read it 100x.
2. SNACKS. We had a ton of snacks in her bag. Having snacks ready for her kept her full and busy. Because she was a lap infant, the airline didn’t provide her a meal for either of the flights. Even when we asked for a meal if they had extra, they never brought one. Thanks, Virgin Atlantic. Pro travel tip: you can’t bring fruits, veggies, or milk into another country so make sure they’re eaten before you get off the plane or toss them in the trash on the plane. You don’t want to get stopped by the customs police with the dogs. They will find you and make you toss when they do.
3. TOYS. We carried on extra clothes (for us and her), a blanket, and toys. Anything that was small and portable that she got for Christmas we put in the carry-on. Pro parent tip: some of the most entertaining toys for her were the plastic cups we got with our drink service and the toothbrush that came in the travel pack on our seat. She played and played with those.
4. Wet/Dry Bag. This is something we didn’t take but will take next time. With the first flight it was vomit clothes that needed a bag. On the flight home, it was blowout clothes (that’s another story entirely). SO lesson learned, it’s worth it to have a wet/dry bag that keeps the smell and wetness in. Grocery bags the airline will give you don’t hold in the smell, so we gagged every time we opened our luggage. Any good quality one will do, but Skip-Hop is a good make if you’re looking for something specific. Look for a large one that can hold all the clothes you need it to.
Skip Hop Grab & Go Wet/Dry Bag, Grey Feather
5. DRINKS. We took milk and water on the plane for Kiddo. Be warned that the airports do test your milk and water before you leave the security area. These cups were our favorite. They’re easy to use and don’t leak despite the rigors of children. They can spout some liquid if they’re dropped, but they’re so good we bought more when we got home. WORTH IT. And remember, we tossed Kiddo’s milk before we got off the plane.
Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup, Green/Blue, 7 Ounce, 2 Count
6. CARRIER. I personally love the Ergo 360 carrier. On both flights, our gate-checked stroller wasn’t waiting for us at the gate. So on the flight home, we got smart and brought the baby carrier so we didn’t have to haul Kiddo through the entire airport by holding her. Trust me when I say it’s worth the inconvenience of having it in your carry-on stuff.
All in all, if you are taking a toddler on an international flight, I wish you luck. I cringe to think that I considered doing it solo. For those of you who ARE doing it by yourselves, I wish you all the best. Traveling with a kid is not for the faint of heart. And even though everyone around you wishes your kid would stop crying, there’s no one who wishes it more than you (and the other moms who know what you’re going through.) So bite the bullet. Be prepared and have a great flight.
What questions do you have for traveling with a baby? If I can prepare you, I will. Trust me when I say I know what it feels like to have questions that no one will answer for you.
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