My son and I have arrived in Rome after a long trip from Seattle. I travel with families often on tour, but this is my second international trip with my own kids. International travel with kids is fun, and I’ve got a few tips learned on the road.
1. Pack early. I suggest this for anyone, but especially with kids. Pack along with them about a week ahead, then review the bag the night before, adding in any last minute items like beloved stuffed animals.
2. Bring a lightweight blanket. A reader suggested that I swap one of my son’s larger stuffies for a soft blanket, and this was brilliant. I don’t normally bring one, but it was a joy to have a softer, warmer, nicer blanket on the plane, and comforting for my son. The A/C in the hotel is a little too much, so we used it in our hotel too.
3. Get a notarized permission. This is a big deal and nobody tells you about it. If you are traveling alone with your kids or are taking grandkids, be sure you have written a note that states that you have permission to take your child abroad. It doesn’t have to be much, a short notice of permission that is notarized will do. I did this and was so glad I did, the passport control asked for it.
4. Make sure your plane tickets are linked and your seats are together. I don’t like surprises at the airport, so I call to make sure. On this round, I found out when I called that we didn’t have seats assigned for the Amsterdam-Rome flight. Sitting apart would not be a good thing, so I was glad to get the heads-up. That part of the ticket was on a partner airline and I had to deal with them directly.
5. Eat-Sleep-Toilet. Those are the keys to happy people in general. I think about that often when I’m guiding a tour. If people are grumpy, it’s usually about one of the three. This is doubly important with kids.
6. Bring snacks. Airplane food is not known for being delicious, and kids have a tendency to turn their nose up at things that look or taste suspicious. I’m not sure I’ve met an airplane meal that wasn’t at least vaguely suspicious. I never assume that I’ll have time in the airport to grab food, you just never know, so I bring protein packed snacks like nuts and beef jerky. International travel with kids means international food, so a stash of comforting American snacks can ease frayed nerves.
7. Bring Kleenex, a Tide Pen and Wet Wipes. Toilet stalls without toilet paper, snuffy noses, chocolate mishaps, gelato-related incidents. They all ruin a kid’s day which is a downer for all grown-ups involved. A splash of water from a water bottle will do in a pinch.
8. Wash hands constantly. No Purell, it’s the Devil’s work, only soap and water. I don’t even want to think about the things touched in travel. And while I tend keep my hands clean, the layer of dirt on my son’s hands after a few hours of travel is truly astonishing. Did someone put a sand pit in the airport and not tell me?
9. Bring over-the-ear headphones. Kids have little ears, so the freebie earbuds on the plane fall out. I got my son a cheapo headphone set from Amazon that sounds pretty darn good and blocks out quite a bit of noise. He is also using them like earplugs when the noise gets too loud. These are great for guided tours with an audio system.
10. Check out the entertainment options ahead. I knew they have plenty of good movies to watch in the plane, but there are lots of moments of boredom in between. I loaded his Kindle with movies, books and new games for those moments. We also brought some travel card games and workbooks for our down time.
11. Make sure your kid knows your phone number in case you get separated. Write it somewhere in their backpack or on the collar of their clothes. I’ve even been known to write my cell number on their forearms in Sharpie.
12. Above all, stay calm and happy. Kids feed off of your energy, whether positive or negative. Remember teaching your kids to eat solids and smiling and saying “yum-yum” while eating broccoli? That’s the idea. If you’re having fun, so are they. So have fun no matter what, it’s good for everyone!