Since before our now year old baby was even born, we knew my husband would be traveling internationally for the final course of his Tulane Executive MBA program. Which meant I had months to obsess over the right way to structure this trip.
- Should I not go at all and stay home with our two children? But this was a great opportunity to do some international travel.
- Should I take this opportunity for alone time with my husband and leave both children with their very willing grandparents? But Cora would be just turning one and I had nursed her brother until closer to two. What if she weaned because of the trip? I knew I’d regret giving up another year of nursing for one trip.
- Should we embrace this opportunity to expose both of our children to international travel? Quick veto! Jacob would be leaving a week before me, meaning I would have to bring both children over alone. Not to mention we couldn’t justify the cost of a three year old’s international ticket when he’d probably much prefer playing in my parents’ backyard to visiting European capitals.
In the end, we decided to take our 12 month old and leave our 3.5 year old behind. We planned a 12 day trip to Athens, Greece, the island of Rhodes, and to Barcelona, Spain. This makes me eligible for the “traveling internationally, alone, with a baby” mothering award. (Oh wait, that’s right, there’s no such thing as mothering awards.)
But let me share what I learned in the experience!
When traveling internationally with a small child
Plan ahead and apply early for a child passport. Cora’s chubby 7 month old face will be emblazoned on her official passport for the next five years. Spend the $10 and go to Walgreens to get help getting the right sized baby passport photo. For children, both parents must go in person to an approved passport office to apply, or you must have a notarized form from the second parent authorizing the application.
Plan to pay. If you have a child under two and will hold them in your lap, you still must purchase an international ticket (as opposed to domestic flights, where lap babies fly free.) This required a phone call to our airline and ended up costing about 10% of the adult fare. You will then be mailed a paper ticket which you must present at each leg of your journey.
Think about the age of your child and what entertains them. Know that you’ll have a seat console with music, TV, movies, and even games, but for the littlest travelers (Cora included) know that that won’t help you much. For Cora, I packed three interactive little books (which I can now can quote verbatim), a little doll, and a small light up music player. While she did enjoy all of those items, she also got extensive enjoyment out of the barf bag, random pieces of trash, my drink cup, the remote control of my seat console, and our friendly neighbors.
Take sleep aids. For us this was Cora’s blanket and our Ergo carrier. Since most babies won’t make plane naps easy for you, I resorted to walking and swaying Cora in her Ergo to get her to sleep. My challenge is that she woke up whenever I’d sit back down. The upside was that these periods of standing introduced me to other travelers and helped pass the time through conversation.
What should you pack?
A baby transporter! We debated between bringing our stroller or only bringing our Ergo carrier. I really liked the idea of traveling “light,” sans bulky equipment, but I knew there would be too many times where the stroller would come in handy. I gate checked our BOB stroller and am so glad I brought it. Even on the times when Cora would be in the ERGO, the stroller was useful for holding our stuff. The ERGO carrier was well used, especially in locales where a stroller wouldn’t have worked.
More clothes in your carry on than you think you will need! I packed the right amount of clothes overall, but I should have put more in my carry on. Our luggage was lost and didn’t reunite with us for 2.5 days. I ended up having to shop for Cora. Another problem was lacking diapers. I had two diapers left when I arrived at my hotel but, naively, took the airline at face value when they said my luggage would be arriving later that day. We left for dinner with Cora in the final diaper and by the time we got home, there was no suitcase and the nearby pharmacies were closed. We made it until the next morning, but I learned my lesson and packed ample diapers in my carry on for the rest of the trip.
Baby hats, sunscreen that you know works for your child’s skin, and baby Tylenol! (Although, when we had to resort to buying Ibuprofen, we found it was much cheaper abroad.)
Your camera – These memories will be priceless!
What should you NOT bring?
We opted against our car seat. We planned to rent a car for only one part of our trip, and we just rented a car seat through the car rental company. We knew the rest of our trip would be by air, taxi, and metro and didn’t feel that lugging the car seat around made sense.
Too many toys. The only toys I brought were the ones I put in my carry on for the plane. Cora had no trouble finding fun in the every day objects in our hotel rooms or out and about in the city.
Was it a good idea in the end to take a child on our trip?
Hands down, yes! I admit that I was anxious about whether I was making the right decision:
Would our older child feel left out? No, he had the time of his life with his doting grandparents and got some well deserved “only child” time.
Would having a baby along limit our fun? No! She was Miss Personality, helping us make new friends throughout the trip. She also quickly adapted to a “European schedule” and was able to hang for late dinners.
Would we still feel like we’d enjoyed and taken advantage of the trip? Yes! While we will quickly admit that NO children would have, of course, made for a more relaxing trip, we still had an awesome time, slept in, ate at fun restaurants, and saw and did all that we wanted.
Any final advice?
Most parents will remember “pre-kids” travel. It would be naive to expect “with-kids” travel to be the same. You will have meals where your baby is expiring, you will have plane/train/car rides where your child is fussy, and you will have to adapt your days, at times, to accommodate the additional traveler(s). “With-kids” travel is different, but different can be great! I interacted way more with local people than I would have traveling alone or with just my husband. Cora was our little goodwill ambassador and helped us better experience these new places. We also got the unexpected benefit of “only child” time with our second baby, which was special for all three of us.
And we had the best ever homecoming with big brother. Tears, big smiles, and lots of hugs! I think Cora will need to have her special time at Grandparent Camp in a few years so that Jack can have his own international adventure!
Do you know I have never been abroad? And I was resigned to not being able to go until we were grandparents ourselves? But this? This gives me hope, Courtney!! I love it. Y’alls family would be such a fun one to grow up in, friend!
That sounds like a great trip! When the boys were little (i.e., free), I took them on trips individually to visit family. Only in the US, mind you, but traveling with one kid really is fun and not too hard. And just having one kid is such a breeze, it really does feel like a vacation!
I’m in Ireland visiting family with my husband and our nearly 1 year old now! She’s been loads of fun and another happy ambassador! We did opt to bring the car seat with a snap n go which serves as a stroller. I also have a carrier which we haven’t used as much yet. We’re traveling with family and friends in vehicles so having the seat was a necessity. The cheap snap n go is a great option for folks who need the seat but don’t want to have to bring a lot.
Sounds like you had a great time! Great advice!