This week’s blog post is written by Cindy Dowsett, a Mama within our behind-the-scenes community! As travel begins to ramp up again, she has shared some of her best tips for international travel! Here is what she had to say:
How to Backpack Internationally with Kids
Now that there is discussion on borders opening up again post pandemic, there is going to be a lot of interest in international travel again. While everything is still up in the air, we don’t know yet what that will look like, or what vaccinations will look like for kids. While some may be ok with the idea of traveling immediately, others are on the fence and wondering whether they should wait it out and see what happens. Since we can’t speak to the future, here are some tips for what travel looked like with kids BEFORE the pandemic.
Pick The Best Flight Times
While I myself love finding the cheapest flights, usually the milk runs with multiple layovers, I completely understand that this is not for everyone. We like to extend our layovers and visit multiple cities and countries in the same trip, and yes we are doing this backpacking. When we were younger, we used to backpack frequently and stay in hostels and meet new people and see new places. Now that we have children, we still do those things! We just skip the full moon parties and nightclubs now. We also prefer airbnb over hostels, but as our kids are getting older, I would likely start staying in hostels again, just with a private room. So for us, the milk run flights work well. If you are looking at more direct flights, just know the price often goes up by quite a bit. When looking at flights, try to consider children’s sleep schedules. It can be easier to fly during nap and or bed time, though this can also backfire if flights are delayed. Know that there is a good chance your child isn’t going to sleep great anyways, and if you have a baby, look in to seats with bassinets. There are weight and height restrictions for the infant airplane bed, and while I never had the opportunity to try one personally, the idea is great. They are reserved quickly so I’ve always used my soft carrier on the front to let my babies sleep on my chest. You can loosen the straps to give them a bit more space, but also help you be hands free.
Pack Only Carry-On
Ok, this is again personal preference, but after way too much time in the airport as it is, the last thing you want to do is hang out any longer waiting for baggage to arrive. If you have travelled before, you know this can be a nightmare, and with sleep deprived kids (and parents!) who have been confined to a very small space for hours on end, the last thing you want to do is add waiting time. Infants and toddlers are allowed their own bag and you are allowed a diaper bag. With the amount of carry-on pieces you are allowed, we were able to pack (lightly) for all of our family vacations. We would gate check the stroller, with a sleeve of diapers and wipes in the storage pocket on the bottom, our kids carry their own backpacks with their toys, books and a change of clothes/extra diapers and wipes, and we carry our own backpacks with all the rest of the clothing and needed items. This has worked very well for us in the past and we plan to continue this approach for future travel. If you are wondering about a car seat, many rental agencies supply one or you can request an uber with a car seat in some countries. We also like to travel to places where we have family and friends and they often supply one for us on the other side.
Packing only carry-on can be time consuming at security, and add some weight in the airport, but once we get to the gate we can onload and we’re fine. The stroller is also super handy here as usually I am baby wearing and the stroller is used as our storage during this time. I always make sure I have everything that needs to be removed at security (such as toiletries) in a bag so I just have to grab that one item and put it on the belt with the other bags. I do the same for the diapers and wipes that will be kept through gate check in our stroller so that there are less pieces going through the security gate. Since the stroller can’t go through the belt, everything needs to be removed from it to scan and they take it through another area to inspect and test, so it’s good to have this organized and liquids finished before you go to security. Depending on the agent, you may or may not have to remove your baby/toddler from the baby carrier in security.
Note that this will only work for larger planes. Smaller flights, like Ryan Air in Europe, will make you check your extra carry on.
What to Pack for The Plane
Since we only have carry-on, we have everything we need with us constantly. The adult backpacks go in overhead storage and everything else is by our feet. It makes it super easy if you need something and then remember you checked it. The reason our kids have a change of clothes in their own little backpacks is so that we don’t have to rummage through our bigger ones. Have you ever read Robert Munsch “Too Much Stuff”? Yep, picture that if I were to unzip my backpack containing 2-3 weeks worth of stuff for 4.
We always pack on the plane:
-water (empty bottles for security and you can fill them on the other side)
-diapers and wipes (not needed anymore but good for anyone reading still in this stage)
-water wow books
-head phones (for using the airplane tv)
-tablet, yes we allow our kids special tv time on the plane, but they have to alternate shows with play and reading, and only one can use it at a time. One of us will entertain the other (this may change now that the kids are older).
-new toys. These are wonderful surprises that the kids love. It’s usually a putty or a fidget toy. Something that will keep their little hands busy but not make a mess.
-little toys like cars or trains or dolls
Our bags in overhead contain a few days worth of clothes each and I bring travel size tide laundry packets to hand wash our clothes if necessary. We wear our bigger items like sweaters and runners on the plane.
What to Expect
The nice thing about most airports and travelling with kids is that you get to skip many of the long lines and go through customs and security a little faster. Trust me, they don’t want any screaming kids any more than you do. This doesn’t happen at every airport though, so be prepared to wait in long lines.
Many airports have children’s areas where there is a little playground or area they can play. If you can and have time, try to eat and use the washroom before getting on the plane. You will be the first on the plane, which is nice for storing your things, but also means you are on the plane a lot longer. Be prepared for that, the novelty can run off quickly. Once you’re on the plane, the flight attendants will come and ask you questions such as whether you have travelled with a child before. They will instruct you on extra safety, how best to hold an infant on take off and may or may not provide you with a seat belt extension for your little one in your lap. If you have the funds and want to, some of our friends purchase an extra seat for the extra space. Once they are two, you will need to purchase their own seat. Once you are in the air, the flight attendants are great at helping get you what you need. If your kids ears start to hurt like our eldest, they are always concerned and try to help. Once your child can chew gum, let them on take off and arrival. Other tips are breast feeding, bottle feeding, food pouches or water bottles during this time.
One thing we never let our kids do when they were young was walk on the airplane while in flight. This worked great for us because we always carried them on and off, and to the washroom, and rocking them in the back area to settle them if needed. They didn’t actually know that it was possible for them to walk, so they never asked or cried to get out of their seats. They were, for the most part, happy to stay, and as they got older we explained that it was just like being in the car-seat belts at all times.
Always check ahead to see if meals and drinks are included. If not, either bring them with you or purchase ahead of time from the airport.
This is child and situation dependent but we’ve always lucked out in this department. Everything is so new and exciting for the kids that they usually stay awake until local evening anyways. Then we all have a good sleep and feel pretty good the next day. It’s coming home that we notice it more. It usually takes the kids about two weeks to get back to normal routine. Now that they are in school though, that may change. And anyone reading this who has children in daycare may have a different experience. I personally love the extra snuggles during the few slow and quiet days after we get home from a big trip.
Our Favorite Countries so Far
Morocco and Greece!!! We’ve loved everywhere we have traveled with the kids, but these two countries stood out for going above and beyond to help families. They love children. Everyone will go out of their way to get you sorted.
Safety & Getting Around
If you’re worried about travelling with your children for safety, be street smart. Research where you’re going and just like anywhere, keep them within sight and close.
Mainland travel usually consists of trains busses, boats, cars and or flights. Many countries don’t use car seats, so you will either need to plan ahead for this by bringing your own, contacting car rental agencies to see if they can be supplied or getting comfortable with your child sitting on your lap like the locals.
Explore and have fun!
Travel certainly looks different with children. You often get to see the sights before the rest of the city is awake, and have a child sleeping on you during naps and bed time (baby wearing means you don’t have to miss out on exploring what you want to to see/do). Meal times are usually quieter as our kids eat earlier and we usually rest during the hottest part of the day in a shady park or coffee shop. Travelling with young kids is unique in that you really get to slow down and explore the area you’re in, so enjoy the pace, talk with the locals, and enjoy the world through their eyes.