We just returned from our first trip abroad with our little guy and I have so much to share with you!
First of all, traveling abroad with a toddler isn’t as crazy as it sounds. It just takes a bit more planning and energy but it’s well worth it in the end. Watching our little one take in all of the sights and flavors of a foreign city was just as much fun as the vacation itself. If you leave any preconceived ideas at home and just hold you’re little one’s hand in expectation of a new adventure, you’re set for success (advice given to me by someone older and wiser than myself). I want to share with you all of the tips I received for traveling abroad with a toddler. I’m splitting this up into two posts, I’ll start with all of the tips on traveling abroad with a toddler in general and a second post on tips for flying with a toddler.
choosing the right destination
As you research a few spots you’re interested in traveling to, make sure those cities are kid friendly. We traveled to Barcelona, Spain, which I knew from a close friend was a very kid friendly European city. Think about researching things like: are the metros stroller friendly or do they have elevators; are there playgrounds or good activities for young kids; and is it easy to navigate a stroller around the streets. And the most obvious question, is the culture you’re traveling to one that enjoys and celebrates children.
Everywhere we went, people were smiling and waving at Everett and servers helped us get our stroller inside restaurants and fed Everett special bites. It made the trip so much easier and it was beautiful to see how much the Catalonian culture enjoys kids.
When you’re thinking about packing for your toddler, think about what he/she uses daily and what makes them comfortable. Also, think about what can easily be bought or replaced cheaply once you get there to save bag space. Traveling light is definitely the way to go when you have a toddler to chase around airports and such. Here are my must have’s when if came to packing:
1 kid-sized back pack filled with lots of fun, new (cheap) toys (more on that to come in a later post)
3-4 pairs of clothes per 1 week (1 packed in your carry on). We all repeated outfits and did one load of laundry mid-trip.
1 pair of pjs
toothbrush and toothpaste
1 bottle or sippy cup packed in your carry-on
portable potty if you’re potty training like we were (this one is great) OR disposable changing pads
small package of wipes (buy more when you arrive)
small package of diapers, pull-ups, or underwear, 4-5 will do (buy more when you arrive)
small first aid kit including a thermometer and whatever medications you use at home
sleep aid (refer to your pediatrician for this but we used m…)
stroller (we like to have our stroller when we travel since especially around Europe we knew we would walk a good bit and our little guy sleeps well in his stroller for naps)
travel size baby bath soap
1-2 familiar and comforting toys/blanket
As much as possible try and get your toddler to adjust to the new time zone quickly. Do whatever you can to get them to sleep through the first night. If you can keep him or her awake until nap time or night time when you arrive, that is best. They will probably wake up a time or two the first few nights. My sister, who traveled and lived abroad for years, told me that a few nights it may seem like you have a newborn again. Though it wasn’t that hard for Everett to sleep, it was a good mind-set going into the trip.
Also, having a good stroller with you is key so that your toddler can nap while you enjoy your destination. Think afternoon wine break with a sleeping toddler next to you.
And be ready to be flexible, we ended up keeping our little guy awake longer in the evenings so that we could enjoy Spain at night. We also would wake him up after a few hours of napping so that he could rest well at night. He was a little more groggy than usual but nothing that couldn’t be helped by a soccer ball in a playground or a little European treat. If you’re wanting to help your child sleep by using medication, you should definitely talk to your pediatrician.
when you’re there
We took many breaks while sightseeing or strolling to let Everett get out and play. He played in the sand, at playgrounds, on plazas chasing birds, and wherever he could kick around a little soccer ball. Most days we planned to see one ‘sight’ or neighborhood in the morning then just enjoyed the city and each other for the rest of the day.
We usually really research and plan out our meals when we’re abroad but this time we knew to be a bit more flexible. If Everett or one of us were hungry instead of finding the top hidden spot from Yelp or Travelocity, we found something nearby, interesting, and easy. Of course we ate well and we also found some highly recommended restaurants but we were more open to just finding our own gems along the way.
Let your child explore some new foods as long as they’re willing. We loved giving Everett a chance to try some new foods, like the tiny currants we found at a farmers market in the picture above) or fresh kiwi juice at a stand nearby. Make sure to find a grocery store or market on your first day so that you can have plenty of snacks to fuel your daily outings. Everett ate plenty of granola bars, fruit, and nuts in-between meals or if he wouldn’t eat what we were eating (we figured that vacation isn’t the time to try and force him to try something new if he wasn’t enjoying it).
When it comes to having a nice meal out don’t be afraid to go just because you have your kiddo with you. We went to plenty of nice restaurants and were all able to have an enjoyable time. Try to find restaurants with seating outdoors if the weather is okay. Bring snacks and a few things to entertain (stickers etc). And we always brought a little soccer ball with us so we could kick around the ball outside, nearby while we waited on the food. If they didn’t have a high chair we would often take turns holding and feeding Everett so we could both have some meals, hands free.
Again, we brought our nice stroller with us so that we could navigate the city comfortably. We bought a cheap gate check bag for it so that it wouldn’t get damaged. Like I mentioned before, you may want to look into if the location you’re traveling to is stroller friendly or not. Even the metro in Barcelona had elevators so that we didn’t always have to carry the stroller down the stairs.
toys for hotel
The toys we brought for the plane doubled as great toys for the apartment we stayed in. They were new and fun, plus if they got lost it wasn’t a worry.
just do it
If you love travel as much as we do, I promise you will also enjoy it with your toddler with you, if not even more so! The cities around the world will mostly stay the same but your toddler won’t be at this exciting, adventurous, stage forever. Letting our little guy experience something new and foreign at his current age made our trip even more special.
More resources on traveling abroad with young kids:
15 tips for traveling with a baby by Green Kitchen Stories
Traveling Abroad with Kids by Oh Joy