By Emily Morrice (bio)
One of our favourite things to do as a family is to travel and that goes beyond our own borders here in Canada. We have travelled abroad when I was pregnant, when I was nursing, with newborns, toddlers, potty trainers, and now, with three energetic kids, aged 3, 5, and 6. From our first trip as a family, with our eldest in utero, to present day, where at the time of publishing we will be in Europe, we have been to ten different countries with our young children, and countless foreign cities. Here are a few tricks of the trade we’ve learned along the way.
Time Changes Flight Schedules
If you’re travelling with a baby age two or under, they fly for free and stay on a parent’s lap. This is one of the main reasons we began travelling when our kids were so young – it was affordable! I encourage all parents to bite the bullet and travel abroad with their babies while there’s no extra expense. Make sure you mention this at the time of booking. The time change can be really difficult, especially for kids! If you’re flying across the Atlantic, aim for an evening flight. We always try to book the red eye so we can put our kids to “bed” in the plane shortly after takeoff, and when we arrive on the other side of the ocean in the morning, they’ve had a night’s sleep. Of course, they won’t sleep as well as they would in a proper bed, and the flight is shorter than a typical night’s rest for them, but it helps a ton to have darkness and night and a similar “bedtime” when you take off. Mom and dad probably won’t sleep as well and you’ll be exhausted, but we’re adults, we can handle it (and drink coffee).
Overcoming Jet Lag
The first few days of your trip are crucial to overcoming jet lag as a family. If you over indulge too much with sleep at the “wrong” times, you’ll pay for it for the rest of your trip. My first tip to fight jet lag and one that is equally important for parents as well as kids is to drink plenty of water! Drink until you’re literally full. Flying dehydrates our bodies, as does sleep deprivation. Avoid juice which will keep them awake on the flight and lead to a sugar crash. Once you’re settled, try your best to resist sleeping for more than two hours. If you can avoid napping altogether, by all means do it, but most kids can’t. Once you’ve arrived, be sure to get as much physical exercise as possible. I remember dragging our sleepy heads to a beautiful park in Copenhagen on the first day of our trip to Denmark. We had a short two hour nap and then made sure we were walking and running for hours after that and it really helped! Babies will have want to eat when they’re used to eating, even if the time is inconvenient for mom. Whether its breast of formula your child is drinking, be consistent with feedings – the child’s sleep and eating will adjust in a few days.
Most of our travels have been to places where our family blends right in, so our kids haven’t experienced much culture shock. But if you’re travelling to a culture that is visibly different from your child’s typical surroundings, or if you’re planning to be in urban areas and your child is used to quiet suburban life, you can assume that there will be some degree of culture shock. The best thing to do is plan ahead and prepare your little one for what’s to come. Show your child pictures of the country/city you’ll be visiting and talk to them about what will be different from their daily life.
Making Them Feel ‘At Home’
We typically rent a home when we travel (Airbnb and Home Away are great options) so our family can feel more settled during our sojourn. Hotels may be nice but they don’t feel like home and don’t allow for the typical home rhythms such as cooking in the kitchen, and playing in the yard. Renting a home allows us greater control over food too, since we can buy, store, and prepare all of our favourite dishes from home in our kitchen. I make sure to make a few comfort meals for our kids and bring along their own utensils and bowls that they use at home. Little things go a long way to make your kids comfortable in a new environment!
It’s Worth It!
Has it all been a breeze? Absolutely not! Have there been hiccups along the way? You bet. Through it all, we still swear by international travel as one of the most incredible adventures a family can take. We introduced one child to solids while in France, potty trained another in Denmark, had our stroller destroyed by an airline in Sweden, and heard first words in Italy. We lost all ground gained on the area of sleep with the never setting sun of Iceland, fell in love with soccer during the world cup in Holland, and had 20-week ultrasounds in Morocco. These memories will last a lifetime and we hope we’re instilling a love for other cultures and adventure in our children as we travel the world. Hopefully through our mistakes and lessons learned, your future trips will be even smoother and just as wonderful.
Emily is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of three little ones. When she’s not traveling the world with her family, Montreal is home, where you can find her exploring the local markets, making a mess in her kitchen, and brewing a cup of tea. Find her on Instagram (@emmorrice) and check out her lifestyle blog, Our Nest In The City, where she documents it all.