Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid To Travel Abroad With Kids
I recently returned from a two week trip to Ireland with my kids. Traveling abroad with children is different than traveling solo or with your spouse. It starts with packing. I spent years perfecting the art of packing. I mean, I have it down to a science. I have neutral staples that mix and match, dresses that go with everything, double as a skirt and can be balled up in my suitcase and arrive wrinkle-free. I have cute metallic ballet flats that I can walk for miles in and still look chic for dinner at a nice restaurant. I have pared down my beauty products to a travel kit that is ready to go at a moment's notice, containing only the essentials to look put together and pretty. I can pack for a two week sojourn with just a carry-on.
This hard-won skill set that I possess, while essential to someone like, say, a fashionable international spy, is completely wasted on a mother of three. Because kids simply can't get away with just a carry-on. They each need three favorite stuffed animals, their electric toothbrushes, DS's, crayons, books, blankets, pillow pets, Legos, and, oh yeah, clothes and shoes. And then there's the diapers, wipes, bottles, etc for the baby. The only thing we didn't put through the x-ray machines at security was a donkey. Though we could've used one.
Once kids reach the age of 6 or 7, they are pretty agreeable fliers. They love having their own tv's with their own headphones and that allow them to make their own viewing choices. For a few blissful hours, you don't have to be the heavy in deciding between "Ninjago" and "Shake it Up."
But if you've got a baby or a toddler, that's a whole different level of stress. They cry, and on top of the fact that you feel bad for them and want to soothe them and their screaming is really unpleasant for you to listen to, you are keenly aware that the whole plane is HATING you. As are the flight attendants. The difference there, though, is that the passengers don't generally chastise you and make your life harder. The flight attendants, at least those employed by United/Continental, do. Case in point: I finally get our 16 month-old to sleep on my lap after a solid hour of crying, and the surly flight attendant rushes over and very loudly says, "His hand is coming out into the aisle! He can't lay like that!" Which startles the baby awake and resets the crying switch to "even louder." This is the real reason they don't want you to have pointy objects on planes. You might be tempted to stick her with a pin.
Once you get to your destination, plan to set your sights on attractions that you may not have been very interested in before kids. There's not a whole lot of lingering in cafés sipping lattés. Children's museums, ice cream parlors, toy stores. Those are the crowd pleasers. And no matter where you go, kids are always happy if you can find a park...
...or a playground. They love to compare foreign and American playgrounds.
One of the advantages in traveling to Europe is that there's always some old abandoned prison nearby to lock kids in if they act up.
And every trip holds the potential to make a new friend.
So don't be afraid to travel abroad with kids. If you have realistic expectations and a few big suitcases, you'll be fine.