Traveling Overseas With Kids, by Dana Wikstrom
Who: Family of four (2 boys aged 5 & 7)
What: Overseas trip for 2 weeks
Where: Stockholm, Sweden
Ahhh summer! It’s the time of year where the days are long, filled with summer camp, the beach, the pool, BBQs, and travel. Whether jumping on an airplane or packing up the car for a road trip, traveling with kids is a task upon itself. I’m currently typing out this blogpost from 33,000 feet in the air on our way home from a family vacation to Sweden. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I have some tips that helped me tremendously that I’d like to share with you.
Why Sweden? Well, for starters, my husband is Swedish and our kids were born there. We eventually moved to Hong Kong….then Toronto…. and now we live in Los Angeles. If you do the math, you can say that we are seasoned travelers, especially my kids! I think back to the early years, before they could zone out on an iPad for long-haul flights, and remember the hard work it took to travel with toddlers and babies. Each year has gotten easier and easier, but it still takes a lot of work and preparation for things to run smoothly.
Organization is key! I start thinking about what I need to pack at least two weeks in advance and make lists and notes so I don’t forget anything. I’ve been known to keep a suitcase in the guest room and throw things in gradually throughout the weeks. I count out the days we will be gone and make sure I have enough clothes (especially if there is no laundry facilities) because my kids always get filthy. When traveling to Sweden you need layers because even in the summer, the weather can be unpredictable. This year was no exception. We had a handful of nice days, but thankfully I prepared and had lots of layers and some raincoats and rain boots thrown in there at the last minute. The day before we leave, I do an edit - mainly based on the weather forecast and if my luggage is skewing heavy. My husband is usually the enforcer and weighs each bag before going to the airport. Our goal is to avoid having to repack while checking in or pay extra for an over-sized bag. I’ve been there and done that, and it’s not fun.
I’ve recently discovered packing cubes and they are a life-changer. For me, there is nothing worse than a messy suitcase where you can’t find anything and you have to dig around searching for a shirt or a pair of socks. With packing cubes, you can find things instantly and you don’t have to constantly repack and fold your clothes. These cubes pictured are the ones I used and they were perfect. I had ordered a set for my clothes and a set for the kids’ clothes in a different color, so it was easy to identify who’s was who’s.
I also purchased this duffle bag from Amazon a few years ago and it goes with us on every trip. It folds down to nothing and it’s BIG! It can fit our car seats and works great for packing extra souvenirs and clothes we buy along the way. You can also use it as a laundry bag on the way home to make unpacking a breeze.
When traveling with kids, I never fly without my backpack. It fits so much and has lots of pockets to store and organize all of my stuff. I use the back pocket to store all of our devices (ipads and kindles), which makes it easier to remove when going through airport security. I recently bought these wireless headphones for my kids, which also have a plug-in, so they could watch the screens on the airplane. They worked well, folded-up nicely, and were a great price.
Essentials On The Plane
Games (cards, books, worksheets, pads of paper and markers)
Gum & Tic Tacs - this is always a treat for them on airplanes.
High protein snacks (nuts, jerky, protein bars)
Melatonin (zarbees has a great one for kids). We do not let our kids nap more than 30 minutes the first day of the trip if possible. This helps you tremendously with the jet lag.
Check your passports! Most countries require at least 6 months validity on them and nothing says STRESS! more than realizing that your kid’s passport is about to expire before your trip. Our family has dual-citizenship which means we have to travel with a total of 8 passports (!) This is a lot to keep track of, so I use a passport organizer to keep me sane. This is the one I recommend.
Traveling with small kids is tough. You factor in jet lag, exotic foods, going out of comfort zones, and it can lead to a lot of melt-downs (parents included!) Just keep in mind that it will always be tough, but traveling abroad with kids is such a rewarding experience. I find that the younger in age you start, the easier it will be as they get older. Your kids will be able to ebb and flow with new environments, while also learning so much they could never be exposed to at home. We try to schedule in some children’s museums and discuss cultural differences and similarities every chance we get.
Make things exciting! We give our kids their own money ($20 each) to buy their own souvenirs or toys. This is so helpful when your kids are constantly begging for treats! You can give them independence to budget and purchase things for themselves.
My last bit of advice for you guys is to lay out a clear schedule and walk through it with your kids. An itinerary will help them have an easier time transitioning into travel-mode. We find that when they know what to expect each day, they have a better time adapting. I think that next time I will print out a schedule for each of them, so they can have their own record of what’s planned, and a cool keepsake for the trip.