I realize that most of you will never even take one - and let alone two or more - kids this age on an international trip - and for good reasons :)! However, since I would have love to read about other's experiences before we embarked on our trips, I plan on sharing a few of my thoughts on traveling internationally with multiples after each trip. Here's this year's toddler edition:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. As with everything else you do with multiples or just small children in general, you can't leave anything up to chance. Call the airline and find out exactly what the rules are about carry-ons, luggage allowance, and the like for your kids' tickets. We have found out the hard way that many airline employees are unfamiliar with families traveling with more than one lap child. After this year's disaster, I highly recommend booking your ticket through a trained travel agent - especially if you plan on letting your children sit on your lap vs. purchasing tickets for them. (Which we did, by the way, and it only helped so much ...but still!).
Think about how many hours you will be in the air and how long it takes your toddler to get bored with a toy, and then do the math and figure out how many different activities and toys you'll need. The answer: Many! Even on long flights, you toddler will not want to do the same activity more than two or three times, so you'll need lots of options. Think about things that are light-weight and keep them occupied for a while. The girls loved their Buckley Boo toys this years, as well as stickers, markers, puzzles, and search-and-find books.
- Multimedia Entertainment: An absolut must at this age. I am pretty strict about limiting the girls' screen time at home, but on an 12-hour plane journey, I would let them watch 12 hours of movies if the DVD player held the charge that long and it kept their attention. If your kids never watch TV at home, I'd seriously consider buying a couple of good educational DVDs and letting them watch it at home a few times, as they'll be much more likely to pay attention to something they're familiar with. For the return trip, we actually bought a 2nd DVD player (mostly so we can watch German DVDs at home) - and it was well worth the money. If you don't have one, borrow one. You'll also want to buy a set of good kid-friendly headphones at this age. (We like ). The girls didn't wear them that much on the journey out but got much better on the way home. Also: Download a few toddler-friendly apps onto your smartphone. (The girls really liked Peekaboo Barn and Kidz Songs).
- Airport: When you get to the airport, make sure everyone knows you're traveling with multiple small children. If you encounter long lines, ask if there is a special line for families traveling with small children. Our airport has a special security check-point for families, for example. When you get to the gate, introduce yourself to the gate agent and ask about pre-baording. In general, people are always very willing to help out families traveling with small children, and never turn down a favor. You'll need it!
Also: If your journey includes making a connection, plan ahead in case time is tight. If you are connecting in an US airport on your way home, you will have to go through Immigrations, claim your luggage, go through Customs, re-check your luggage, and go through Security again - all while trying to make your next flight. We didn't even have time to change the girls' diapers or to buy a bottle of water while in Newark, we were literally running the entire time to try to get to our gate on time. So bring along extra snacks in case you don't have time to buy food. You are allowed to carry on a small amount of liquids for your children, and then have the flight attendants refill their sippy cups as soon as you are on your next plane.
- Jet-lag: The way you will deal with jet-lag will largely depend on how much time you spend at your final destination (and what the time difference is). Chances are, you won't be staying as long as we did, and in that case I highly recommend keeping your children as close to your time zone back home as possible - even if that means shifting activities to the early morning or late evening, so they can sleep whenever they would sleep at home. If that's not possible, split the difference. For the first 10 days in Germany, for example, the girls would go to bed between 1-4am ... and we never put them down before 10 or 10:30pm for the rest of the trip, even though their bed time at home is 7:30pm. Sticking to a schedule that resembles their schedule at home really helps. So even though the girls were often very tired early on, we would only give them one nap - and otherwise try and keep them awake and engaged with lots of activities and time outside.
- Involve your toddler: The biggest difference to traveling with infants is that you need to involve your toddler in what is going in. An international trip is a huge deal for them, and the more in control and prepared they feel, the better they'll cope. We loaned books about airports and airplanes at the library well ahead of our trip and started talking about our upcoming travels. I made a little photo album with current pictures of their German family, and we practiced names together :) It is amazing how much your kids will pick up from you, so try and be as upbeat and positive about your trip as possible. Liana absolutely melted down several times while Bjorn and I were arguing with the airline representatives in Frankfurt - even though she was with my mom several feet away. She kept crying so hard and kept saying "ticket" - that's how much she understood of what was going on. So as soon as things had calmed down a little, I explained to her that we had been upset about a mix-up with our tickets, but that things were okay now, that we had our tickets now ... and she calmed right down. When they would get restless or overtired on the plane, I told them how hard such a long flight was on little ones and what a good job they were doing. We told them who was waiting for us at the airport and what we would do when we got home. Never underestimate what their little brains can comprehend!
- Before and After your Trip: One of the best things we did this year was to line up help with the girls right before and after our trip. We had our baby-sitter come over for a few hours the day before we left, which allowed us to pack and get ready for our trip. After we came home, we had both Grandparents and our sitter take the girls for a few hours so we could sleep (since they were up for the day between 3:30-4:30 am the first few days), unpack, do laundry, etc. Just face it: You WILL be exhausted after you return from your trip, and it was such a relief for me to know that I would have a tiny little time off from the girls once we got back from our "vacation".
Overall: Just remind yourself that traveling with multiple toddlers is bound to be a walk on the wild side; that no matter how insane it might seem at the time, it won't last forever; and that you get to look back at so many amazing memories you'll make!