Our family finally traveled abroad to the Netherlands. This was the first time in 2 and a half years that I had been “home.” This was also our first time traveling abroad with a 2 year old. While traveling alone is hard, there is added stresses to having children travel with you. Let me tell you about our experience and give you some international travel tips.
- Bring a small stroller for the airport. I recommend a small umbrella stroller, as those are easy to fold up and carry. We brought a small red one, and it was definitely a must-have. Airports are big and busy and we liked this so we wouldn’t be able to lose sight of her or risk her running off.
- Bring lots of snacks. Whenever my toddler got bored on the plane whenever there was a dull moment, snacks would keep her happy and entertained. I brought some apple sauce packets and some small cookies. On the international flight, we got two meals (both on the incoming and returning flight), but she wasn’t a big fan of those and didn’t eat much. So those snacks for sure came in handy! You are also allowed to bring a sippy cup with some liquid through security (just take it out of the bag and put it in separately) since it is for the baby/toddler. Make sure you fill up those cups, as flying for so long can easily dehydrate you. I also recommend putting liquids you get on the plane into the sippy cup to avoid spilling on clothes and having to change outfits.
- Bring an interesting object or toy that your child hasn’t seen before. It is also fun to give your toddler their own little backpack with their special toys in them, so they can feel like they have their own luggage to bring on the plane. We bought Nora a little “tweet-tweet” backpack and our interesting objects were a flashlight, a color light, and a measuring tape. She had seen these objects but had never really played with them before. Nora loved having her own little backpack with all her things.
- Check as many things as possible. It is not easy to have to carry too many things on and off the airplane. So check those car seats, big suitcases, and other items. I would only bring a small backpack with the essentials on the plane. At your destination, borrow as many things as possible. We were able to borrow car seats, pack and plays, and a bigger stroller at our destination. If you don’t know anyone at your destination, look into renting some of these larger items.
International travel requires planning. Most of the time, you have to make a stop somewhere else in the U.S. before you can go to your final destination. In our case, it was Chicago. So it was Memphis to Chicago, Chicago to Amsterdam, and the reverse way on the way back. Make sure you leave plenty of time in between flights, so you don’t have to rush going from one plane to the next. This is especially true returning to the United States since you have to pass through customs. There you will speak to an immigration officer, pick up your luggage (and re-check it), and go through TSA again for your domestic flight. I recommend having at least 3 hours between your international and your domestic flight (depending on how busy that particular airport is).
It is also a good thing to take a night flight when possible. We left Chicago at 6 p.m. local time, and arrived in Amsterdam the next morning at 9 a.m. local time (there is a 7 hour time difference). Nora slept nearly the entire flight on the way there (and so did I!). Take advantage of sleep/nap times and enjoy your rest while you can. You will need your rest as international trips are always tiring (think: jetlag and busy schedules).
I was in the Netherlands for 5 weeks total. My husband Travis was only able to stay 2 weeks, and I stayed an additional 3 weeks. I was glad to be able to do that, so Nora got to hang out with my side of the family for a while longer. Some family had not met her yet. Traveling alone with a child can be a bit more challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The flight attendants are usually very helpful and will help when needed. When I had to go to the bathroom and Nora was awake, I would call on a flight attendant to watch her while I went.
Make sure you use the in-flight entertainment system. All international flights have their built-in screens, so there is no need to bring an iPad or other device as the screens that are built in are very convenient and save you from having to carry extra things. I also recommend bringing a set of child-proof headphones so they can listen safely to the system’s sound.
Make sure you check on your local rules and regulations when to traveling alone with a child. When I got to the passport control before leaving the Netherlands, the officer asked if I had the right papers for traveling alone with Nora. I wasn’t sure which papers he was referring to, but apparently you have to fill out a form if you are traveling alone with a child (if both parents are not present). I had no idea, and didn’t even know how I was supposed to know that. I will definitely fill it out next time. Also, make sure you always carry your child’s birth certificate with you when traveling internationally, especially if you are sometimes alone with your child without the other parent present. If I didn’t have the birth certificate to support that Nora was truly my child, I think I might have gotten stuck at border control for a while longer.
Happy traveling! Where are you going next?