From Jet-lag to Joy: How to Maintain Your Kids´Routines While Traveling Internationally

Worried about traveling with kids? Liz Bridges, a mom of two has some helpful advice. Find out her top tips that can help you make your next international trip stress-free and full of joy!

You know that international trip you´ve been dreaming of? Liz Bridges lives in Spain with her Spanish husband and two young daughters. She has flown solo with both girls traveling numerous times back and forth from Madrid, Spain, to Atlanta, GA. She is here to help calm your nerves about taking that international trip you´ve been contemplating. 

And, yes…traveling with children!

“Liz, you are making international travel with kids seem *slightly* less terrifying,” Moms on Call CEO Morgan Eddy told me last summer. After being a passionate Moms on Call fan ever since being pregnant with my first daughter, I was in the middle of translating the books into Spanish. My two daughters were 1 ½  and 4 ½  years old at the time. I was telling Morgan about how I survived the flight there alone with both girls. Just like I told her then, I´m going to tell you now. It honestly does not have to be that scary!

I have seen just how well my girls adapt to the time difference each time we’ve traveled, all thanks to Moms on Call! Don´t be intimidated. Just think of it as a couple really crazy (C*) days that will all be worth it in the end. I promise!

Keep reading for some tips on how to handle the trip and keep your routines in check.

Before the trip:

  1. Get the kids excited: Read books to your kids about traveling. Play with toy airplanes. Explain to them where you will be going and what you will be doing. My 4-year-old was so excited to step on the plane and meet the pilot during our last trip. She even colored a picture for him during the flight to give to him when we landed!
  2. Have solid routines established when traveling: Weeks prior to the trip, make sure you are following the routines outlined in the MOC books based on their ages. When we travel and disrupt our body´s internal clocks, it´s much easier to get back to normal when we have healthy sleep habits and routines already in place. 
  3. Book for success: Try to book the flight that has the best times for your family and, more importantly, a non-stop flight if possible. Layovers make those long international flights even longer! However, if your flight is extremely long, or if non-stop flights are impossible from where you are, layovers can be inevitable. Try not to book flights that have too short of a layover. You will need time to get from one gate to the next (all while dealing with a blowout from your infant!)
    •  Many airlines have seats with bassinets for infants.  If you have an infant, call the airline as soon as possible to reserve those seats. This is normally offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The bassinets are usually at the bulkhead seats in the first row of a section, which tend to have more legroom.

Packing for the trip:

Maintain those comforting sleep habits you have at home as much as possible (during travel days and at the destination). Pack your calming bedtime routine items that will help bring a sense of comfort and “home” to them while traveling.

These are the things that we use every day during naptime/bedtime at home that I take on the plane:

  1. Travel sound machine
  2. Sleep sack and/or warm, comfortable PJs
  3. Favorite stuffed animal
  4. 2 favorite books
  5. Lullaby musical toy

All these things (or special things you use at home) will help make their new surroundings seem a little more familiar.

There are lots of MOC blog posts with tips on what you should bring when on the plane and traveling with kids: 

Moms on Call´s Top Travel Items and Tips

Moms On Call´s Guide to Packing for Traveling with Babies and Toddlers

Flying with a Toddler: Your Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Travel

Additional Packing Tips for Traveling:

  1. Try to pack only necessary items to travel as light as possible.
  2. Don´t forget those snacks! 
  3. Having a quick little grab bag inside your diaper bag with diapers/wipes is helpful to take into the airplane bathroom.
  4. Prepare changes of clothes for everyone (including you!)
  5. In-flight entertainment is very essential. This could be a whole blog post in itself! We always bring new little toys/activities (stickers are great!) that they have never seen before, and also an iPad with comfortable headphones. These Water Wow! books were a hit last trip. Walking laps around the plane is also an entertaining activity for toddlers during flights!
  6. Think about things that will be available upon arrival and if you can rent any larger items.

Travel days:

  1. Time to check-in: When you check in and then again at the gate, always ask if there are any extra seats on the plane. During our last trip, they were able to change our seats to the back of the plane, giving us five seats in a row to ourselves. 
  2. Consider boarding last: Airlines often allow families with small children to board first, but honestly, who wants extra time on the plane with kids?! I prefer to board last and get as much energy out as possible before boarding.
  3. Keep those expectations low while traveling: Will there be tantrums? Yes. They will get cranky, but can you blame them? Just try to push through. Have patience. Just like Laura and Jennifer say in their books: “Extend tons of grace.” Let your kids take an extra cat nap (or two) during those long days! Their bodies will need it. When I traveled alone with my then-6-month-old and 3-year-old, they were both screaming while trying to fall asleep during a night flight. For me, it seemed like an eternity when, in reality, they were probably screaming and crying for 10-15 minutes before they passed out.
    •  Another tip from Laura and Jennifer from their books: Avoid reacting to the facial expressions of others. You are the parent, and you are doing the best you can in this situation! Take deep breaths, try to stay calm, and focus completely on your children. You got this!
  4. Strolling around: Having a stroller/double stroller has saved us every trip. You can stroll it right up until you walk onto the plane. They will gate-check it and have it ready for you as soon as you walk off the plane. A universal stroller bag can help protect it. A stroller can provide a more comfortable place to nap during layovers, long lines, or just on-the-go while on your trip.
  5. Sleep cues: Have all those comforting sleep habit items mentioned earlier on hand on the plane. (Travel sound machine, sleep sack/PJs/blanket/pillow, favorite stuffed animal, books, etc.) Try to set up a little version of their normal sleep environment. There are more things that can help make sleeping on a plane more comfortable for kids.
    • CoziGo: Universal sleep and sun bassinet cover for babies. We used this when both my girls were infants, and they slept in the bassinet on the plane all night. This bassinet cover along with a travel sound machine, helped block out all the light and noise and provided a more comforting atmosphere.
    • Inflatable footrests can help make the seat feel more like a “bed” to lay out in. We used this with my toddler on one trip, and it helped her get a little more comfortable while taking a nap on the plane.

Arrival at destination and then back home: 

  1. Reset: Use sunlight and darkness to help regulate those little bodies. Reset those internal clocks (and minds) right away!  Jump right into the new time zone by getting them outside to get some natural light exposure. This will help their bodies adjust quicker and get over that dreaded jet lag. We´ve always dealt with a 6-7 hour time difference during our trips. Go outside, go for walks, and breathe in the fresh air, even if it would normally be the middle of the night back home! Then, at night, total darkness in their new sleep environment will help set the mood. Having a Slumberpod helped both of my girls sleep perfectly in any hotel room or when we had to share a room.
  2. Itinerary: Plan those first couple of days of activities with your kids in mind. Keep it light on day 1, as your body needs time to recover from the long flight. Plan for naps. You can expect some crankiness, tired babies, and extra naps on the go those first couple of days. You want them to be able to make it as close to their new bedtime as possible the first night. Try to avoid putting them to bed too early.
  3. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks: Very important during all aspects of traveling: Make sure your kids are always well-fed and hydrated. They might want to snack non-stop, and that´s ok. Have snacks/water on hand at all times. Try to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the new normal times. Once their bodies start to adjust, the meals and normal mealtimes will become better.
  4. Sleep when traveling: When bedtime (finally) rolls around on that first day of the trip, do the whole bedtime routine. When each of my girls was babies (around 5-6 months old), and we traveled from Madrid to Atlanta, they both woke up one time in the middle of the night on the first night. I fed them as fast as possible and then put them right back down. They both slept until I woke them up at their new normal wake time. By the second night, they slept the entire night with no problem.
    • Every time we traveled from Atlanta back to our home in Spain (night flights), they slept all night long on the very first night back. At every age, every time. We always arrive in Spain early in the morning and have the whole first day ahead of us. Their bodies get so tired after the night flight and the long first day back in Spain that when it´s time for bed, they basically just crash.
    • Make sure to plan those first couple of days back to be able to nap at home (set your alarm so they don´t nap too long) and get to sleep at night on time. After a couple of days, they are fully adjusted. 

Most importantly when traveling…be in the moment and enjoy your trip!

It´s hard not to stress about routines, but just know that things will get better. Go with the flow on those crazy travel days, give your kids time to adjust, and before you know it, they will be back on their new normal schedule. If they wake up super early and it seems impossible to get them back down, just try to be positive and make the most out of it. Watch the sunrise in a special place, have a delicious breakfast in a cute café, and then make time later in the day for a nice nap. Plan your trip with all of this in mind. My kids surprise me every single time with just how well they handle the changes. The memories with your family will make it all worth it! 

Liz

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