About 6 months ago, Mellow Man, the Little Monkey and I drove to Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta, and boarded a plane to travel across the ocean for 10 hours. You see, this fall, we got this crazy idea. Totally batty. So much so that our families stared at us with mouths open when we told them what we were doing. I was well into my second trimester with the Little Peanut, and we decided to go to Turkey for Thanksgiving. Not eat turkey, but go across the ocean to Istanbul, Turkey. We started thinking about going somewhere in the United States for Thanksgiving since it was just going to be me, the Mellow Man and the Little Monkey. Well, guess what, it was a better bargain for us to go to Istanbul, Turkey for 10 days than it was to go to Seattle (the other place we were considering). Who knew?! Prior to this trip, I had never traveled for more than 3 hours on a plane with the Little Monkey, and we had also never taken him to another country (and culture) before.
Well, I figured a few things out along the way, and I thought I would share my insights with you, my beloved friends and readers, because traveling with a toddler (or baby) is a completely different way of seeing the world. No better and no worse, just a different way of traveling. Here are a few things you might want to consider:
Check the Shot Guidelines. I believe strongly in following doctor and pediatrician recommendations. So much so, that we agreed that we would ask the Little Monkey’s Doctor about going to Istanbul before we finalized the details of the trip. She thought it was a wonderful idea, and said that she had no concerns. She did encourage us to follow the CDC travel guidelines for traveling with children. If you’ve never checked them out before, you can find them on the CDC travel website. Based on the CDC’s recommendation, and our consultation with the pediatrician, the Little Monkey got a shot for Typhoid.
Bring *YOUR Child’s* Friendly Food. Well, maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you have one of those adventurous children who will eat everything put before them. I don’t have one of those. In fact, he has the typical American toddler diet, except that he won’t eat chicken nuggets (or any meat except pepperoni for that matter). We thought about food that was nutritious, portable and on the Monkey-approved food list . For us that included: Peanut Butter crackers, Nutrigrain Bars, a small jar of Peanut Butter, Plum Organics Teensy Fruits, and GoGo Squeez Pouches (affiliate links). We used these for quick snacks while we were traveling between sites. By always having snacks that were child friendly, we could eat wherever we wanted.
Take Rewards and Treats. The Little Monkey loves his “NMs” (M&Ms), and will do almost anything for a few. Thus, I went to the store before we left and bought two bags of the “Fun Size” M&Ms. We used these as a reward for situations that were trying for a toddler (e.g., waiting in line, waiting for our check in a restaurant).
Take Comfort Items. I think that this is something that you probably already do, but having the items that relax your child and remind him of home, go along way. For the Little Monkey, we took his favorite Caillou Plush doll, a blanket and pillowcase from his bed. We were able to request a crib (or cot) even in Istanbul for the Monkey, so he had his own special spot to sleep. However, by having his bedtime items, he was able to feel comforted. I also think that having your baby’s soap and toiletry items can help for comfort and familiarity. I like smelling like home, and prefer my own shampoo and soap when I’m far from home, so I assume my littlest loves do too.
Pack a Special Travel Bag. I’m listing a lot of things to bring, but collecting a special set of travel toys and surprises really can help for long trips. I bought a few small toys and trinkets in weeks before the trip along with a special carry-on bag just for him. It’s the Monkey’s “Bee Backpack”, and he was so proud to wear it, and his special place to keep his toys and treasures on the trip. It’s also really important to have toys while you are in a hotel– particularly if you have an energetic, just turned two-year-old running around the room. Additionally, we set up our tablet with about 6 hours of Caillou videos, so that he could have some television from home to watch while on the plane. (This also is good when you find that there are few child-friendly programs in your hotel.)
Take a Small Stroller. There are lots of huge strollers that fit in large SUVs and minivans, but I’ve found that a small, lightweight stroller that collapses quickly is best for travel, particularly international travel. We have a Maclaren Triumph that I got a consignment sale, and it is perfect for traveling. Given that I paid $30 for it, I also would be less devastated if the airlines damaged or lost it. This stroller can be collapsed and set up with one hand and one foot, and weighs just at 10 pounds. Also, historic sites have smaller doorways and more limited space, so a super-sized, American stroller can hamper your experience. I would also like to say that many sites also aren’t “baby” accessible, as they are hundreds of years old. You don’t want to be carrying a mega-stroller up multiple flights of cobblestone stairs. (Yes, we had to do this!)
Take Necessary Medical Items (and diapers?) I took everything that we might need for the Monkey if he were to become sick. I knew that in a pinch, there was excellent medical care in Istanbul, but I wanted to have all of my go-to items from home ready. For us that included acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as well as his thermometer. If your child has medical conditions, or if you are concerned about food poisoning or illness, talk to your pediatrician/family doctor. Sometimes, depending on your destination, they may recommend that you take a filled prescription with you in the event of illness. We also took Water Wipes (in case he developed diaper rash and thrush), and his diaper rash ointment and nystatin (a prescription medicine for Thrush). Some people who travel believe in buying diapers upon arrival. I personally prefer to bring mine. I anticipate that the Monkey will use 5 diapers a day, so I calculate the number of days we will be gone by 5. I then add 3-7 extra diapers depending on the length of the trip. There is one advantage of taking the diapers with me– by the end of the trip, I have a large empty spot in the Monkey’s suitcase which we can use for souvenirs. The other advantage is you have the brand that you and baby are used to. The disadvantage is that you are traveling with all of the diapers, and they take up a lot of room.
Consider Jet Lag. It is easier to mentally prepare for jet lag as an adult. We know what is happening, and why everything feels so discombobulated for the first few days. Toddlers and infants don’t have this luxury, and sleep is even more critical for them. We learned that working through jet lag takes a bit longer when you are two than when you are thirty-two. The Monkey took a few more naps that usual during his first few days in Istanbul, and we actually found that a mid-afternoon long nap, plus a later-evening snack and a late bedtime worked well for his adjustment the first two days. (It still took him until the third full day in Turkey to adjust.)
Set Realistic Expectations. This is the most important thing to remember when traveling with an infant or toddler. You are not going to be able to be on the go for fourteen hours straight, seeing every sight in town, which is followed by a long dinner and then hitting the local night life. Well, maybe you can if you travel with a nanny or babysitter. The biggest differences I found, was that we took everything a little slower, and prioritized the things that we thought that we all would enjoy. We also took more breaks in green spaces, and paid attention to the little things that we probably would have overlooked if the Monkey weren’t with us. We ate earlier, turned in earlier, and got up earlier. It was the pace of life with a toddler. It was different, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Traveling with a toddler and infant allows you to enjoy the little things– like feeding the birds in a square, throwing coins in founds, and petting the cats that live in the ancient ruins of Ephesus.
Traveling with the Little Monkey was a lovely experience, and I saw a side of the Turkish culture that I would have never experienced without him being along. I didn’t realize how indulgent and loving the people of Turkey are towards all children. Finally, I wanted to share that we didn’t get to take my Little Monkey’s biggest playmate and hero with us. One of the things that is really hard about living in a stepfamily is the fact that at times one of your children is away during the holidays. (We did invite the Big One to go to Turkey with us, with his father’s permission. The Big One said that he wasn’t interested in seeing Mosques and historical ruins instead of eating turkey. What can I say, he’s 12?!)
Have you travelled internationally with your little one? What has worked for your family?