6 Tips for Taking Your First Overseas Trip with Young Kids
Summer is fully underway now, and many parents are venturing overseas with the family (to Paris! and Ireland!) for the first time in over two years. Travel can be an invaluable experience that exposes the family to worlds different from what you’re used to. Whatever your family safety precautions might be with Covid, there’s still lots to consider. So much has changed in the past few years and it’s good to be prepared for as much of it as possible.
My partner and I took our two young kids (ages 2.5 and 7) to St. Croix recently and we realized that, not only are our kids at very different developmental stages than the last time we traveled, the world of travel is also a whole other ballpark altogether. We learned some helpful habits along the way:
1. Talk with your kids about the trip beforehand.
My 7-year-old had traveled to Portugal, Spain and Trinidad and Tobago before the age of 2 (yay to free flying for kids under 2!). He was a pro at flying and adjusting to other countries. This time, though, when we let him know that we would be going to St. Croix and taking a plane, he was struck by a huge fear of flying. He hadn’t taken a plane in two years and, developmentally, so much had happened in that time. He was nervous about flying and about what he would do on the plane. We prepared him emotionally by listening to his concerns and talking through them. We also got a book about flying and read it to him frequently. We helped him work through some of his fears by focusing on the positive. We let him know that, even though we usually limit his screen time, he could watch all the movies he wanted on the flight. We also purchased new Pokemon headphones for him to use on the plane so he was very excited to use those. It’s helpful to tease out the fun parts of the things your kid might be anxious about, while listening to their fears and validating them.
2. Keep routines as much as possible.
Because of the pandemic, my toddler was very stuck in her routines surrounding mealtime and bedtime. She was used to sleeping in her crib, lights off with her nature sounds playing. At that point, she wasn’t even happy falling asleep on me. So we had quite a bit of prep to do with her. During the trip, we tried to keep her routines stable as much as possible. We kept mealtimes around the same time and brought her favorite stuffed animals and blanket. We set up her pack-and-play in a dark room so it mimicked her own room. We even brought along her sound machine. This helped maintain some order in her life, even as we explored this beautiful new island during the day.
3. Encourage mindfulness.
Traveling during the pandemic is an intense experience and we were grateful for our son’s 2nd grade teacher who gave him a journal to write in daily. This encouraged some grounding in what he was doing, helped him be more attuned with his emotions and allowed him to reflect on each day. Some days, we missed journaling because he was so tired which was also totally fine. For kids who are not yet at writing age, this can still apply. Encourage them to draw a bit daily about what they’ve done that day. The drawings may just be a bunch of scribbles but to them, it’ll make sense and it’ll encourage that moment of introspection.
4. Expect and accommodate new fears.
My son developed lots of fears during the pandemic. We make space for them but we also encourage him to tackle them head on. For instance, he wanted to try snorkeling but was nervous about bumping his toes on the corals. He was hesitant to do it and changed his mind several times on the boat. Once we were there and he saw his dad in the water, he decided to give it a try. He went in a little way but wanted to keep one leg draped over his dad’s back while his arm clung to his dad’s shoulders. My partner celebrated the little distance he snorkeled from the boat and encouraged him to put his head under the water to see the corals. And he did it! He loved it so much that he wanted to do it twice. We chose to do snorkeling twice instead of exploring another part of the island in part because we wanted to give him the space to get more comfortable with this one activity. Sometimes, going deeper with one thing is more beneficial than trying to do too much, if your budget permits. Accommodating new fears means moving at your kids’ pace while encouraging them to stretch their comfort a bit.
5. Meal planning is important.
This is especially true if you have picky eaters. When we got to St. Croix, we headed to the grocery and picked up some basics for our kids’ go-to meals so that, if all else failed, at least they had foods that we knew they would eat. This included pasta, cereal, milk, etc. We packed lunches for them so that, even if they didn’t eat the food we bought, they still had something to eat. We encouraged them to eat the local food as much as possible but having our go-tos meant we had some flexibility. We also wanted to try the best restaurant on the island but buying pricey meals for kids who might pick at it for two minutes before rejecting it was not on our agenda (or our budget). So we made a later reservation, fed them dinner at home and then took them out to dinner with us with some trusty toys and crayons to keep them distracted. This allowed us to enjoy the delicious meal (it was soooo good!) while not worrying about their eating.
6. Prep for the return trip, too!
Last, but certainly not least, we even prepped to come back home. We kept the last afternoon light on activities and focused on resting. This meant that we were able to pack to return home and the kids were also a bit more relaxed on the flight home.
Enjoying an overseas trip with little kids during a global pandemic is possible, with enough planning and foresight. Don’t shy away from leaning into prepping from weeks in advance. You won’t regret it when you’re able to actually enjoy your trip with your kids.
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