I’m so excited to talk about going international with your baby or toddler! With a little preparation, you’ll be well on your way to stamping that baby passport with a smile.
Megan’s tips for going international:
- The first thing you will need to do is get that baby a passport! Start here for a passport for children under 16 in the U.S. Read the instructions VERY carefully and make sure you have all your paperwork, proof of identity and proof of parental relationship in order. Typically, you’ll need the child’s social security number, birth certificate, parental ID, photocopies, and your checkbook. Search here for your nearest passport acceptance facility. Save yourself A LOT OF TROUBLE and don’t attempt to take the passport photo yourself. We tried and failed miserably—not surprisingly—with a 10-month-old baby. Most passport acceptance facilities can also take the passport photo for a small fee and it’s 3000% worth every penny, especially since passport photos have downright picky requirements.
- When you receive the baby’s passport (victory!), make a photocopy or two to travel with you. We always keep our passport photocopies separate from our actual passports while traveling in case they are lost or stolen. This will make it much easier should you need to visit your embassy.
- When the time comes to look at air travel, weigh the ticket costs against the travel time and the squirm factor of your child. As long as your child is under two years of age, they fly free in your lap. We flew from Chicago to Madrid when our daughter was 11 months old, and she did just fine as a lap child. Of course, she wasn't walking yet. When she was a year and a half, we purchased a seat for our flights between Chicago and Dublin, which worked well for us, given her age and her propensity for constant movement and for ripping in-flight magazines to shreds.
- I highly recommend, at the very least, springing for the airline seats with extra legroom (look for a label like “Economy Plus”) on any flight of 7 hours or more. We had extra legroom on the way to Madrid and regular (zero) legroom on the way back, and we kicked ourselves all the way home. Except we couldn’t kick ourselves. Because we didn’t have any legroom.
- When traveling east from the United States, depart around your child’s normal bedtime, so he/she has a fighting chance of sleeping on the flight and waking up oh-so-fresh on the European time zone on arrival. Bring the baby’s car seat for a comfy and familiar place to sleep. On the way back…it’s a total Russian roulette. I always find the jet lag on the return to be far worse than jet lag on arrival, and there’s not much you can do about that. Just try not to pack your child’s schedule full of activities until they’ve had several days to readjust to life at home.
- If you have an infant, consider a bulkhead seat and a bassinet. Baby can sleep in a little bassinet and your hands will be free to fiddle on your iPhone and drink cheap wine! Check with individual airlines on how to book. You may have to call. Just remember that the bulkhead seats mean that you can’t store anything under the seats in front of you, because there are no seats in front of you. You’ll have to store your diaper bag, purse, backpack, etc. in the overhead bin, which may not be super convenient with a young baby. Alternatively, a baby carrier and Boppy are awesome sleeping tools! Also, this is fairly obvious, but may not occur to a total newbie: don’t try to sit in an exit row with a baby. They will make you move.
- Ask about early boarding if (IF. Snort.) you need extra time to haul your stuff, yourself and your baby onto the plane without the watching, judging eyes of young and single passengers boring into you. For international flights, you automatically get to board ahead of everyone else. When you travel in the United States, however, they no longer give you the courtesy unless you fly on Southwest. The fix for this is easy: simply bring your cute baby to the counter and ask for early boarding. I’ve found this works 100 percent of the time as a mom, and about 80 percent of the time as a dad.
- When you arrive at your destination, try to get on the local time zone right away. Walk around and explore your surroundings. Find the nearest convenience store and buy some milk and other essentials. Ask about the nearest playground so your child can drain some energy. Coffee is your friend.
- If you have a baby in diapers, get used to changing diapers in strange locations: back seat of the rental car, front seat of the car, trunk of the car, in your lap, on a kitchen table, in a restaurant booth, on the floor, in a tiny airplane bathroom, on the conference room table of an airline lounge, and perhaps a park bench outside the royal palace in Madrid. Yup. We’ve done it all.
- Have no fear. Jump in. And take lots of photos and videos!
The baby/toddler travel guide series will return (yippee!) in January 2017 and will discuss baby-friendly Europe. Ciao, baby!
Please feel free to post your baby/toddler travel questions and experiences in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.
*Author’s note: these opinions are my own based on my many travel experiences. I have not been paid to endorse any products or services in this blog