Traveling Overseas with a 21-month old

After traveling to Wales to Corsica to Paris and back home, I feel confident in saying that Milo is a seasoned and awesome traveler. He didn’t cry, or fuss for that matter, on any of the flights. He was either in a good, tolerant mood or passed out in my arms. There were certainly a few impatient moments, like the end of the 7 hour car ride after the flight to London to get to Wales where I finally whipped out the iPad, or the custom lines into Corsica when he knew Tata Cookie was waiting on the other side. But overall, we were so thankful that he was tolerant and happy. Sometimes, it felt like he was easier on the plane than at home!

I was super anxious about this trip so I totally over prepared. Weeks before, I read blogs to gather tips from other parents who have traveled with a toddler and visited Amazon daily. A lot of their suggestions helped, so I want to share what worked for us. Next post will be about the actual trip.

Traveling Tips

  • Meet the neighbors: We met all the people sitting around us, names and faces, so I was able to say we don’t kick his/her chair.
  • New toys: stickers, electrical tape, doodle pad, head phones, new books, and in our case, new Snorts
  • Fake passport: The airport folks got a kick out of this. I made him a fake passport, with photo, so he could hold and show it, while I could handle the real thing.
  • Off limits: Milo didn’t know that walking down the aisle was an option, so he didn’t ask. I gave flight attendants full authority, so when the seatbelt light was on, we had to obey.
  • Snacks: A mix of new, the usual favorites, and something he might not like so it took him longer to pick through the snacks. We let him eat whenever and whatever he wanted.
  • Pictures: I made him a photo album of the family he’d be seeing so he could be familiar, and also of friends at home, in case he got nostalgic. He loved watching his home videos.
  • iPad/Movies: Milo isn’t familiar with movies, so he didn’t stay as interested as long as we thought he would, maybe 20 minutes max. The Pixar short films are a little over his head but he did see (part of) his first Disney, Peter Pan. I should have gotten new apps, but at least the iBook of pictures of, yes, Snorts was read many times.
  • Sleeping: I relaxed with the nap schedule and figured if he fell asleep, I’d be lucky. And Milo felt lucky that he got to nap in his mommy’s arms, so it was a win-win. It also helped for him to be tired, so pushing the nap later or waking up early to go to the airport. Milo slept on every flight, sometimes for almost the whole duration. One flight, he fell asleep at take off and was still fast asleep after we landed. Almost last to leave the plane, he finally woke up and asked, “More airplane fly.” The grande finale: Milo slept for 7 hrs of the 12-hr return flight from Paris to Salt Lake. We were running out of movies to watch! The downfall: we missed our connection and didn’t get home til very late. At least Milo enjoyed spending hours watching AIRPLANES
  • Pacifier: Normally it’s just for sleeping, but we let him have it whenever he wanted. After this trip, we plan to phase it out.
  • Benadryl: Growing up, I’d take Benadryl whenever I had an allergic reaction and I would pass out in under 15 minutes. Fortunately, it has the same effect on Milo. On the red-eye flight over from Atlanta to London, we gave him some since it was night over there and we wanted to start getting over the jetlag. You could see it kick in — his eyes would droop, his body slump — and he slept for almost the entire flight.
  • Carseat and stroller: It was significantly cheaper to not rent, but it was a pain hauling the carseat from airport to airport, so I would recommend something to attach or carry. At times, Milo wanted to push the stroller so maybe next year when he’s older we can use the kiddy rolling suitcase from my sister.
  • Car naps: This worked like a charm. We’d drive home from the beach or the morning’s activity, I’d tell him it’s time for a nap, give him the pacifier, and he instantly passed out. Ben is an expert at transferring him into the bed. One time in Corsica, we were able to move him into a tent on the beach, and you can’t beat the natural white noise of the ocean!
  • For the car ride back from Wales to England, for the first time, we faced forward in the carseat. What a difference that made! The poor kid has been squished and unable to see facing backwards. Turned around, Milo slept longer, couldn’t take his eyes off the view, fussed less about getting into the seat, and best of all, I no longer have to sit in the back with him.

The travel part went much smoother than we ever imagined. Still, we weren’t kicking back on our heels. Vacationing with a toddler is work. The harder part was the day-to-day routine in a foreign place.

Travel Woes

Sleeping arrangements: Milo has never been a great sleeper, especially in new environments. The first night we were jetlagged (9 hours behind) and he wasn’t falling asleep, so we gave him Benadryl. He passed out but woke up 4 hours later, screaming. Normally Mommy’s presence consoles him instantly, but it was as if he was too groggy to figure out what was going on. So we moved him into our bed, and for the first time ever, he actually slept with us. It was the sweetest thing, and our biggest mistake.

The next night, we caved and let him sleep with us again, and that set the precedent for bad sleep for the rest of the week. Normally we leave him to fall asleep on his own, which takes just a few minutes, but since he was in a higher bed, we couldn’t. We had to lay there for an hour at times while he was still excited about the novelty of sharing a bed with mommy and daddy. He’d kick and rotate all night and wake up early. Again, left to his own room, he usually plays in his crib or dozes back to sleep. But with us there, it was an early and eager “Hi Mommy, Hi Daddy.” Huge thanks to Grandpa Roger for taking several morning shifts.

When we got to Corsica, we cracked the whip. He cried a few tears before that first nap in the pack n’ play, but by night, he was happy to go back to the regular routine. We all got more sleep the second half of the trip.

Schedule: Milo is one who thrives on a schedule. Sure, he can stay up late and we deal with it, but he’s much happier (and easier) if he gets his rest. He wakes up the same time every day, but we were putting him to bed two hours later than his usual bedtime. We were successful with car naps, but sometimes, there wasn’t enough time for the full nap. But when traveling, especially vacationing, with others, we learned it is unrealistic to stick to a toddler’s schedule. So we managed. Milo was happy and sweet most of the time, but you could tell he was also a little more fragile and close to implosion than his usual easy self. And when he did melt down, we felt bad having made him miserable for our convenience.

Discipline: At first we had the rule: we’re on vacation, anything goes. But as soon as Milo saw that window of opportunity, he began to test everything. There were so many negotiations, choices, about doing anything: diaper changes, getting dressed, getting into the car, not doing something. We were repeating ourselves way too many times. Finally, one day in Corsica, we did one screaming diaper change on the beach. Ben held him up kicking while I forced the diaper on. He was so upset with us and took at least 10 minutes to calm down. But after that, Milo decided he’d rather help than cry.

It was also interesting to be in France; I definitely thought of the book Bringing Up Le Bebe. Kids really don’t cry in public. When they do, the parents immediately scold them, some quite harshly. When a kid does cry, everyone stares. So we were a little self-conscious whenever we’d talk Milo through his emotions. I did become a little more strict, and I have to stay, it worked. One time, he was hyper (from being overtired) and insisted on running recklessly through the grocery store. It was a scene as I carried him out screaming. But I told him I would not tolerate that, and he repeated “no running food shopping.”

Jetlag: Actually, Milo got over the jetlag there in just two days. We gave him Melatonin (which he calls the “cupcake vitamin”) and he had enough stimulation to make it til nap time. The one-hour-a-day adjustment that everyone warned me about seems to be apply in this direction. Yesterday, he woke at 4am and today 5am. We’re rooting for “sleeping in” this weekend.

Overall, we’re really happy we did this trip with Milo. He may not remember it, but somehow I feel like he grew from it. He loved the family, they loved him, and he couldn’t get enough sand and airplanes. I’d say Milo makes for a great travel companion!

Airplane nap

Our awesome sleeping arrangement

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