How to Travel Internationally With a Toddler

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Three flights, 31 hours of travel, from home (Columbus, Ohio) to hotel door (Bali, Indonesia). Six hours of cumulative sleep among the three of us - one of us a mere 14 months old. Go ahead and say it - we've heard it plenty, even said it ourselves: We're crazy.

In our defense, we didn't take this trip on a lark. My sister-in-law, who lives in Australia, was marrying an Australian in a destination wedding - heavy emphasis on "destination." We had to be there for the wedding, of course, but the possibility for a trip of a lifetime was also hard to pass up.

For my wife, Jessica, and me, making the trip with our daughter, Margot, was daunting. But going without her for 11 days seemed even more terrifying.

How did we travel across the world with a small human and live to tell about it? I'm glad you asked.

Get in the right frame of mind.Expect that vacations are different with toddlers. Obvious, right? But this is probably the most important advice I can offer. Despite knowing this, we still found ourselves succumbing to bouts of FOMO (fear of missing out). I felt these pangs at Padang Padang Beach when I realized our time there would be short lived. But I quickly banished those thoughts after realizing Margot's first steps into an ocean were into the Indian Ocean and, even if she'd never remember it, I would.

Get a babysitter at some point.Fortunately for us, we were traveling with a gaggle of family eager to dote on Margot. If you're not, consider hiring someone at your destination. If nothing else, knowing that you'll get a mini break gives you something to look forward to on that long plane ride.

Aim for a kid-friendly destination.Every time we dined out in Bali the wait staff played with Margot, scooping her up to walk around within eyesight while we finished a wonderful, distraction-free meal. Even the most hipster of cafes had playrooms and high chairs. And activities like swimming and, most especially, the Sacred Monkey Forest, with its hundreds of wild, roaming monkeys, were enjoyable for toddlersand adults.

Book flights strategically. We were weirdly lucky with ours. We left our house at 4:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. Port Columbus flight, which doesn't sound lucky, but it meant we landed in Bali just in time to go to bed for the night. Aiming for at least one overnight flight is crucial, too.

Bulkhead seats are essential. We booked seats in the bulkhead because we wanted to take advantage of our airline's bassinet. Though Margot rarely slept in the wall-attached sleeper, we enjoyed the extra legroom it provided. Plus, Margot got to play on the floor for long stretches. Other kids on the flight were seated in the same row, so Margot also had playmates.

Distract, distract, distract.We were prepared to break our "no-screen" rule on the flight, but Margot had no interest in that novelty. Fortunately, stickers and books provided hours of entertainment. Meals likewise provided distractions, as did regular walks down the aisle, which also allowed us to show fellow passengers how adorable that occasionally cranky toddler actually is.

Rent items at your destination. We rarely used the car seat we brought, but if we could do it over, we'd leave it at home and rent as necessary. The umbrella stroller we brought was essential, if only to transport Margot through the airport. Everything else we rented or bought, including a portable crib/playpen.

Be flexible with naps but not mealtimes.A well-fed toddler is infinitely better company than a hungry one. Same goes with sleep, but you'll have less control over that. We let Margot sleep whenever she would and, by the third or fourth day, it was like we had never left home. Toddlers are extremely adaptable - probably more so than set-in-our-ways adults.

Embrace the moment.We crashed hard the first night in Bali, but we still only slept four hours. Normally, I would have been grumpy all day, but, as soon as I stepped outside, I saw the sun rising above the open-roof walls of our villa, grabbed Margot, who was also awake, and we ventured outside for a 5 a.m. stroll.

A slight breeze and the morning chirps of exotic birds mingled with that magical first light. As my headache thinned and memories of Qatar Airlines faded, I looked at my daughter exploring a bush with bright pink tropical flowers and I knew: A world of possibility was upon us, and we'd get to explore it all together.