How to Survive Transatlantic Travel with Babies & Toddlers

Pretty much since the day the kids were born we have been dreaming of taking them to Europe — especially Amsterdam. After two years living abroad there the country made a huge mark on our hearts and I’ll never forget daydreaming of having a family with Corey and someday bringing them back to show them the city. Well, this spring we are finally making it happen! The kids will be 3 and 5 when we go — ages that felt slightly less scary and generally more manageable than ever. While we are excited beyond measure, we are also slightly terrified of the flight over and the jet lag. Not scared enough to hold us back from going obviously, but scared enough that I want to do everything in my power to prepare us! That’s where my friend Amber comes in.

If there were ever a friend of mine I consider an expert on transatlantic/long haul trips it’s Amber. We met through our mutual friend Lauren (you might know her as Aspiring Kennedy) and she is truly as sweet as they come. She and her husband have been living in London close to ten years. They have two adorable little girls and they travel EVERYWHERE with them — from London to Hawaii like it ain’t no thang. They recently traveled to Mauritius with their girls. Their list of countries visited as a family is extensive and they are often doing the flight home to the Pacific Northwest, so yes, Amber is certainly an expert on surviving transatlantic trips with kids. She kindly agreed to divulge all her wisdom, which I’m hoping will make our trip a little easier. Her tips are approachable and honest and I am so grateful she took the time to share her secrets! Without further ado:

Transatlantic travel with kids

  • Entertainment – after years of long haul flights (and lots of anxiety/stress that goes along with them!!) I’ve finally started to pick up some tried and true tricks:
    • Follow Their Lead – Don’t entertain kids unless it’s needed. For so many trips, I found myself shoving activities in front of them in anticipation of someone getting antsy, but ultimately kept jumping the gun and my resources ran out so quickly! Now when we get on the plane (or to a restaurant, on a train, etc) I try to just let them chill for a bit, take in their surroundings, we chat through the day (i.e “when you see the seatbelt sign light up, that means we all follow the rules and buckle up – do you see where it is?”), let them flip through the on-board magazines, play I Spy, buckle and unbuckle the seat belts, etc. It’s shocking how much time this buys!
    • Activities – a few things we love:
      • play doh
      • water painting (these are great)
      • lightweight/small books
      • stickers
      • washi tape/post-its
      • small figures (cars, dolls, animals – make roads with the washi tape! write dolls letters on post-its, etc)
      • window clings
      • a baggie of cheerios/fruit loops + string to make necklaces
      • paper dolls
      • origami kits
      • lacing cards
      • scratch art activity books
      • magnetic books/puzzles
      • small magnadoodles
      • coloring/activity books
      • play school kit
      • dry erase cards / books
      • busy bags (etsy can be a great resource!)
    • Extras – I always like to have a few extra tricks up my sleeve — it’s easy to plan for the obvious plane time, but there can be so many other parts of the travel day you might just need to pull out some quick entertainment to avoid meltdowns or antsy kids. Think about the other less obvious times you might need something in a pinch to help overtired kids. For us it might be: standing in lines (security, customs, car rental, etc), the drive to/from the airport, or if the plane gets delayed on the tarmac (keep several things within arms’ reach!) to name a few.
    • Ipad/Tablets – all of our screen time rules tend to be put on hold for long travel days. For us, it’s just not worth the fight and we know once we arrive in our destination they will be so busy doing other things that a little extra screen time to make the journey smoother is worth it (and kid-friendly headphones are great too!)
    • Snacks – a mix of healthy things plus a couple treats are a must (never underestimate the power of a gummy bear!!) I pack lots of snacks because we tend to go through them and although I generally steer away from using food as an activity, it can be helpful to buy time. Also, if you’re on an international flight, there’s usually an easy way to request a child meal for free which is so convenient and usually more fun for them (generally 24 hours notice is required)
  • Divide + Conquer – Before we leave, I pack individual zip locks to accommodate each leg of the trip. For instance, if I know we are on an overnight flight, I pack each child a large baggie (labelled with their names) with pj’s, a couple pull-ups, toothbrush/paste and their blanket packaged up and ready to go. I love this strategy because it not only makes you think through each scenario so you don’t forget anything, but also keeps things organized when you’re in a small space.Pouch 2.jpg
  • Emergency Kit – I always try to pack a small bag with a couple things you hope you won’t need, but just never know. I typically include anti-nausea medicine (for adults and kids), empty plastic bags (for wet/dirty clothes) pepto-bismol tablets, pain reliever (both adults and kids), melatonin, a couple band aids, finger nail clippers, hair bands, earplanes (to help with little ears on the flight), hand sanitizer, cough drops, tampons, benadryl – and any other things specific to you (i.e I throw in an extra set of contacts/case/glasses)
  • Schedules + Jet Lag –
    • Direct if you can – If you can swing it, paying a bit more for a more direct flight can be completely worth it, and so much easier on everyone.
    • Schedule – On the plane, we roughly try to stick to their normal schedule which is hard when there’s so much going on – but trying to avoid overstimulated/overtired kids is the name of the game. We’ve found that it’s easier to adjust to new timezones anywhere except on the plane.
    • Be Flexible – Once we arrive in our destination, depending on the time of day, we make the call to take a quick nap or power through. If we land in London at noon and are barely able to keep our eyes open, we nap for an hour and then try to get out in the fresh air to stay awake and start to adjust.
    • Clean Up – It’s shocking how much of a difference it makes for adults and kids to take a shower or bath when you first arrive. Somehow it feels like hitting the reset button and instantly puts everyone in a better mood (but also cleans off the icky feeling of long plane rides) Seriously, try it!
    • When all else fails — melatonin. I’d check with your pediatrician, but ours is extremely supportive as the long flights can be a bit cruel to kids – we like the all natural gummy ones you can find at any drugstore (don’t forget the adult version too!)
  • Playing Fair + Expectations – let’s face it…most adults find travel uncomfortable and exhausting, so it’s fair to anticipate our kids will feel that way too.
    • Pre – Flight – Allowing enough time at the airport to let the kids run out some energy (so many airports have play areas now!) helps everyone before boarding a long flight
    • Eye on the Prize – They might cry non-stop for hours, people might say mean things, you might bicker with your spouse, you will most certainly think “what were we thinking?!” — but then you arrive and it’s all over and you’re giving your kids an opportunity to see the world in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. You’re giving them a priceless gift to taste new foods, hear foreign languages, see things and experience the world in an amazing way. Some people argue that they won’t remember it, but we will and having them part of those memories is worth it (to us!) 🙂
    • Give + Take – we find that planning ahead to find kid-friendly activities, hotels, rentals go a long way. We spend our day doing things for them, and then arrange a sitter (through the hotel or local agency) for a couple nights to go out after they are in bed. It not only allows us to spend time experiencing the city in more of an adult way, but also takes some of the pressure off your kid-centered days. Win, win!

Amber I can’t thank you enough for imparting your wisdom on us! There were so many great tips in here I am definitely going to us for our trip! Make sure to follow along with all of Amber’s travel adventures through her gorgeous Instagram and awesome blog!

2 thoughts on “How to Survive Transatlantic Travel with Babies & Toddlers

  1. What a great post! Thank you for this! Excited to check out Amber’s blog. Liz, question for you: We are traveling with our three kids to Paris this May/June for four weeks. We have traveled internationally with and without children. We are wanting to head to Amsterdam for a 2-3 nights. Any areas you recommend I focus on when looking for accommodation? Ages of our children are 2 yrs, 4 yrs and 6 yrs. Excited to see you have Europe travel plans with your children this summer. I will also be combing your blog for Amsterdam posts. 🙂

    1. Hi Nichole! Shoot I am realizing I missed this comment — unless I responded and don’t remember? So sorry if you’ve already found accommodation. For me, it was important we stay near the city center because I wanted to be able to take shorter excursions and be able to come back to our rental for rest stops as much as we wanted. I would focus on the Jordaan/Nine Streets/Centrum/Oud Zuid areas. De Pijp is close in but definitely a younger crowd with lots of bars and restaurants around. Oud Zuid is full of families and a bit more spread out, right near the big and beautiful Vondelpark, but slightly further out from the actual city center (but not far at all by bike or tram). Hope this helps!

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