We booked our trip to Europe almost an entire year before actually taking it. It’s an adventure we had always wanted to do with the kids, but decided to wait until they were a little older so they were (hopefully) more manageable, and also so they could actually do some fun activities and perhaps even remember some parts of the trip. Obviously we’ve done a lot of travel with them other places and truly believe that traveling from a young age impacts them and shapes them, even if they don’t remember the travels, but this trip in particular we wanted to wait. I can’t speak to what it would have been like if they were younger, but it was so great bringing them along at these ages (3 & 5) and we’re really happy we took them when we did and can’t wait to take them again!
I know as I dreamed of taking the kids to Europe over the years I couldn’t get enough information on how the experience went for other people. I wanted to know how the flights went, how they dealt with jet lag, etc etc. With that in mind I thought I’d share about our experience in case anyone else was like me! Now, don’t take this post as advice. I have no room to give advice here as we’re not experts on international travel with kids (but Amber is and she did an amazing post for me that you can see here!), this is merely a description of our experience, so take it for what it is!
We knew for sure we wanted to fly direct from Portland to Europe. Multiple flights have never worked in our favor (more chances for delays, missed flights, lost bags, longer travel days, etc) and we wanted to make the journey as simple as possible. We used Land Sky See to book our tickets. They have access to unpublished wholesale airfare (this costs nothing extra to you) and they were able to find us direct flights from PDX for just over $600 each person. From Portland we typically pay around $1,000 for direct flights to Europe in the Spring/Summer, so that was an insane deal! Highly, high recommend having JJ and Soo at Land Sky See search for affordable airfare for you if you are looking to fly between the US and Europe. Once you book your flight with them everything is exactly the same as if you purchased through the airline or online. You get your confirmation number and can choose your seats, meals, bags, etc! (P.S. I wasn’t compensated in any way or given any special discounts for sharing with you — just genuinely super impressed with the service they provide and love passing along things I love to you all!) Back to the flights…
We flew directly from Portland to London, which is about 10-11 hours. Our flight took off at 6PM, and since our kids go to bed around 7:30PM, we thought it would be perfect that they could sleep most of the way over (haha! Joke was on us).
Before the flight we made sure to book seats together. Most planes flying internationally have rows of two on each side of the plane, and then a row in the middle with 3-5 seats. We took two rows of two, one in front of the other, because James is still a bit of a kicker sometimes and it was nice to know that if he did kick, it would just be one of us 😉 I called the airline a couple days before leaving to reserve kids meals for them and in hindsight I probably wouldn’t do that again. The regular plane food was actually lot better (and pretty basic in itself) and the kids liked it more than the basic sandwiches they gave for them.
THINGS TO DO ON THE FLIGHT
In terms of things to do on the plane, we really didn’t pack much for them because we were really planning on them mostly sleeping and watching movies. Our kids get basically no screen time at home (more on that here), but while traveling, screen time rules definitely go out the window. I did pack them snack boxes, which are always a hit and keep them busy. We didn’t even open the snack boxes on the plane because they feed you so much, but they were a lifesaver during the in-between moments waiting in rental car lines and making the journey to our rental home, etc. Aside from snack boxes and sleep stuff (lovie, pillow, blanket), I did wrap a few small little dollar spot gifts for them to open in case they got really bored. I literally only had to offer one at the very end of our flight over and got to save the rest for antsy in-between moments at our rentals. The things I picked up: Slime (picked up at the Target dollar spot), travel play doh, little coloring kits and new small Paw Patrol board books. The slime was such a hit and kept them busy on the plane for so long and also as we made meals and got ready for the day, etc around home. Highly recommend!
So back to sleeping. We brought along our JetKids BedBoxes and, I will be honest, as we were packing our bags and trying to pack lightly, I really worried these boxes would be more trouble than they were worth. I was afraid they would get bored of them and not want to ride them and we would be left lugging another bag through the airport while also trying to hold their hands, etc. But I truly can’t sing the praises of them enough. I don’t even know how we would have survived the trip without them honestly. London Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schipol airport are both massive. We had really long walks to and from planes and both airports were a total breeze to get through because both kids just rode their BedBoxes and LOVED them. They are surprisingly easy to maneuver and even do well on bumps and moving walkways, etc.
As far as the actual sleeping part of the BedBox, Elodie was a bit big to really take advantage and James is nearly too big. He was able to sleep using it and it was great, but he only snoozed for an hour until another child on the plane woke him up, at which point he preferred to be sprawled out on me. Regardless, it was really nice for them to have and stretch out on even while not sleeping so we do recommend them and especially for smaller kids who would fit better (but probably couldn’t ride on the cases, then, so a trade-off!).
SLEEP ON THE PLANE
Elodie totaled about three hours of sleep on the way out and James totaled around an hour or two. On the way back home (not overnight) it was the opposite and Elodie only slept an hour or so and James slept 4 hours! I totally thought they’d both sleep a lot more. We brought melatonin on the flight and everything, but there was just too much noise and lots of people watching movies and lights on reading, etc. I think it was hard for them to really settle and sleep, which I totally understand because I can never sleep on planes myself! Though the kids didn’t sleep, they were honestly incredibly behaved on the flight. James laid in my lap not sleeping or watching a movie or anything for a couple hours, which was amazing and Elodie was so sweet the whole time. They blew me away! Definitely far exceeded my expectations. When we were landing I was thinking “wow I can’t believe the flight is already over! We did it!”… I was fully expecting to feel like “oh my gosh get me off this plane!”, so I was really pleased with the whole experience. I would say going in with extremely low expectations helped!
TRANSPORTATION FROM LONDON HEATHROW
We read Lauren’s advice on the best way to get into the city from London Heathrow and Amber reiterated that after a long flight, the last thing you want to do is navigate public transportation with two kids and a bunch of bags. Man am I glad we listened to them and had a BlackLane van waiting for us. It was just what we needed to keep us forging ahead in our sleepy jet-lagged haze. We used Twelve Transfers on our way back and they were also great. I would suggest getting quotes from both places and just going with whoever is more affordable!
JETLAG (AND MELATONIN)
By the time we arrived to Lauren’s apartment in London (which we rented and loved!) it was after 2PM and we decided it was best to just keep us all up instead of napping. We dropped our bags and headed out the door to the park. We knew fresh air would be the only thing to keep us awake. I had totally forgotten how awful jet lag feels that first day. I could barely function, I felt outside my body, I was SO TIRED. I think it had more to do with not sleeping on the plane than the time difference, but both worked against me. The kids, though, man they shocked me with how well they made it through the next few hours! We just kept them busy and outside as much as possible.
Once dinner rolled around the exhaustion was really setting in. We ate around 5PM and the kids were in bed by 5:45 and we were asleep ourselves by 6:30PM. We all took melatonin hoping it would help us sleep through the night. These are the melatonin gummies we gave the kids and this is the melatonin we took. One thing to note with the melatonin: Not all kids react the same to melatonin so I highly suggest testing it out before your trip. Our kids did great and it was a total lifesaver, others have nightmares or are extra antsy instead of sleepy, etc. You just really don’t want to figure that out while you’re all jetlagged 😉
I fully anticipated we were going to be up for hours in the middle of the night and made sure we had grabbed some healthy snacks at the store before going to bed in case the kids woke up hungry and nothing would be open at that hour. But once again, the kids exceeded my expectations. James woke up around 11:30PM so we pulled him in to bed with us. He was back to sleep within 10 minutes. Yay! Then 2:30AM rolled around and Elodie came in. At that point we all woke up, drank some water, went to the bathroom and took another dose of melatonin. Corey went and slept with Elodie and I kept James with me. We were all back asleep by 3AM (not bad at all!) and slept until 7:30AM the next morning. Huge success in my opinion! The next nights James didn’t even wake up, Elodie did, but was always quick to go back to sleep.
We ended up giving the kids melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime every night for the first five nights as we adjusted to the time change and I think it helped a ton. We typically aren’t co-sleepers, but when we’re traveling we are super aware that the kids are in new beds and just like for anyone, that can be weird and scary, so we spent probably half the nights starting with the kids in their own rooms or sleeping together (depending on our location) and then splitting up and each adult sleeping with one of the kids once we were ready to go to bed, and it has worked great.
The jet lag on the way back was also not a big deal besides a few really early morning wakings, but everyone adjusted back within a week and there was never a time it felt really unmanageable or terrible! Overall we were so pleasantly surprised by how well the trip went. You know it was a great trip when instead of the trip scratching our itch to travel back to Europe, we got back and were immediately dreaming of our NEXT trip over with the kids!
I totally just blabbed on and on. I am not sure this was helpful or interesting, but at least for me it will be nice to have documented the trip. I know this was just our first time doing this and we happened to have had a great experience and every kid is different, but I hope this gives you the encouragement to do things with your little ones even when it seems like it might be crazy or hard. Traveling is certainly very different with them, but it was SO incredibly special to have them with us and experience it all together. If you have any more questions about the international flight or jet lag, put them in the comments below!
I’ll be sharing details on our French villa in my next post as well as a post with all the products that made our trip a lot more manageable (like what we did about car seats!). Stay tuned for more!