I am no stranger to traveling internationally; in fact, you could say I’m obsessed with it. In the past year I have been to the Dominican Republic, Israel, France and most recently Ireland. I love being a citizen of the world and experiencing different cultures, cuisines, and countryside (I’m not a city-loving girl).
Traveling with kids and as a family is something I have never shied away from. Here is what I’ve shared about traveling with kids:
I traveled nearly 12 hours with 3 small children on a plane and no screens. This is what happened.
Send Vacation Woes Packing with these Family Travel Tips
So, when the opportunity to vacation in Ireland as a family presented itself, I jumped on it. The one hiccup was I would need to fly to and from Dublin with my daughters solo because of my husband’s work schedule.
Traveling with my 6-year-old and 4-year-old twins to Ireland, with a stopover in Iceland, on my own was upping my travel experience ante BIG TIME. Could I do it? Could I travel across the ocean with three little ones without my husband or another adult support person I felt like all of my parenting prowess and experience culminated in this moment. Line this up against my deep desire to visit Ireland (I just felt called to see the rolling green hills of the countryside), so YEAH, I’m up for it.
So on June 16, 2018, I left for the airport with my doodles… ready for adventure or whatever came up.
How to fly internationally with kids:
- Come prepared – I gave each kid a gift bag of surprise toys (from the $1 store) and treats they don’t normally get to eat. They look forward to air travel because of their bag of surprises. It’s a party for them (and ensures they are calm and I get good listening).
- No more than two kids in a row – FAA regulations (or some rule maker) don’t allow more than two kids to one adult in a row. So we had to split up. I booked all of our seats in the same row, two seats on one side of the aisle and two seats on the other side. The twins always wanted to sit together (blessing of identical twins who truly have the twin bond) and my oldest wanted to be with me. This worked out well, but I inevitably ended up playing musical chairs with the girls depending on who needed my attention.
- Know your limits – we have traveled all over the country, driven 8+ hours across states and flown internationally without relying on an iPad or any screens to entertain my kids. This was different. I borrowed an iPad from a friend and dug up an old portable DVD player (a hand-me-down from a friend) to keep my kids entertained. I brought a ton of DVDs from home and the local library, but I couldn’t get the DVD player to work on our flight out (darn it!). I was annoyed, but thankfully my kid was sleepy and happy listening to my iPod.
- The airplane did not have Wifi, so I downloaded as many videos as the memory storage could hold. We watched the same Princess Sofia on constant loop and I didn’t care. I also purchased headphones and a splitter so they could plug into the same device and hear the same thing, like listening to my iPod together. The twins are big fans of Fantasia’s Rite of Spring (aka Dinosaur song) and Night on Bald Mountain (aka Devil song).
- Don’t be afraid to get a little pharmaceutical help – I brought children’s melatonin and Dramamine to help get my girls drowsy (we were flying through the night each time). I dressed the girls up in their jammies and brought their favorite blankets and loveys to get nice and comfy on the plane. Note: some kids have the opposite reaction to something like children’s Benadryl. I learned this the hard way on our flight to California when the twins were a year old (identical my tush!). Oh goodness, that hyper meltdown was memorable. Try the sleep aids out at home before go time on the plane.
How to prepare for and enjoy international travel:
Start getting your documents in order well in advance. Passports should be current – even if your passport is due to expire in the next 6 months, it should be replaced. I recommend applying for your kids passports 3 months before your travel date to give you plenty of time.
You can do all of your passport photos and paperwork at the post office, just call to set up an appointment. NOTE: both parents must be present to apply for a passport, and they offer Saturday morning appointments.
Balancing family fun with adult fun
My kids are pretty easy to please, but we needed to know our limits. We did a lot of research on the things we wanted to see and what we thought the girls would be interested in seeing.
When visiting an ancient Irish castle, I would talk about Rapunzel in the tall tower and the visit turned into a “Rapunzel Rescue Mission.” We talked about the Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast when we saw the long hall in Trinity College where the Book of Kells is on display. I made the trip relatable to them (which for better or worse is Disney, super heroes and comics).
I would have loved to stay in the pubs to hear the music all night, but the music started around 10pm and my kids were turning into pumpkins. My kids could not handle it. It wasn’t the bar owners or fellow patrons giving us side-eye to leave. My kids hit a wall and we knew it was time to go home.
If we saw a playground or something we thought our kids would have fun doing (like feeding and petting sheep in Dingle) we did it. We were always on the look-out for fun stuff for everyone.
Pack more snacks than you think you’ll ever need
Waiting in line or driving to a destination site is boring. My kids suddenly became ravenous, so I would have a shopping bag full of food with me as often as I could. It made the mundane stuff more bearable. Hit up the local grocery store, or bring stuff from home. One of my checked bags was half full of food from home.
During my preliminary research I learned U.S. car seats are technically illegal for use in other countries and vice versa. It was easier to just rent them with the minivan. I called the rental company to confirm they would be able to provide car seats/boosters with our rental. It was one less thing (well actually three less) to travel with. Sweet.
Getting good listening, behavior modification, and then handling life when it all goes to crap
My biggest fear was seeing one of my twins run off or refuse to move at the exact moment I need to rush onto the plane or catch a shuttle bus while lugging two large pieces of luggage. To help prepare for this scenario I had A LOT of positive parenting conversation on needing good listening for our trip for safety.
I told my girls I needed them to stay close to me because we would be in the airport and I needed the BEST listening then for safety. Sometimes this had the unexpected effect of them being practically suction cupped to me, but still the dreaded event happened.
On the day we were traveling home, I was solo again (we couldn’t get my husband’s work flights to match up) and I needed to catch a Dublin bus to take us to the airport. Just as the bus arrived, one of my 4-year-olds was halfway down the block, and refused to move. GOOD LORD HELP ME. I needed to load our two pieces of luggage, multiple duffel bags full of food and toys for the plane ride, and all three kids onto the bus as quickly as possible. The driver did not look friendly or understanding. I turned to my 6-year-old and said, “Could you please help me get your sister?” She loved being tasked with a real job and shot off to retrieve her sister. Turns out my 4-year-old didn’t understand my frantic arm waving and gesturing meant, “Get over here now!”
We get on the bus and it is PACKED to the brim. No seats are available anywhere, but I was just happy to get all three kids and our numerous bags on board. I didn’t care. The girls were complaining about where to sit and I started to explain how we could stand for the 40 minute ride, or they could sit on the steps leading to the top level when some nice folks offered their bench to the girls. Thank you Irish strangers.
As soon as I get the girls situated another nice traveler offered to help store the luggage for me. Thank you again. And then the girls start complaining about being hungry. Seriously?! (see my note earlier about always having snacks handy). They were loud enough for other riders to hear them (and simultaneously make me feel like a terrible mom for not feeding my kids 24 hours a day). One of the bus riders, who gave her seat up for my kids, had three little candy bars in her purse and offered one to each of my kids. Could she be any nicer? Because my kids don’t understand the purpose of a candy wrapper, they got melted chocolate all over their face and hands. I was wetting a napkin with water from my water bottle when another traveler sitting behind us offered wet wipes. Phew! I could have let the feeling of being a completely unprepared mom consume me (I had snacks and baby wipes in the bag the nice gentleman stowed away for me), instead I felt thankful for all the kind-hearted folks nearby.
Open to adventure
I cannot stress this enough – not everything you plan (see above) or hope to do will come to fruition. Plans will change, kids will have meltdowns, you’ll almost miss your flight (yeah, that happened), there will be whining and hunger. Kids and life get messy and it’s OK.
You have to be open to whatever happens and enjoy the moments you have. Every chance I could during the trip I would look at the faces of my beautiful family and think, “Oh my gosh, we did it. We’re in Ireland!” Then I would think about how many memories we are making. Our kids only want to spend every day, all day with their mom, dad and sisters. This is what they got, and so much more.