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Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com

When we originally started to plan our trip to Germany and Luxembourg, taking my daughter wasn’t a part of the plan. We had some distinctly non-toddler activities planned, including a trip to the Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich, plus I was worried about how she’d deal with sightseeing and new places to sleep and irregular schedules. 

Then, a few things changed: we all decided we didn’t have time in our very packed schedule to go to the concentration camp, and Britton started talking about planes all of the time. One afternoon, I was talking with my mom and she asked (again) if Britton could go. 

Even though I’d been staunchly against her going up to this point, it was as if a lightbulb went off in my head at that moment. 

Why shouldn’t Britton go? What was the worst that could happen? 

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com
Running around outside the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, Germany
In a flight of fancy, I applied for and got Britton’s first passport, we purchased her plane ticket, and ordered a car seat for our rental vehicle. She was going to Germany with us, a trip that would require her to fly on five different planes, deal with a six-hour time difference, and spend 11 days sightseeing in 6 areas of Germany and Luxembourg. 

I was nervous about taking her once everything was in place, but I was excited to share this time with her. 

So, how did she do? 

For the most part, she was a champion traveler! If you’re thinking about traveling long distance with your toddler or preschooler, here’s what you need to know. 

Lay a groundwork before you leave. 

Even if your child has traveled on a plane or overseas before, it’s always a good idea to prepare them for what they’re about to go through each time. This was Britton’s first plane experience and her first time abroad, so we talked a lot about what she’d see and do on the airplane before we even stepped foot in the airport. 

I also made sure to show her pictures of the castles, the Alps, and Munich before we left, so she’d have something tangible to focus on. 

Be prepared to work on the plane

And by “work,” I mean get yourself in a frenzy as you try to keep a toddler quiet-ish and still-ish for the duration of the flight. Of all of the components of toddler travel, I found the plane rides the most stressful. The space each passenger is given is tiny and not truly suited for someone who’s main goal in life is to move as much as possible as often as possible. 

We walked up and down the aisles as much as possible. When we were confined to our seats during turbulence, Britton was allowed to watch some of her favorite movies, including "Frozen" and "Paddington Bear" (both of which were in the Delta Sky Kids movie lineup). 

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com
Britton in the Charleston airport testing out her new Frozen headphones
A few other tips for the plane:
  • Order the kid's meal before you board. My kid is pretty adventurous when it comes to eating, but she still loves the kid standards (apple slices, bananas, chicken fingers, PB&J, etc). The kid's meals that she got had fresh fruit, a biscuit, cheese, ravioli, juice, and chocolate pudding. 
  • Bring noise-reducing headphones. Britton loves messing with knobs and buttons, and I didn't want to run the risk of her turning up the movie audio too much. We bought a pair of kids' Frozen headphones and didn't have to worry about her harming her hearing while watching movies. 
  • Pack some cheap toys. If you get a handful of small toys at the Dollar Store, your child can play with them without worrying about losing them. If one does get left behind or broken, it's no big deal. 

Consider doing self-guided or privately guide tours

Those little legs and little attention spans aren’t often made for a traditional 2+ hour walking tour. We ended up doing some self-guided tours of Munich, Luxembourg City, and Trier, which was fantastic, since we could stop and start as necessary. 

If you’re not as cheap as we are, you could consider hiring a private guide who would be willing to go at a slower pace. Many cities also have shorter tours specifically for kids, so look into booking one of those when traveling with little ones. 

Leave free time in your schedule. 

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com

At several points in our trip, we’d head back to the hotel in late afternoon to rest, take baths, watch a movie, or play. Having some extra time at the end of the day allowed Britton to wind down and get used to her new schedule. We even had a playground at our hotel in Trier (Berghotel Kockelsberg), which delighted Britton. 

Bring a toddler backpack. 

First off, I know these look ridiculous. You look as if you’re walking your kid on a leash! If you can get over the weird factor, this can be a lifesaver when you’re traveling with little kids. Carrying a 30 pound kid can quickly wear anyone out!

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com
My dad and my daughter in the Residenz in Munich
We’d brought a stroller, but, after a while, Britton would get tired of sitting. We’d put on the backpack and leash (or “lush,” as Britton called it), and she’d get to stretch her legs. It was particularly great when we were in museums (so we could keep her from touching everything in sight) or in crowds. 

The backpack also served another purpose: it carried a small case of wipes, a few pull-ups, and some snacks. I got to leave my heavy diaper bag back in Charleston, and Britton liked being in charge of her snack stash. 

(We had the Brica Safety Harness Backpack in green; it also comes in pink.)


Pack snacks. Lots of snacks.  

Even though you’ll get peanuts and pretzels and meals on the plane, your toddler will still want more. Having a box of cereal bars and some special treats saved me when my daughter started getting super grumpy on the plane. 

When we were on the road trip, those snacks (as well as the ones that we picked up at grocery stores along the way) were crucial to keeping Britton happy in between the stops. 

Know that that toddler jet lag is even worse than adult jet lag. 

When I get jet lag, I force myself to stay awake as long as possible in order to try and get into some sort of new routine. If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, I force myself to lay there in bed and just relax. 

Toddlers have no concept of either of these coping mechanisms. When they’re tired, they want to sleep. When they’re ready to get up, they climb out of bed. 

Despite our best efforts to readjust Britton’s schedule, we still ended up having a very tired, very grumpy toddler on our hands the first day we were in Munich. The first three nights of our trip included a wonderful little break around 3 AM, where Britton decided that she needed a snack and playtime. Next to the plane rides, the readjustment period was the toughest part of traveling with a little one. 

Take a travel cot

When we were booking our rooms, we decided to get family rooms or apartments; these were cheaper, and I’d have more help watching Britton. However, even the family rooms only slept four adults, which meant we’d have to rent another room just for Britton. 

Since she’s so little and she can sleep just about anywhere, we decided to purchase a toddler travel cot (we used the Regalo My Cot Deluxe, which I can't say enough good things about). At only $27, this was an awesome investment, and she loved her special bed. Since it had such a small profile, we could put it next to my bed, so Britton felt safe and secure in an otherwise unfamiliar room.

I liked that it was soft and comfortable, it only weighed a few pounds, it collapsed easily, and it came with an attached pillow and sleeping bag. 

Work some teaching moments into your trip

At 2-4, your child isn’t going to remember everything about the trip—and that’s okay. This age is all about living in the moment and appreciating what’s directly in front of you.

However, this age group is amazing in that they are constantly soaking up what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing. Britton was in love with the castles that we visited, probably because they reminded her of Walt Disney World. Even after she realized that Mickey Mouse wasn’t popping out of the castle door, she still liked learning about King Ludwig (who lived at three of the castles we visited: Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, and Linderhof).

Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com
Braving the rain and fog at Neuschwanstein Castle on one of Britton's favorite days of sightseeing
We found her a free pamphlet at Linderhof with his picture on it and told her a little bit about King Ludwig. By the time we’d visited all three places, she was able to tell us that King Ludwig lived in three castles. We heard, “I love King Ludwig!” more than once on the trip! 

She was also amazed at the Glockenspiel (which she still calls the “Clock-and-spell”), and tell us regularly that it goes “ding dong!” 

These types of experiences excited our toddler so much that, even three weeks after we’ve returned home, she asks to go back to Germany at least once a day!

Have you traveled with young kids before? What’s your best tip?


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Traveling Overseas with a Toddler or Preschooler: What You Need to Know to Make Your Trip Fantastic | CosmosMariners.com

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