This past November, I spent ten days in Switzerland with my husband and three-year-old, I am fresh with ideas for you on the topic of toddler travel – so this is my Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler.
I’m thrilled you’ve dropped by to explore the world of traveling abroad with a toddler. Buckle up as we dive into an extraordinary adventure filled with surprises, challenges, and heartwarming moments. As a mom who cherishes these explorations, I’ve gathered valuable insights that go beyond the usual tips. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share unexpected wisdom that aligns with my unique style.
For more on our Switzerland Trip Itinerary, see this post
I Love Traveling Abroad
A bit of backstory. My husband and I love traveling abroad. We have gone on more than a handful of trips in our relationship and have loved every single one. Even the time I had a severe asthma attack in Iceland. And even that time I sprained my ankle on cobblestone with three days left in our trip to Croatia and Italy.
You can read a few of our trip blog posts here:
Kathy’s International Travel:
- Rome, Italy – summer
- Montepulciano, Italy
- Dubrovnik, Croatia – fall
- Iceland – winter
- Northern Ireland – fall
And guys, just linking to these posts and remembering all the gorgeous trips we have taken reminds me even more how much international travel is part of my DNA. And something I want to pass on to my daughter.
So yeah. This was a big trip. Lots of pressure. Expectations. Fear….
I Was Freaked Out to Travel Abroad with my Toddler
First off I want to note how scared I was to take this trip. This was by far the longest trip both in days and distance we had taken with our kiddo. We went to Hawaii twice when she was two, but that flight was only about 5-6 hours and though exhausting, felt short and sweet compared to the twelve-hour flight to Zurich! We live in LA…
And the crazy part of this story is that everything I was worried about turned out to be just fine. And some unexpected problems popped up! So here are my tips for you guys..
A Comprehensive Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler – 25 Tips
- FEAR OF NIGHTTIME + TIME CHANGE // JETLAG ***
- PACK EXTRA SHOES, DON’T STRESS ABOUT CLOTHES
- BRING THE WARMEST COAT FOR THE SEASON
- BUY A FEW LOCAL TOYS
- EMBRACE JET LAG AND SLEEP INSOMNIA
- MAKE SURE THEY RUN AROUND
- FEED THEM MORE THAN USUAL
- EMBRACE TRANSPORTATION VARIATIONS
- CHANGING HOTELS CAN BE EXCITING OR STRESSFUL
- LOOK FOR COOL KIDS CLUBS AND DON’T DROP THEM OFF
- ENJOY THE EXTRA CUDDLES, SNUGGLES, AND BONDING TIME
- DO EXTRA DESSERTS IF SUGAR ISN’T A PROBLEM FOR THEM
- FRESH FRUIT AND EXTRA HYDRATION
- ROOM SERVICE IS YOUR FRIEND
- VISIT LOCAL MUSEUMS AND KID PARKS – WHAT DO LOCAL KIDS DO?
- TANTRUMS WILL HAPPEN
- POOLS, ONLY IF INTERESTING
- LOOK FOR LOCAL WILDLIFE
- IT’S THE SMALL THINGS!!! FRESH WATER, MOON, OBSERVING
- DO FAMILIAR BEDTIME THINGS. BOOK. TV. SNACK. BATH.
- BRING OR BUY A WATER BOTTLE
- FOOD HALLS, FARMERS MARKETS, BREAKFAST BUFFETS…
- ENCOURAGE TRYING NEW FOODS
- BRING A BACKPACK
- HAVE A PHONE-A-FRIEND BACK HOME READY
1. FEAR OF NIGHTTIME + JETLAG ISSUES
Chasing Sunbeams and Banishing After-Sunset Fears
This was our biggest issue the whole trip. So I want to deep dive a bit.
“I want the sun to come out!” Was a daily, maybe hourly, phrase for us.
Take your toddler’s natural fear of the dark and combine that with a time change where they might be wide awake all night long – at first – and you have some issues.
How I helped fix this problem: As much time outside as possible when the sun was out + taking advantage of hotel windows and stargazing when the sun is down. Seriously, get the NightSky App and start enjoying the star time with your toddler. She loved finding the planets and seeing how far off the sun was from rising from the horizon.
More on this Fear of the Dark // Night…
The universal toddler challenge – the fear of the dark. Spend as much time outside when the sun is out. This helps calibrate their internal clocks to the local time and gets their energy out during the day — and allows them to have as much sun time as possible.
It Gets Dark Quickly in Fall // Winter
The thing is, when you travel to Europe in fall or winter, you get a small window of sunlight. The sun was rising at past 8 AM! And setting around 4:30. So really, when you have a jet-lagged little who is waking up at 2 am, that’s a lot of dark time.
So be prepared for this day-to-night shift. Get them prepared ahead of time. Maybe even do some stargazing at home before you leave for the trip. We are obsessed with this Planets book right now!
BOTTOM LINE: Plan for your nights just as much as your days…
2. Pack Extra Shoes, Don’t Stress About Clothes
Packing for a toddler can be overwhelming, but here’s a golden nugget – prioritize extra shoes over excess clothes. Toddlers have a knack for dirtying their shoes or suddenly saying that their shoes are not comfortable, and having backups is a game-changer. As for clothes, a minimalist approach with the option to do laundry during our stay has proven to be more practical and liberating.
We had an issue where her fave shoes got too wet on day one and then mildewed overnight. I stupidly tried to wash and dry them off by using a hair dryer. Well, I burnt right through the plastic mesh on the shoes because I wasn’t paying attention. They were ruined. So the only shoes we had the entire trip were some new boots that she initially called “too small.”
Luckily, she got used to the boots. But we would have been very screwed if she couldn’t comfortably walk around in those shoes.
BOTTOM LINE: Finding footwear for kids overseas is WAY more challenging than finding an extra shirt or pants.
3. Bring the Warmest Coat for the Season
Ensuring Comfort in Unpredictable Climates
Regardless of the season, packing the warmest coat for your toddler is non-negotiable. Airlines can be chilly, and evenings in destinations may be cooler than expected. Investing in a cozy coat not only ensures warmth but also provides a familiar and comforting layer during transitions.
We had three coat options ahead of our trip. She wanted the light one. But we brought the warmest one. It was the best decision. Because she could always dress in layers when needed and when it was cold – we didn’t have to stress about her being cold.
BOTTOM LINE: Bring the warm coat!
4. Buy a Few Local Toys
Adding a personal touch to the trip, buying a few local toys becomes a delightful distraction for toddlers. These toys not only serve as souvenirs but they are awesome playthings during your trip. We bought two horses and she was obsessed with them our entire trip. She didn’t care much about the toys we brought from home.
BOTTOM LINE: Leave room for toy purchases in your luggage!
5. Embrace Jet Lag and Sleep Insomnia
Transforming Challenges into Bonding Opportunities
Jet lag and sleep disturbances are common when traveling across time zones with a toddler. Instead of viewing these challenges as obstacles, embrace them. Using this time for quiet bonding, bedtime stories, and extra cuddles has not only helped me adjust to new time zones but also created precious moments of connection.
We made it fun the first night and ordered room service at 3 am.
So yes, it sucks. But you have to expect it and make it fun for everyone.
BOTTOM LINE: Expect 2AM wake-up-calls from your kid. Try and make it fun.
6. Make Sure They Run Around
Turning Every Destination into a Playground
Ensuring your toddler has ample time to run around is vital. Treat the trip as a playground tour of the destination. Not only does it expend energy, but it also allows your child to interact with the local culture in a fun and interactive way.
We loved finding local playgrounds, trying new swings, and interacting with local kids. If there is a playground within walking distance of your hotel – you are good to go!
Basically, this is an easy way to make your kiddo get excited about the day.
BOTTOM LINE: Find spaces to safely RUN!
7. Feed Them More Than Usual
Fueling Exploration with Nutrition
Traveling is a physically demanding experience for toddlers. They’re absorbing new information, exploring unfamiliar environments, and expending more energy than usual. Ensuring they’re well-fed and not overly restricted in their diet not only sustains their energy but also transforms mealtimes into an adventure for their taste buds.
We always call our kid a picky eater. Well, she ate so much on this trip! She was very often hungry. We did a lot of savory meals early in the day to ensure she was well-fueled.
BOTTOM LINE: Pack more snacks than usual.
8. Embrace Transportation Variations
By bus, plane, train….
Embrace varying modes of transport. Trains can be exciting! Planes as well. Or maybe even a local bus looks fun.
BOTTOM LINE: Take the slower but funner mode of transport!
9. Changing Hotels Can Be Exciting or Stressful
Navigating Transitions with Familiarity
Changing hotels can be both exciting and stressful for toddlers. While new places are intriguing, the constant change can be overwhelming. Creating a familiar bedtime routine that includes their favorite book, a comforting TV show, or a bedtime snack helps ease transitions and ensures a restful night’s sleep.
Overall, our kid loved changing hotels and checking out the new window views and lobbies to run through. She loves elevators, key cards and all that comes with hotel check-in!
BOTTOM LINE: Observe your kid. Do they love a hotel switch or not?
10. Look for Cool Kids Clubs and Don’t Drop Them Off!
Balancing Independence with Safety
While kids’ clubs can offer a break for parents, it’s essential to strike a balance. Choosing clubs that allow parents to participate or observe ensures that the child feels secure while still enjoying the activities.
…This hotel kids club in Interlaken was beyond incredible. We all played together a few times during our stay!
BOTTOM LINE: Overseas kids clubs can be epic + kinda cultural!
11. Enjoy the Extra Cuddles, Snuggles, and Bonding Time
Treasuring Moments Amidst the Journey
Traveling with a toddler provides extra opportunities for closeness. Embracing the extra cuddles, snuggles, and bonding time creates a special connection, turning the journey into a series of heartwarming moments.
I loved those sunrise moments with my early riser.
BOTTOM LINE: This is the real trip highlight.
12. Do Extra Desserts if Sugar Isn’t a Problem for Them
Savoring Sweet Moments
While maintaining a balanced diet is crucial, occasional indulgence in desserts can be a source of joy for toddlers. If dietary restrictions allow, savoring extra desserts becomes a delightful part of the travel experience.
These were some vegan churros at Montreux Noel…
BOTTOM LINE: This tip may be for the parents too…
13. Fresh Fruit and Extra Hydration
Prioritizing Healthy Choices
Incorporating fresh fruit into your toddler’s diet during travel provides essential nutrients and hydration. Exploring local markets for seasonal fruits adds a cultural element to their culinary experience.
BOTTOM LINE: Be a fruit lover!!!
Rounding out to number 14 of Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler….
14. Room Service Is Your Friend (Non-Tipping Countries!)
Convenience and Comfort in Your Room
Opting for room service in non-tipping countries provides a hassle-free dining experience. It allows you to enjoy a variety of meals in the comfort of your room, catering to your toddler’s preferences and schedule.
BOTTOM LINE: Do it. Order room service.
15. Visit Local Museums and Kid Parks – What Do Local Kids Do?
Immersing in Local Culture through Play
Exploring local museums and kid-friendly parks offers a glimpse into what local children do. This not only entertains but also educates, providing insights into the local culture and creating a unique perspective for both parents and toddlers alike.
BOTTOM LINE: Think like a local kid or local parent!
16. Tantrums Will Happen
Understanding and Managing Emotional Outbursts
Tantrums are an inevitable part of toddler life, especially in unfamiliar environments. Instead of feeling stressed, ride them out in a safe space and investigate their triggers. For us, tantrums often signaled exhaustion, swiftly followed by a much-needed nap.
In mom mode… “Please don’t break a castle, sweetie..”
BOTTOM LINE: Prepare for the worst…
17. Pools, Only If Interesting
Choosing Quality Over Quantity
While pools are often associated with travel, opting for them only if they offer unique and interesting features ensures that the experience is enriching for both parents and toddlers. Quality trumps quantity in creating memorable moments.
BOTTOM LINE: Swimming is great for getting energy out, but so is wandering local scenes…
18. Look for Local Wildlife
Connecting with Nature
Spotting local wildlife adds an element of excitement to the trip. Whether it’s observing birds in a park or discovering insects on a nature walk, connecting with the local environment fosters a sense of wonder.
BOTTOM LINE: You know kiddos love animals….
19. It’s the Small Things!!! Fresh Water, Moon, Observing
Finding Joy in Simple Pleasures
Encouraging your toddler to appreciate small things, like the taste of fresh water, the beauty of the moon, or the joy of observing everyday scenes, the birds, the sunset, listening to music nearby — these little things cultivate a sense of quiet, gratitude and mindfulness.
BOTTOM LINE: Think small + slow + simple…
20. Do Familiar Bedtime Things. Book. TV. Snack. Bath. Tea. Massage. Song.
Creating Consistency Amidst Adventures
Amid new adventures, incorporating familiar bedtime rituals becomes a grounding force. Whether it’s reading a favorite book, enjoying a soothing bath, or singing a lullaby, these familiar routines bring a sense of comfort and security to your toddler.
We did a lot of bubble baths and Bluey breaks, and I’m ok with that.
Maybe a Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler TOP TIP: Pretend like you are at home. Not fun, but it makes sense when you are in a hotel room with an unsure toddler.
BOTTOM LINE: Familiarity is key to comfort…
21. Bring or Buy a Water Bottle
Prioritizing Well-Being Through Hydration
Bring or buy a water bottle. Staying hydrated is crucial for both you and your toddler, and having a refillable water bottle ensures you can quench your thirst on the go.
And that’s my Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler: did these tips help? I hope so!
BOTTOM LINE: Hydrate those kiddos without spending a fortune on toss-away plastic.
22. Food Halls, Farmers Markets, Breakfast Buffet, Seasonal Markets, and a lot of Food Options Rock
Culinary Exploration as a Family
Exploring food halls, farmers markets, breakfast buffets, and seasonal markets provides a diverse range of food options. This not only expands your toddler’s palate but also turns mealtime into a cultural exploration.
BOTTOM LINE: Seek these out.
23. Encourage New Foods!
Fostering a Culinary Adventurer
Encouraging your toddler to try new foods becomes a delightful adventure during your travels. Whether it’s sampling street food, participating in cooking classes, or discovering unique dishes, culinary exploration becomes a central theme of your travels.
BOTTOM LINE: “Just one bite…”
24. Bring a Backpack
Practicality and Convenience On the Go
A backpack is your secret weapon when traveling with a toddler. It keeps your hands free, stores essentials like snacks and toys, and is convenient for carrying extra layers or souvenirs.
BOTTOM LINE: Ditch the cute bag or purse, bring a many-pocketed backpack.
25. Have a Phone-a-Friend Back Home Ready!
Maintaining a Support System from Afar
Having a friend back home ready to chat provides a familiar connection during your travels. Sometimes, a familiar voice can be a comfort, especially during moments when you need a bit of adult conversation.
We had a train tantrum that was saved by calling a cousin back home.
BOTTOM LINE: “Who will be awake right now???”
Are you ready for a big trip overseas with your little one? You can do it!
In conclusion, traveling abroad with a toddler is an extraordinary adventure that involves a mix of planning, flexibility, and a sense of wonder. By embracing the unexpected and incorporating these tips into your travel toolkit, you’re not just exploring the world – you’re creating beautiful memories with your little one that will last a lifetime. Safe travels!
PS. What would you add to my Guide to Traveling Abroad with a Toddler? Let me know in the comments!