Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Traveling Internationally with a Toddler

And now for something not quite adoption related....but Zelie related :) We had the opportunity to spend 12 days on pilgrimage in Poland this summer, visiting sites important to three powerhouse saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. It was an amazing time! I thought it would be fun (and possibly useful for others, or for us in the future!) to share what we learned about traveling with a toddler overseas.

One of my fav pictures....I love her energy and joy! With the mermaid patroness of Warsaw in the background

Cliff notes: The good moments on our trip were made extra good by having Zelie with us, seeing her excitement and wonder and experiencing Poland as a family - and the challenging times were...a bit more challenging (or a lot), having a little person to care for in foreign country, away from lots of our usual "tools" for parenting. It was definitely worth it to be together as a family, but took a good amount of extra thought and preparation, and extra flexibility while there, much different than trips we've done just as a couple.

happy traveler, in a traditional Polish outfit

Below, some gear and tips we found useful on our trip:

Traveling - Plane

Goal: arrive safely to destination with toddler! without losing our minds!


  • If possible, fly overnight so the toddler feels ready to sleep during the flight; we had an overnight flight to Paris on the way there, and she fell asleep easily - we put her in pajamas before boarding and then snuggled her with her bunny and a bottle, as close to home as possible
sleeping peacefully somewhere over the Atlantic - note the "baby seatbelt"; it attaches to the adult seatbelt and at least for Air France / KLM is required on take off and landing

  • As a gesture of good will to nearby passengers, we brought along earplugs and candy to hand out (laffy taffy - haha) and proactively apologized for Zelie's potential noise! Only a few people wanted the plugs or candy, but everyone smiled and I think it did help when Zelie cried
  • At least for Zelie's age (15 mo's) toys were overrated - we did all this research, bought several new toys, and she was mainly interested in pressing the TV buttons, throwing stuff on the floor, and walking up and down the aisles with us; hey, whatever works! The only toy that kept her interest for a while were suction cups (see below)
  • Lots of airports have play areas for kids - Dulles and Warsaw both did, and we made sure to give Zelie time in there before the flight to burn off some energy; and we definitely cleaned her hands very thoroughly after she was done! #germs
  • Absolutely use the family boarding! I don't know why you wouldn't, but it is pretty sweet to get to board almost-first, get out the gear, etc.
  • Realize there's only so much to do when the toddler gets cranky! We did our best just to stay calm, have a sense of humor, take turns / take breaks, and remember that the flight wouldn't last forever and we would never see the people around us again....
  • What we look like at 6:30 a.m. Paris time / 12:30 a.m. DC time - aka our 5 minutes in Paris


  • Two small travel pillows that "puff up" when you unzip them and then squish down to pack; we put these on our laps so Zelie could lay on them and it minimized the heat from our bodies (she is a HOT little girl!) - and they were more comfy than the thin pillows provided by the airline.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping, Backpacking, Airplanes and Road Trips, Amethyst, Small: 12” x 16”
Thermarest compressible travel pillow
  • Several changes of clothes - our worst nightmare was running out! which we didn't
  • Comfort animal - Zelie's is a stuffed bunny
  • Suction cup toy - we brought three along. These are neat because they stick to almost anything - the window, tray table, etc. They kept her interested in unsticking them, stacking them, and of course throwing them on the floor (which told us the game was over! haha).
"Fat Brain Toys Suction Cupz" (yes, with a Z)
  • Lysol wipes to wipe down the tray table (germiest part of the plane), back of the seats, arm rests, etc.
  • Powdered milk to drink (mix with water) since we couldn't count on keeping real milk cold the whole flight; we did get real milk from the stewardess once or twice
  • Overnight diapers to extend the time she could wear them - honestly this didn't seem to make a big difference, but it was worth a shot

Traveling - During Trip

Goal: get happily from one place to the next

Our pilgrimage was fairly intense, with lots of walking, visiting churches, doing stuff, etc. So we put thought into how to make these full days good for Zelie, and us.


  • Realize traveling with a toddler will mean some adjustment; Zelie needed time each day to run around and explore, which didn't also fit with our group's schedule. One of us would "hang back" from the group during a tour, for example, to give her wiggle time, and there were two days that Bethany and Zelie stayed behind completely as the group traveled - but it was definitely worth it to go even if we couldn't participate in everything
Happily stretching her legs at the WWII memorial in Warsaw
  • In the same vein, transitions (from place to place, vehicle to place or whatever) may or may not fit with Zelie's nap schedule, food schedule, etc. We just did what we could to give her time every day to rest, run around, explore, etc. - and she turned out to be pretty flexible and could adjust as needed.
  • Rain cover for stroller - we only ended up using this once, but were glad we had it; Poland was supposed to be more rainy than it was, so better to be prepared!
The rain cover is folded back but ready to use - it didn't add much weight to the stroller and was nice for quick showers (Jeep brand)

  • Light blanket plus clips - the clips let us attach the blanket to the stroller top when Zelie fell asleep, so she could sleep longer while we were out
Napping - stroller reclined, light blanket clipped on. Also cooler hanging off the back.

  • Stroller - obviously the most important piece of the puzzle; ours is a Chicco Capri bought from Craigslist. Pluses are that it is VERY light, which was great for all the stairs we had to carry it up; it folded up super easy; was comfy for Zelie; and reclined somewhat. Cons are that the shocks didn't seem that great, so cobblestone streets got really bumpy; and the under-stroller storage was teeny-tiny. If we did it again, I would probably look for more storage and maybe slightly bigger / more sturdy, although I hesitate to go heavier...it's a trade-off.
  • Sun hat is important since weather can be unpredictable
sun hat coming in handy

  • Same goes for a rain jacket for toddler & parents
  • Portable hand sanitizer - this was used every day multiple times; we clipped it right onto the outside of the diaper bag so instantly accessible 
PURELL 3909-09-ECSC Advanced Hand Sanitizer Portable Bottles - 1 oz. Variety Pack Travel Sized Jelly Wrap Bottles (Case of 8)

  • Baby carrier - we used our Tula every day, both when it seemed Zelie needed some extra cuddles/a nap and for places where the stroller couldn't go (Krakow's ancient Wawel castle/cathedral being an example) We used it in back carry mode when she was awake, and front carry when it was her nap time. It's a bit bulky so mainly we stuffed it under the stroller (where it took up all the space).

Nap time at the Archbishop's Residence in Krakow - she would sleep for up to 2 hours like this, which was perfect if we were at a place for that long


Goal: getting toddler enough food!

We are fortunate that Zelie is a good eater who will try just about anything, and likes most things. Right now she still has bottles of milk or juice for nap/bed/comfort, and other than that eats solid foods. We did bring some food along (see below) but mostly just gave her stuff off our plates when we ate, plus had plenty of juice or milk at the ready.


  • disposable travel placements we could stick to the table so Zelie could grab food - this was great for places that had a high chair but no tray table
EXTRA STICKY Disposable Placemats Baby - Perfected Design! Ultimate Mom Hack - Tidy Tyke - Table Mat Stays in Place! BPA Free Plastic, Stick on Placemat - Keeps Toddlers Neat & Safe at Restaurants!
worth it
  • a silicone wipe-able bib that catches food and was full coverage - great for all meals, especially when we were holding her (no high chair)
Enjoying Pope John Paul II's favorite dessert, a super sugary cream cake

  • lots and lots of squeezy pouches for times when other food wasn't accessible - these were great because they didn't require refrigeration and were familiar to Zelie; I bought 40 before leaving home - a plus was that as we went through them, we then had space for souvenirs
  • squeezy pouch lids, so she can't make a huge mess (we use these at home too)
ChooMee SoftSip Food Pouch Top | 100% Silicone | Prevent spills and Cushion mouth | 2CT - Orange Aqua
so useful
  • a medium cooler to keep bottles, pouches, snacks, and an ice pack - this hung off the back of the stroller so it wasn't an extra thing to carry
MIER 9 Can Insulated Lunch Bag for Women Leakproof Soft Cooler Tote, Orange
9-cup size, Mier brand - this worked well, a good size with straps that fit on the stroller handles
  • powdered milk, especially for plane travel and also for nighttime feedings so we didn't have to walk a distance to the kitchen
  • Hand & face wipes were perfect for cleaning up after meals in the absence of washcloths
Johnson's Hand & Face Portable Wipes 25 count Alcohol Free (pack of 4)
we used so many of these


  • you can take ice packs through security BUT only if they are frozen...which became an issue for us on our Paris layover on the way there; we had to go through security again (not sure why) and because the ice pack was melted, it was now "forbidden" according to the security officer....and tossed. Good thing we had a second (unfrozen) one in our checked luggage!
  • For us, we always made sure to have at least 2 bottles - for Zelie, bottles are her "relax" time that I think helped on the long days; we would use fruit juice (available almost everywhere) or milk when we could get it, and pack it in the cooler with an ice pack
enjoying a bottle in the bell tower of Wawel Castle.....only a giant bell from the 1300's, no big deal, keep drinking...

  • Whatever you do....do NOT pack an OPENED tin of powdered milk in your husband's luggage....even if you think the lid is on good and tight, you just might open his suitcase in Warsaw, after traveling all day and just wanting to sleep, and discover that the tin has opened and a fine dust of powered milk is all over ALL of his clothes......and so you have to do laundry with the tiny little washing machine and no dryer when you can barely keep your eyes open....not that that happened to us or anything ;)
  • Seriously, squeezy pouches are the BEST; they filled in so many gaps for us so easily, were fairly light to bring on our trip, and gave us peace of mind that we'd have something healthy and yummy for her during the days


Goal: everyone get at least *some* sleep!


  • Sound machine so she had familiar sounds as at home
  • Adapter plugs for wherever you're going (listed here b/c the sound machine is so important)
  • Batteries for sound machine (we did plug ours in, so this was "just in case")
  • Place for baby to sleep - we were able to borrow a pack & play from our guide's sister in county, so we used that
  • We tried to replicate our routine at home as much as possible: clean diaper, pajamas, bunny, bottle, snuggling, bedtime; most nights it did work fairly well - of course she was up some nights, or needed to come into bed with us, but we were fortunate that she still slept fairly well while on our trip
  • Jet lag! Is hard on toddlers! For whatever reason, the 6-hour time zone difference didn't seem to faze her much traveling east to Europe - maybe because she had a fairly normal night sleep during our overnight flight? But coming back home - ouch. It took about 5 nights for her to sleep until at least 6 a.m.....the first night home, she was up at midnight, ready to go! That was rough. The most we could do was try to convince her it was still nighttime: darkness, quiet, bottle, rocking. And basically just waiting for her internal body clock to get re-set.
Bathing: we gave her a full body water bath twice (once in a tub without a shower, once in a shower without a tub, go figure) but the other days we used the Johnson & Johnson head to toe wipes, which were perfect for freshening her up without a full bath.

Final thought: Traveling with a toddler overseas is more work, takes more thought and more adjustment, but is definitley doable and worth it!! 

Happy to hear any thoughts from folks who have also traveled with their toddlers!