Prior having our son, my husband and I used to travel abroad at least twice a year. It was something that we both looked forward to and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We are not huge adventures of the outdoors but we love going to museums, walking the new cities we visit to see the architecture and discover local gems, taste the local cuisine, try new things, educate ourselves for all the city is famous and not so famous for. Even the whole airport experience never bothered us, we were actually considering it quite enjoyable too. Traveling has always been our gift to ourselves.
I knew when we became pregnant that we would continue to do the same with our son. The first year, we only planned a couple staycations within Cyprus (not because we had a child but because we had too much work). Exclusive breastfeeding gives you a freedom to do whatever you want with your baby because really you are a moving milk bar and any sterilisers, bottles, formula milks are unnecessary. When he was 14 months old it was more difficult because he had trouble sleeping anywhere but his own cot in his own bedroom so that staycation left us a bit traumatised. Until about a month before his second birthday when we had our first family trip abroad.
The two things that got us worried were a) the trouble he has sleeping anywhere else and b) his first time on a plane. Both worries quickly went away and the below points are what we will keep for future traveling adventures too.
1) Choose flights that will work with your toddler’s routine. We deliberately booked early in the morning flights so we had to wake him up at 5am (he usually wakes up at 7am). Plan A was for him to be excited enough to stay awake until the flight and then get tired so that he would sleep during the flight. The first part was successful because he was indeed his excited happy self during the drive to the airport and through the whole airport experience and because it was so early in the morning, there were no crowds anywhere in the airport (check in, passport control, cafes etc). The second part (him sleeping during the flight) was unsuccessful so we moved on to Plan B. (Note that waking him up early did eventually pay off because he slept during the 1.5 hour train ride from Athens airport to Korinthos).
2) Buy new small gifts that your toddler will find interesting. We had bought stickers and a draw-and-erase board (less than 5 euros) to keep him entertained while he was seated on our laps during the flights (because he was younger than 2 years so he had to sit on us). We also chose the window and middle seats so that we would not have access to the corridor and this kept him from wanting to walk up and down the corridor. I am happy to say that he was kept entertained and content throughout the 1 hour and 45 minutes flight from Larnaka to Athens. That board was also his most favourite activity during all our days abroad, he was playing with it at restaurants and right before sleeping.
3) Take the stroller. We had a stroller with us (you can take it until the plane’s door and then you take it from the plane’s door when you leave the aircraft) and it made all the difference when we had to walk until passport control after we landed. He was too tired to walk by himself and the stroller was perfect for all of us. Also, it was the best to have with us when we were exploring the town because even if he did not want to sit, it was the best to carry all our things with it.
4) Do count on good people to help you. Yes, you read it correctly. Through the most difficult situations, there will be at least one person that will offer his/her help and do not hesitate to take it. For example, the queues were huge at passport control in Athens and he was crying even though I had him in my arms and tried my best to calm him down but the good people at the security took us front in line (without asking them to!) and he immediately stopped crying. You can always count that there will be good people around to help you.
5) Keep fruit in the room. Even though we were always choosing things to eat that our toddler would enjoy too, sometimes he did not want to eat, sometimes he was sleeping, sometimes he was playing. So we were paying room service to have fresh fruit in our room on a daily basis and it was money well spent! Perfect snack for whenever we were in the room and he wanted to eat something (and for us too!).
6) Plan toddler friendly activities too. Our son joined us in everything we had planned but we made sure we had planned some activities specifically for him too. Our hotel had a very nice kids corner but we had to stay with him too because he was younger than 3 years old. Spending at least half an hour each day at this place made him so happy so we were happy to be there too. Swimming also for half to one hour per day was perfect but some days we were avoiding the outdoors pool because it was really windy so indoors pool it was (even though it was June!).
7) Do not underestimate your toddler. The most important of them all. We were worried all this time about his sleep because he was indeed sleeping so good in his own place and nowhere else. But he was so exhausted by the end of each day that he was sleeping immediately in his cot next to our bed every single night when we were abroad. I was surprised but really I shouldn’t have been.
If it is one thing that our first trip abroad taught me is to never underestimate our son. He did amazing. Kids are so resilient and adaptable and if anything, our own fears and overthinking keeps them from realising and reaching their full potential. They learn fast and they can constantly surprise us if we allow them the opportunity to show us what they are capable of.
I am happy to say that I am now planning our second family trip abroad. I know it will not be the same as the first one because he is more than half a year older now and no doubt we will have challenges and surprises we did not have the first time around but we are not worried anymore. We know overall, it will be a wonderful experience for all of us!