International Family Travel: Three Lessons Learned

I’ve had the good fortune to travel many times before both solo and with Chouchou. After this trip, I realize how different the dynamics are when you travel as a family, especially when traveling internationally and crossing time zones. Below are three things I learned from this trip.

Pack light.  No, lighter than that.

Our trip lasted 16 days with travel included. As I was preparing suitcases, I packed eight changes of clothes for me and eight for Mon Cœur (MC).  I knew we’d have access to a washer, so I thought we could bring half the clothes we needed.  

In total, we had two large rolly suitcases, a trunki, and a stroller.  MC had a her size book bag that was too heavy for her, and I had my huge pink purse.  This was way too much for us.  

I really believe we could have taken clothes for a third of our stay and made it work with just 4-5 days worth of clothes. Looking back, we should have been able to pack lighter ditch a rolly and the trunki in exchange for a carry-on book bag.  The kid-sized book bag and the trunk were cute in concept, but lacking in practicality.

The packing cubes (Dot & Dot 4-pack large set) (Bagail 6-pack set, 3 different sizes) we bought were extremely helpful, and I’ll use them again in the future.  It helped keep everyone’s clothes organized by outfit and with different cubes for everyone. It was also super helpful for stowing away gifts we had purchased for our friends – when we arrived at each destination, I just grabbed the packing cube, and everything was already there! I loved the Bagail 6-pack set because the medium size was perfect for the trunki suitcase for MC, and since it was awkwardly shaped (like a snow sleigh from Frozen), the cubes helped me pack the maximum amount of clothes in the space. The large suitcases were perfect to stack on top of each other and side-by-side, allowing for four cubes to fit in our large rolly suitcase.

What may be captivating to us may not be to MC and vice versa.

MC really did do amazingly well for all the sightseeing we packed in.  She’s two and a half, and we didn’t expect her to be as captivated by all the places we visited.

When we toured the Paris Catacombs, we were unable to take the stroller, so MC had to walk the whole way. It was a 1.5 km walk (just under 1 mile). She walked almost the whole visit, did not get bored, and wasn’t scared by the macabre.

She waited patiently in the line for the Eiffel Tower, and enjoyed walking around and seeing the city from up high. She spied a soccer game, boats, and the gold roof from the Invalides, a visit from our first day.

In the Palais Garnier, while Chouchou looked around and took pictures amazed by the architecture and elaborate details, while MC rushed down the hallways running and giggling.  

She was totally over sightseeing by the time we got to Sainte Chapelle, of course, the one cathedral that had security guards shushing any loud guests. MC decided it was her playground – she ran around until I caught up with her and went on an “eye spy” hunt around the room. Then she found a young man to play peekaboo with, and all was right in her world for five minutes.

At each place, we found ways to hook her, by tying in to her interests. She’s incredibly observant too, so as long as we got on her level and listened to her, that helped extend our time at a place.  We also let her run her energy out when there was space!

Be flexible and be prepared.

MC and I have a routine at home.  Meals are served at a pretty consistent time each day, she stills takes a nap, and we have snacks and activities that we do throughout the day.  

From the beginning I knew our trip would not allow for this time of schedule, and I was okay with it because – hello, when does your toddler get the chance to travel to France? and – we needed to seize every opportunity to soak in the sights, the food, and the culture.

During our travels, we were running all day in a new town, or staying with another family in their home, so we needed to be flexible.  MC either refused a nap in order to catch all the sights with us or passed out in her stroller, typically as we were arriving back for the evening.  We tried to keep meal times consistent and did so for breakfast and lunch.

Dinner, though is a different story.  At our home, MC eats around 6pm every night and is in bed by 8pm.  The traditional French schedule has a snack (la quatre heure or le goûter) at 4pm and dinner at 8pm.  This may be different with French families of young children, but our hosts (who are lovely, perfect, and amazing!) did not have young children.  So, sometimes, after a day of many sights, overstimulation, and an empty belly and heavy eyelids, MC would MD (meltdown).

We accepted these meltdowns as they came, knowing that we really had put her through a lot changing her schedule, thing her to many places in a day that were not necessarily fun and changing time zones. We also kept in mind that despite the meltdowns, the overall experience our whole family was sharing was absolutely worth it!

I would totally take this trip again with the family – I’d pack lighter and try to better remember a healthy-sized goûter for our pint-sized American.

What are some lessons you’ve learned through traveling with little ones?

This is part of a mini series of stories shared from our recent trip to France. Previous posts include:

Preparing to leave: Tips I found on the internet for traveling with a young family.

Do you have questions about our trip? Please email me or share in the comments section – I would love to answer them!


4 thoughts on “International Family Travel: Three Lessons Learned

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