Last month, my husband and I took our 6-year-old daughter on a dream vacation to Iceland and Switzerland. It was a big deal for many reasons but mostly because it was her first trip outside of the United States. Even though she was totally excited and prepared for the trip, we were still a bit nervous about how she was going to handle the long plane ride, the huge time difference and being in a foreign country. The good news is that she had the time of her life and we created memories of a lifetime as a family. I also learned a lot about my kid and that if we could do this European trip, we will be able to go anywhere with her. Additionally, I’d like to share the top 10 things I learned about traveling abroad with a young child:
1. Kids are quick to adapt to their new surroundings as long as their parents adapt quickly as well. Quinn was tired and dragging after that overnight flight from NYC to Reykjavik but we couldn’t get into our room for about 5 hours. Instead of getting annoyed, we made the best of it. We all changed into appropriate clothing, washed up and decided to explore the city.
2. Include your child in the planning process. As we were booking hotels and planning our adventures in both Iceland and Switzerland, we had Quinn sit at the computer with us and look at the pictures with us. We let her feel like she had a say in some of the activities we did throughout the trip and that helped her feel more excited and involved.
3. Give your kid a camera! One of the best things we did was give Quinn access to a camera while we were away. She alternated between using her Polaroid camera and our point and shoot. We gave her a challenge: take pictures of things that you don’t ever want to forget from our trip. I feel like this made her more aware of her surroundings on our adventures. She was constantly pointing out things that were cool, different or just made her stop and appreciate how beautiful her new surroundings were.
4. Have your kid document your trip. We had Quinn decorate the cover of a travel journal before we left on our trip and then we would write a little something about each day. This was such a special trip for her and I wanted her to be able to remember it forever. She took pleasure in thinking about what she did each day and what her favorite thing was. This was also a great way to sneak in some working on handwriting since she was missing so much school.
5. Bring lots of your kid’s favorite snacks with you. We brought a few of Quinn’s favorite snacks for the plane ride but next time I will be packing a suitcase of things that I know she will eat. It’s hard enough for them to be in a new country so if you can at least bring some of the comforts from home for them, it will make things easier.
6. Don’t be ashamed to let your kids eat McDonald’s 6 times on your trip. Yes, you read that correctly. My kid ate McDonalds 6 times in 2 weeks. When you are in a foreign country and you have a picky eater, you have to just go with the flow. You can’t force your child to try fondue or whale even though that’s what a country is known for!
7. Be sure to mix in kid-friendly activities with the grownup ones. Our trip was very active…lots of hiking, sight seeing and late night eating. Quinn really rolled with it all and shocked us with how resilient she could be. One thing we did was find the local playgrounds and let me tell you something, the most important thing we did was stay in hotels with pools so she had something to start or end her day with I have to say that it was one of the most important things we did and gave her something to look forward to after a long day of adventures.
8. Bring some surprises with you on the trip. In the months leading up to our trip, I was constantly keeping my eyes open for little things that I could bring along on our trip to pull out of my pocket when need be. Things like fun stickers or cool new pens/pencils went a long way with my girl and were especially helpful before a long meal in a restaurant.
9. Don’t be afraid to use technology. To be clearer, don’t be afraid to let your kid use technology while on vacation. In a lot of ways, we were unplugged during our vacation. We didn’t set up any kind of international plan and relied solely on Wi-Fi for the entire two weeks. This meant that not only was I not constantly checking email, Instagram and Facebook, but Quinn wasn’t using Netflix at every free moment. But at the end of the day, after a good swim, my girl was rewarded with some screen time. Since we were in Europe, her options were limited but that 1/2 hour or 1 hour of screen time was what she needed to refuel for whatever our night plans were.
10. Souvenirs are a big deal for a 6 year old. Quinn knew what her big souvenir was going to be before we even left for Switzerland. She had been watching the Netflix series Heidi for almost year and was hoping she would run into the Alm Grandfather, Peter or Heidi. Since that wasn’t going to happen, we promised her we would be on the lookout for a Heidi dress. When I tell you that my heart kind of grew like the Grinch when she put that dress on, it’s not even an exaggeration. The look on her face when she put it on and the way she looked in it with the Swiss Alps as her background will be forever etched in my memory.