I would never say that I am any expert on traveling. However, I have now experienced 4 international flights with children ages 4 and younger. I have learned a thing or two and decided to share.
- Keep in mind your ultimate goal: survival. In the end it will not matter if your kids eat too many sweets or have too much screen time or nurse every hour. International travel is HARD and it doesn't happen often. So go ahead and throw some of your rules out the window and just survive. If your kids are happy and quiet, just go with it. If they watch movies for 5 hours straight, just remember its a one-time thing and they are not going to be scarred for life.
- Stop worrying about what other people think. The person sitting in front of you may (and probably will) look super annoyed when your baby cries at the top of her lungs. But chances are that this person doesn't know the absolute torture you are going through by getting on that plane. You won't change anything by worrying about it, so just don't. Although it never hurts to kindly apologize.
- It never hurts to ask. Airline stewardesses are actually pretty nice, especially to people traveling with little kids. Don't be afraid to ask for some special treatment. On one flight my daughter and I fell asleep right away and slept right through the meal service. We both woke up hungry several hours later. I asked the stewardess if there was anything left from the meal service that we could have. She kindly brought me a tray full of delicious food. Just ask. The worst they can say is no.
- Do not gate check your stroller. I have now had two strollers stolen because I gate checked them. Granted, that's probably because we live in Africa and things just get stolen here. But seriously, carrying your baby around in a carrier (I love my ergo) at the airport is so much better. When you go through security, you won't even have to take your baby off of your back. As opposed to trying to juggle your baby and emptying/folding up a stroller. Save yourself the trouble and check your stroller with your luggage.
- Short lay-overs are better. I'm sure there are differing opinions on this, but I've done it both ways, and I definitely prefer a short lay-over. Just get it over with!
- Hide away some surprises for emergencies. You will truly thank yourself later for that pack of M&Ms you hid at the bottom of your purse. It may just save your life at the 11th hour.
- I love London Heathrow. When Americans travel overseas they often have to fly through London. If you have to stop off in London, lay-over at Heathrow. They have a playground in every terminal! You may want to ask around at other airports for this amazing feature.
- Be prepared. Most airports will have you remove your liquids (in 3 oz bottles in a baggie) and electronics when you go through security. You will save yourself a big headache by having theses things ready and together in one place. You can also have your child's toys/books in a place that they can easily access themselves without help. My son has his own small roller suitcase where he keeps his toys. He rolls it himself all over the airport and has since he was 3.
- Sleep is good. I use melatonin with my kids when we travel. It's all-natural and you can buy it in drops or gummies. It usually helps a lot for us. The more your kids sleep on the plane, the better. They will still be exhausted when you arrive, but it will help. If you have a child who won't sleep much in these kinds of situations (I do), try not to stress out about it. Try to soothe them to sleep, but if you can't, so be it!
- Dress in Layers. When we flew from Uganda to London, we were all wearing summery clothes. Arriving in London, we had to walk outside to a bus and drive to the terminal. It was freezing cold and raining! I deeply regretted my choice not to thrown in some jackets. It can also sometimes be quite cool on the plane. It can also be quite warm. So do yourself a favor and be prepared for it all.
Traveling with small children will surely be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But when you reach your destination it will all be worth it. Hope this helps!