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International Travel, Plus Kids

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T Garcia, Ezra Garcia

OVERNIGHT FLIGHT The Garcia family takes long-haul overnight flights each year to visit family in Greece. Mom Lisa’s top tip is to pack in-flight activities such as coloring books, extra snacks, and pajamas for the flight. Pictured are T and Ezra Garcia. 

Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 9.

Traveling with young children can be a challenge, especially if it’s an overnight, international flight with a squirmy toddler.

Parents Lisa and Moises Garcia have turned it into an art. The couple has three children – T, 8, Ezra, 4, and Alex, 1. Their international adventures started when T was just a baby. This month, this travel pro mom provides some valuable insight into navigating flight connections, long-haul flights and travel with babies and toddlers.

Lisa, a commercial property insurance underwriter, and Moises, a petroleum engineer, have a rich cultural background that brings a lot of travel to their lives. “My family is Greek, and my husband is Mexican, so we have been traveling with our kids since my oldest was about 4 months,” Lisa said. Their plans to see family frequently take them to Athens, Greece, often with layovers in New Jersey or Frankfurt.

Even with their travel experience, each trip presents new challenges. “Every kid, and the more you add, brings a different vibe, so even with baby number three, I am still doing research,” says Lisa. 

In the early days, Lisa says she relied on parenting blogs for advice on traveling with children. Today, she uses social media to find out what other parents are doing. “Now I like to watch YouTube videos, and then when I have a specific product I am leaning toward, I search TikTok to see how ‘real people’ are using the product,” she said. 

One search led her to YouTube, where she found reviews that led her to choose the BabyZen Yoyo stroller. The stroller has a five-point harness and canopy cover, great for airport layover napping. It’s pricey, though: $400-$700 depending on the model and accessories. The reviews of fellow parents convinced her; they swore by it as lightweight and compact, but still full featured. 

“I was hesitant to spend the money since this is my last kid, but aside from being able to use it on the plane, I knew it’d be useful to have a compact stroller for the car and the train once we arrived,” she said.

The most critical component of the Garcia family's travel strategy? Snacks. “Bring all the snacks,” Lisa says. She prefers fruit pouches and snacks for take-offs and landings to help with ear pressure.

Her experience on a particularly challenging flight from Houston to New Jersey reminded her how important it is to expect the unexpected. 

“One time, there was bad weather in New Jersey, and a ground stop. We were in the air for seven hours, and when we finally landed, we had to refuel in Philadelphia. We missed our connecting flight and were stuck at the airport,” she recalled. Despite the ordeal, her daughter managed the situation with remarkable calm, happily watching TV throughout the extended flight.

To manage overnight flights, Lisa has created a routine to help her children sleep. “I like to put my kids into their pajamas just after the meal service,” she said. The routine includes a trip to the bathroom, a diaper change, and brushing teeth, to replicate the usual night routine at home as closely as possible. Lisa said this method has proven effective in helping the kids sleep through most of the long flight.

While flights are a significant source of anxiety, Lisa finds that things are easier once they reach their destination. “We usually meet up with other family and we take things very slow,” she said. This approach allows the family to acclimate and enjoy their time together without the pressure of a strict itinerary after flying.

Remember to make your appointment for your child’s passport as early as possible. See travel.state.gov to read about obtaining a passport for a minor. 

Despite the challenges, travel adventures not only enrich children’s lives, but also create lifelong memories for the whole family. “Traveling with kids is never easy, but the memories we create are priceless,” Lisa says.

International Travel Checklist for Flying with Small Children

• Passports, visas (if required), copies of important documents.

• Diapers and wipes, extra clothes for children and parents, baby blankets, pacifiers, bottles and formula/breast milk, sippy cups or bottles, plastic bags for trash or diapers.

• Favorite toys or comfort items (stuffed animals, blankets), tablet with kids' shows already downloaded, headphones, books or small toys, pajamas for overnight flights.

• Any necessary medications, basic first-aid kit (band-aids, antiseptic wipes).

• Baby carrier or sling.

• Small bag or backpack for each child with essentials, entertainment for layovers, toys, and games.

• Even more snacks.

• Patience.

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