12 Things I Learnt Taking My Toddler Overseas

12 Things I Learnt Taking My Toddler Overseas

By Yahna Fookes   |  

Spoiler: I would absolutely do it again.

We recently embarked on our first overseas holiday as a family of three. Me, my husband and our two-and-a-half-year-old, Sunday. We’d been on a handful of domestic flights to visit my parents previously, but this was the first big trip. I’d like to preface that the feeling of booking a holiday after raising a child in a pandemic has the power to shift an entire family's energy. All three of us craved change, spontaneity and time off from the monotony of day-to-day, a shake-up. As Melbourne winter enveloped us with her frost and the playground became less inviting, something to look forward to was profoundly exciting for all of us. After hearing Japan had no intentions of opening any time soon, Bali was a no-brainer. I’d travelled there many times with my husband, pre-baby, so it was just about doing the research to make our holiday kid-friendly and enjoyable for all three of us.

Upon my return to Melbourne and riding the high of our holiday wave I’ve been reflecting on our trip. From preparing to the actual ‘doing’, the whole process has taught me a lot about travelling with a small person. Here are the biggest things I learnt.

1. The prep pays off.

Earlier in the year, during the height of my daughter's tantrums, my husband and I invested in the Big Little Feeling course. A course to help acquire skills for taming meltdowns and helping to feel better equipped to handle precarious situations. During the course, we learnt the importance of “prep time”. Months before our trip, we spoke about Bali daily - what was to come, what it's like to fly on an aeroplane and what to expect when we arrived. We also gave her a suitcase and let her slowly accumulate the things she’d like to take: a swimming bubble, goggles, her favourite soft toys. When “Bali day” finally arrived, nothing was a surprise for her.

2. Call in a favour, get a lift.

Whilst you can do long-term car parking at Melbourne airport (for a reasonable price), this adds another dimension to a very long day of travel as you’ll need to get a bus from your parking point. To avoid this, we got the in-laws to drop us off and gave them the car for the duration of the trip to avoid buses and extra unnecessary hauls. If family lifts are not an option, you can always get a taxi to the airport as they (unlike Ubers) are legally able to transport small beings without a car seat.

3. Work the flight times with the sleep schedule.

This depends on your day naps. We booked a flight at 4pm in the hope of squeezing in an hour nap before travel and some sleep time on the plane. I felt like I had won the lottery when we managed to squeeze in a one-hour nap before leaving and she was asleep at 8.30pm (her usual bedtime) in between my husband and I on the flight. On our returning flight, the only option was a 10pm red-eye. Although I was prepared for the worst, she slept the entire trip and in the car from the airport to home.

4. Exactly what to pack in your carry-on.

Here’s what was in our carry-on:

  • Colouring books and paper.
  • An iPad loaded with her fave shows. Remember, Disney+, ABC Kids and all the other apps don’t work overseas. Some platforms let you download the shows to your actually iPad so make sure you go through and do this before you leave.
  • Snacks for the flight. Crackers, seaweed, dried fruit etc.
  • An empty, clean milk bottle to fill with milk so she could still enjoy her ritual before bed.
  • Soft comforters (her bunny etc).
  • A dummy to help with the air pressure affecting her ears at take-off and landing.
  • A sippy cup.
  • Thermometer to check her temperature (just in case).
  • Baby Panadol and Nurofen.
  • Loads of nappies and baby wipes. Sunday is 2.5 years old, and mid-toilet training, so we took an entire box (72 pull-ups) and two packs of wipes for 10 days.
  • A wet bag—there is nowhere to dispose of dirty nappies, so you’ll need to conceal them, we did disposable bags and wet bag.
  • A magnetic game, hours of fun on the plane, it doesn’t take up much room and much less chance of losing pieces.
  • Some small toys like dolls, dinosaurs etc.

5. You’re travelling a lot longer than the exact flight time.

It takes roughly 6.5 hours on a flight to Bali. We flew with Qantas (direct), which was worth the additional money. With a two-hour time difference on our first overseas trip, there was no chance I would endure connecting flights. This made everything much more seamless. What we didn’t do was preorder a kid's meal when booking. When the plane stabilised and the cabin crew handed out hot/fun meals for all the kids (which seemed to be a priority), my husband and I looked at each other and said “rookie move”. I am the first to admit that I was a little naive about how long it takes to travel. From door to door, it took roughly a little over 13 hours. Customs and immigration in other countries aren’t all smooth sailing like in Australia, so after landing, we waited an additional 3 hours to get our baggage, hotel transfer, etc. Prepare for an epic and exhausting day of travel.

6. Relax the routine, ease the stress.

I wasn’t going to be tied to routine on holiday, so we went with a relaxed attitude towards the usual routine. Much to our surprise (swimming and the humidity tire kids out), she took her exact middle-of-the-day nap (just a couple of hours earlier). Expect an early wake time and an early bedtime for the first few days. Their body clock, like ours, surprisingly adjusts quite easily with time.

7. The travel cot is worth the hassle.

Sunday sleeps in a big bed now, but if your kid is younger than two, I’d recommend bringing one. Some hotels provide them (but not very tech) and others don’t. This will provide your kid consistency too in a new environment. Before moving to a bed, I loved The AeroMoov. Qantas actually allows you to take a collapsible stroller, a collapsible cot or bassinet, and a car seat or baby capsule: each weighing up to 32kg free of charge. Each airline has different rules so be sure to check the fineprint.

8. Hotels all the way.

Whilst private villas provide a beautiful stay with a washing machine etc. my ultimate idea of a holiday was (like many other new parents) no cooking or cleaning for ten days. We stayed in bigger resort-style hotels where I didn’t have to leave the compound. Think White Lotus without the murder. We found a buffet breakfast a dream every morning. Fresh fruit, pancakes, and yoghurt is a toddler's idea of heaven and because we were up at 6am and for breakfast, but the buffet didn’t close until 11am, so we were able to grab morning tea on a second round before her nap.

9. Splurge for the bigger room.

Nothing is more depressing than your kids going to bed at 7pm and your partner and you lying in the dark (lol). My most extensive advice is to get a room with two parts, even a sliding door to separate your rooms so you can still enjoy adult time, watch a movie etc.

10. BYO nappies.

Indonesia is still very much a developing country and daily luxuries like nappies are not readily available. We are in the depths of toilet training, so required pull-ups which would have been especially hard to find, so I packed our own, for the whole trip. Had I not; our holiday wouldn't have been nearly as pleasant. I have heard of mums travelling to Italy and parts of Europe to find that their nappies aren’t the right fit, size or as efficient (read: leakproof) as what we’re used to. Save yourself the pain of wasting your precious holiday time searching by bringing your own. Or for longer trips, reserve the Aussie nappies for nighttime use and use the foriegn nappies during the day when you can do more frequent changes and be on alert for blow-outs.

11. Help them create a familiar in the unknown.

During our travel, my daughter asked about “home, her grandparents, her best friend Peggy etc” at least once a day. It’s funny how even tiny humans crave the “known”. We ensured we dedicated quiet time in the hotel room to play with her fave toys every day. Like at home, you probably wouldn't have a day packed with activities. We found this helped her ground and find a sense of familiarity and comfort in a foreign space as well as giving mum and dad some time a forced break from “doing”.

12. Kids are mighty resilient.

Kids are more resilient and more adaptable than we give them credit for. My husband played a gig in Bali, so we moved hotels three times (that’s alot in 10 nights) and before going, I had my doubts but she was more than happy with the change of environments. Kids do sleep outside their bed! Maybe it was the time difference, the heat, or the fact she spent 5 hours a days swimming, but she was exhausted and slept amazingly. Bali really was some of the best sleep we have experienced as a family (if you have a toddler you’ll know what I mean). Finally, kids love the attention of holidays. What’s not to love about spending time with their two fave people who are relaxed and attentive. I will admit post-holiday blues are a thing and coming back to the constant flow of ‘rushing’ has been jarring but that’s the ebb and flow of parenting, am I right?

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