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By Allen Ma

Ah, international travel -– there’s no greater experience than exploring a new city with no agenda besides just immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, smells, and culture of an awesomely different world. It’s all about being there –- time means nothing.

Unless, of course, you are traveling internationally with a child.

As I recently found out, time means a whole lot now. Exploration time is limited, squeezed in between nap times and mealtimes, so it’s important to be more efficient with some thoughtful planning and opportunistic activities.

Here are some tips that helped us get through our first international trip with a one-year-old:

Start the adventure before it officially begins

  • Spend some time reading picture books or Web sites that show sights, people, etc., that you will likely be seeing in person.
  • Try preparing some “local” foods to get a sense of what will work when you get to mealtimes.
  • If you’re traveling to a country where English isn’t the primary language, learn a few new words and phrases together.

Plan for a busy flight

  • Be sure to smile and make nice with the flight attendants on your way in (if your kid knows any tricks, this is a great time to break them out). These folks, plus your seat neighbors, can be your best friends for the next several hours.
  • If you don’t buy a seat for the baby, try to secure a bulkhead seat, where the extra floor space will allow you to spread out a blanket and create an area to sit and play.
  • Bring some brand new toys and books and plenty of food to help you break up the trip into a variety of activities. (I found it helpful to think about activities in approximately half-hour chunks of time to keep it interesting.)
  • Bring a laptop or portable DVD player. It might be a bit of a hassle, but if you have long flights, you’ll be glad to have “Sesame Street” handy. It might also be helpful in the hotel room to give you time to get showered, tidy up, unpack, etc.

Stay in a central location

  • Gone are the days when you can stay in that cool bed and breakfast or somewhere “just a little bit out of the way” to save a few bucks. Generally chain hotels offer good amenities for children and families, and you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get.
  • Find hotels that are walking distance to several different destinations and public transportation. This will allow you to break up days into different short trips and make it back to the hotel to rest.
  • Call the hotel to find out what kid-friendly items it has on site, such as a crib, car seat, or anything else you might need and can’t/don’t want to bring. You never know what it might be able to provide, and every bit helps.

Find out where the kids are

  • Kids will relate to other kids wherever they go so look for parks, playgrounds, busy pedestrian/shopping areas.
  • Research other festivals, events, activities that might betaking place during your visit.
  • If that Van Gogh is calling your name — and if your child is young enough — choose a time when the baby can nap or rest in her stroller so you can cruise through the museum in peace.

Bring plenty of tasty (and healthy) snacks and water while out on the town

  • In case you do get turned around a bit or find a really nice spot to relax its handy to have food and drink available – don’t assume that you’ll find “something” “somewhere.”

Know the public transportation options

  • A big, older city is likely to have a metro, which may not necessarily have elevators, so consider how you’re going to get up and down the stairs.
  • Leave the heavy-duty strollers at home and get a solid, but light umbrella stroller (and bring your comfy baby carrier if you can still do that).
  • Learn how to read a bus or metro map before you really really need one.

And finally … enjoy! It’s not the same international travel experience, but it’s just as refreshing and exciting to explore as a family. It’s probably better for you to skip a pub or two anyways, right?

Related Orbitz resources:

Allen spent less time in the pubs and more time at the playgrounds during his last visit to London. His liver and his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter thank him.

Tagged: Family time

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