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9 Things to Consider When Traveling Internationally With a Toddler

I am in Hong Kong with my family for three weeks this summer. It’s been an exciting experience so far, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to travel with my children. However, traveling with a toddler requires a little extra planning and extra patience. Real speak: It requires nerves of steel and a sh**load of patience. Based on my past three weeks abroad, here are some things I would advise anyone traveling internationally with a toddler to keep in mind. (Don’t worry, you’ll probably still lose your mind.)

RELATED: 10 Worst Stories of Traveling With Kids

1. Jet Lag

You know all that time and effort and stress that you’ve put into sleep training your little tyke for the past couple years? When you travel, you pretty much just give all your sleep-training discipline and accomplishments the bird. It’s tough enough to reset your own clock, let alone that of an easily agitated, schedule-craving toddler’s. Those first couple days are not a pretty sight. And forget trying to do any type of touring or productive activity. Allow yourself a few days for adjustment to time zones, if you can.

2. Laundry

Somehow, it’s when you are away from home with only a suitcase full of clothes that food splats, other spills and general mishaps happen more often. The ketchup at restaurants seems spring-loaded, the marinara sauce is more red and evil, and the soy sauce pours with a vengeance. My toddler had gone through six outfits in three days. When in a foreign country, it’s not always so easy to just have the hotel fluff and fold or run to a nearby Laundromat. Make sure you locate laundry service when you arrive at your hotel, if it’s not available on site. Or better yet, stay at an apartment that has laundry in-house. THAT’S where it’s at, baby.

3. Tourist Attractions

Tourist attractions are hectic in any country. But somehow the crowds, queues and waiting seem a little more intense in the unfamiliar territory of a foreign country. Start out early to beat the crowds as best you can and to beat the heat of the afternoon. Be sensible about which attractions you take a short-attention spanned toddler. And also, consider the physical demands of each tourist spot. Maybe next time, I won’t opt to view the Big Buddha at the top of 270 narrow, steep steps in the middle of the day carrying the 28-pound wild animal that is my toddler.

4. Nap Time

This one is just a joke, with the jet lag and all. I rarely got it right. I would always plan to go back to the apartment for my daughter’s nap at the same time every day, but the plan never fell into place like I’d hoped it would. My daughter would either fall asleep on the train home only to wake up just as we stepped through the apartment door or she’d lie awake the entire two hours allotted for her nap, blowing spit bubbles and begging for juice only to fall asleep as soon as we headed back out for dinner. Sigh. We just had to be flexible and roll with the punches. And by “flexible” I mean, “not lose our shit too much,” and by “punches” I mean actual punches from our cranky, napless toddler.

Learn how to say “baby changing area,” “Do you have chicken nuggets?” and “I’m sorry.”

5. Tantrums in a Foreign Country

Turns out tantrums are universal. We visited a fair number of popular tourist sites, so we were in the company of other tourists traveling with little ones. I saw tantrums thrown by tired toddlers in several different languages. And I also saw parents lose it in just as many languages. Yeah, as much as I tried to follow my typical tantrum protocol, I had to be patient with this one. Traveling and adjusting to time differences is so hard on little ones. With the crowds and constant sweat, I had a couple tantrums myself. I had to be sure to carry plenty of tantrum diffusers: stickers, coloring supplies and any device capable of playing Beyoncé videos.

6. Culture Clash

Being in a different country means being in the midst of different cultural norms and customs. I was eager to encourage my kids to abide by these common practices in Hong Kong. Like taking off shoes at someone’s door, or offering and accepting something using two hands. Yeah, those are easy, and we tend to do the shoe one, anyway, being Asian. But some of the social practices are hard to follow. Like ... it’s hard to teach your kids to be “respectful” by not being confrontational when an a**hole cuts you in line to order food and starts to order over you. And the cashier proceeds to take his order because she doesn’t want to be confrontational. Turning heads with my rant about how rude they both were wasn’t very “customary” in Hong Kong, but to my kids it was common practice.

7. Public Transportation

Try to avoid riding the subway or mass transit system at rush hour. There’s nothing worse than sloshing back and forth holding a fidgety, fussy toddler who is inadvertently kicking strangers in the back because you are all packed in like sardines. Also, claustrophobia city, man. No one wants that.

8. Catch Phrases

Learn how to say certain phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. Learn how to say “baby changing area,” “Do you have chicken nuggets?” and “I’m sorry.”

RELATED: Have Kids, Will Travel

9. Exhaustion

Traveling with the kids is an amazing experience. But damn gurl, it is exhausting. I made the mistake of hitting it too hard the first few days, and the result of that was every single one of us catching a bug and ending up in bed with a fever and chills. And that was AWFUL. As much as I wanted to pack every day with activities and sightseeing and restaurants, it was imperative that we took a few days to just take it easy. On those days, I ran to the market and grabbed groceries for sandwiches and easy, kid-friendly food. We watched Chinese cartoons, read books and chilled out.

There will be high points and there will be low points, but traveling with a toddler will no doubt be an unforgettable experience.

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