Five Biggest Concerns for Child’s First TransAtlantic Trip

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We are in the final countdown for my four year old’s first trip to Europe and I am both Christmas-Eve-Style excited and First-Day-of-School nervous.  We intentionally waited until she was around this age to go to Europe as heading across the ocean with a toddler or infant didn’t sound like my style of fun, especially since there were great adventures we could have with her closer to home.  I know that is blasphemy to some family travelers who happily put their six week old infant in a carrier and start jet-setting the globe (and more power to you if that’s your thing!), but we preferred to wait until our daughter was fully potty trained, fully conversational, could aid in the planning, can pull her own bag, doesn’t need a stroller, had a longer attention span, and was actually excited about going before tackling a journey this big.  I’m sure some think a 4.5 years old is still too young to head to Europe, but (I think) it’s the right age for us.

I’ll share all about the experience after we get back, but I wanted to document some of the things I am most worried about as we go into the trip.  I think it will be interesting to see if those were indeed the biggest hurdles, or if maybe the biggest challenge was one I didn’t even think of in advance.

Worry #1: She won’t sleep on the TransAtlantic flight, or at least won’t sleep anywhere near enough

The flight we are currently on leaves a bit early in the afternoon for me to trust she will go to sleep shortly after take-off/meal service.  I would have loved to book a later evening flight that was closer to her bedtime, but none of those had confirmable upgrade space at booking, so I had to take what I could get.


I’ve been talking to her extensively about sleeping on the plane, and will continue to strongly encourage that on the flight.  I am also going to try and do a free same day change to a later flight at T-24 hours if there is confirmable upgrade space on one of those flights.  However, this is not looking overly great at the moment.


Sleeping on our late night flight to Vancouver

Worry #2:  She’s too exhausted to function normally – especially during our connection at Heathrow after flying overnight (see worry #1). 

Just like any of us, landing very early in the morning in Europe (really the middle of the night back home) can be a bleary-eyed experience, but I’m going to be doing it solo with a four year old.  If she is too tired to function, it’s going to be very hard getting through Heathrow and killing time until our connection to Paris.  I’m barely going to be able to manage her bag, and certainly won’t be able to carry her if she is tired.  She will have to walk, and that may get interesting if she doesn’t get at least a decent amount of sleep on the plane.


There is no perfect solution to this, but we have used my United Premier Global Upgrades to upgrade to lie-flat business class seats to help her (and me) get as much sleep as possible on the plane.  Depending on how long our connection is at Heathrow (with is dependent on the success of a potential same day change to a different United flight) we may get a room at an airport hotel for a bit to take a nap and/or find a place within the airport to rest.  I’ve printed out info on the children’s play areas and lounges in Heathrow that have rest areas (several are available via Priority Pass Select that comes with Amex Plat cards), but most seem to be in terminals we won’t be transiting, so that may be of limited help.  I’m going to make sure I can manage both of our bags so all she has to do is walk.  We have had some experience with this during flights back from Hawaii and recently to Vancouver, so she has a pretty good track record rallying when she has to, but I am a little concerned about how this will play out if she is totally zonked.

Sleeping in BusinessFirst

Hope to see her passed out on the plane!

Worry #3: Jet lag hits her hard and we aren’t able to do some of the things we hope to do in the first couple days

Our trip only allows for four days on the ground, so if we waste much of the first day or two dealing with jet lag then we will have lost much of the trip.


Kids are resilient, and I’m pretty sure we will be on relatively equal footing dealing with the time change.  I’m not making any firm reservations for things the first 24 -36 hours so we can just go with the flow a bit and head out for things when we are ready.  Since we have waited until she is a bit older, she is able to power through being a bit tired sometimes, so I’m not near as concerned as I would be if she was in the 2-3 year old range and really needed more structure and naps.

Worry #4: I’ll get us lost and/or confused due to not knowing Paris and not knowing French at the same time my kid gets impatient, tired, needs to use the restroom, is starving, etc.

When it is just me, or just my husband and me on a trip, I’m not as worried about getting us lost or confused as I know we will eventually sort it out.  However, flying solo with my four year old makes that all a bit more worrisome since I have zero first-hand knowledge of Paris.


I have mapped out many of our destinations in more detail than I normally would, and have a couple of helpful apps downloaded to my phone (like a Metro app, a translation app, and Yelp to quickly assess restaurants/cafes).  I also will not hesitate to use Uber or a cab if we just need an easy way to get where we are going.  We will also be meeting up with my mom and aunt for portions of the trip, so three heads can be better than one, especially if you are trying to find your way with a potentially impatient four year old.  I’ll also just be honest with her that it is an adventure and we have to figure it out together.  We have both been practicing French together via a free app, so she totally understands I don’t know very much French!

Worry #5: She’ll hate the food and not eat anything but junk

She doesn’t just stick to foods like french fries, macaroni and cheese, and chicken tenders back home, but when she is tired her eating does become less adventurous and less experimental.


Let them eat cake.  Or bread.  Or eggs.  Or whatever.  I am a bit concerned about us eating in some joints that don’t really specialize in foods she loves (not to mention that I may not even be sure what everything on the menu is), but ultimately my plan is to just not worry about her diet too much for the few days we are there.  If there are a few meals where she just nibbles on bread she won’t die.  I don’t want her to eat so much junk she feels sick, but a few off-balanced meals is okay.  Heck, I’m sure I’ll have a few off-balanced meals!  I’ll be sure to hit a grocery store to get a couple healthy-ish options in her if all else fails.

These are the five things I am most worried about as we go into this big adventure, with some of them being of more concern than others.  I’ve flown so much with my daughter I’ve long since lost count of our flights, but every trip is different and presents its own challenges.

My excitement about having another awesome adventure with my daughter way outweighs the fears/concerns, but it doesn’t totally erase them.

Travel Kid Three Hawaii

My travel buddy and I on a girls trip to Hawaii last summer

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  1. One of the best things you can do with a picky eater is go to the many crepe stands in paris (my favorite is in Odeon right near metro and statue Danton (turn left and go up street 30’feet) — it’s cheap, hot, messy and fun (the oof, jambon avec fromage is perfect for kids) as is the Nutella avec banana

  2. May I recommend the Jardin D’Acclimatation? It’s a modest kid’s park / amusement park / outdoor zoo in the Bois de Boulogne on the edge of the city, easily reachable by Metro. For me it’s a quintessentially Parisian place and there should be plenty to do there for someone in the 4 to 5 year old range. It won’t rock your adult world but when I was a kid it was my favorite place to spend a weekend afternoon.
    There is a Guignol show at the Jardin D’Acclimatation but if you don’t make it there do make a point of taking your daughter to one somewhere else. There’s one in the Champ de Mars, very close to the Eiffel Tower. (Guignol are slapstick puppet shows, even in French they’re very entertaining and, again, very French).
    For food, the croque monsieur (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich) should be very widely available and sounds like it’s well within your daughter’s comfort level.

  3. I travelled when I was 18 months old and I travelled with my children when they were similar ages. Two comments:

    Go non-stop. Do not even think about connecting. And there’s no need for business class: economy’s more than adequate for little ones. Not only that but your near neighbors will be more tolerant of any little “scenes” that might occur.

    Kids are resilient and more sensible about food than we often realise. Don’t make a big thing of the differences and your worries. Instead make a game of being French for your trip.

    And a final thought. Why on earth such a short trip? That is pushing it even for an adult.

  4. Kids are amazing and will always surprise you. We did all the prep as you did, but don’t worry so much. Your stress and anxiety travels right down to the little ones. A calm and relaxed mom makes the flight so easy. Our kids were around the same age and slept a little, ate a little, but acclimated far quicker than we could.

  5. Michael, I’m sure both of us will love the crepe stands. Mmmmmmm.
    Larry, that is very much on our list. Looking forward to it!
    NB, sadly there isn’t much in the way of non-stop from Houston to Paris. I’m not too worried about her causing a scene on the plane anymore at this age, but would certainly have been a concern at 18 months. She also will almost certainly sleep better laying down than sitting up, but totally agree on making a game of food and the French adventure! Four days is all we had available right now and we wanted to overlap with my family, so we went for it.
    Matt, totally agree. These are things I am trouble shooting in my head, not things I am stressing over outwardly in front of my kid. 😉

  6. Do check the schedule of the Jardin d’Acclimatation as many of the rides will probably only operate on restricted days outside of the main season (visiting on a weekend would be safest although the most crowded).
    If you don’t have the option of a direct flight, I’d probably choose to have the connection on this end if possible (fly to Chicago or the east coast, then a later flight TATL). Still, flying in fancy-pants class you’ll probably do great!

  7. Also a few markets that might be of interest: the bird market on the Ile de lat Cite (Sunday only, the other days it’s flowers) and a couple of large flea markets at the end of various Metro lines.
    Are you really spending one of only four days in Paris at Euro Disney? Quel dommage! Well, A chacune son gout.

  8. These are many of my same worries, and we are going on our first transpacific trip with our almost 5 year old in May. Although we’ve travelled a lot with her domestically, I’m glad we’ve waited until this age to do a really major international trip. Wishing you lots of success and look forward to the post-trip advice that I can hopefully put to good use in a month or two!

  9. I always have a few Kind bars in my bag for my 3.5 and 5 year old boys (who are ALWAYS hungry!). I like the low-sugar ones like Maple Glazed Pecans and Sea Salt or Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan – even though the ingredients sound fancy, my kids love them. Because they have whole nuts, it takes them quite a while to finish one, which gives me time to figure out what/where the next real meal will be.

    Just make sure you have a water bottle handy – they do make you thirsty!

    Bon Voyage!

  10. 1. She’ll sleep plenty. It might help to stay up later than normal the night before you leave.

    2&3. She’ll be fine at least until you sit down somewhere. Flag down a cart in the airport if you need one. So if you are going to do a boat ride or anything like that, do it the first day so that she can either enjoy it or use the time to sleep off jet lag without holding you back. Our boys are 10 and 12, slept fine on the way over but still slept nearly the entire Paris river ‘cruise’ and then never looked back.

    4. Get lost, enjoy seeing something that’s not in the guidebooks! It may be different when Paris is crawling with tourists in the summer, but we found people to be very helpful in November.

    5. Let her eat. Pack junk food. Lots of it. It’s 4 days.

  11. And please remember that the supermarkets (Monoprix) are great: just go and pack a picnic. You can get healthy and a bunch of treats and the cost is negligible and makes for a really fun picnic. Evian is 70 cents for a liter and all cool Parisians carry a bottle.

    Really try to go to a bistro and sit at the window. So much fun to people watch.

    Finally, I truly recommend taking the buses over metro. So much better for a kid to see Paris instead of being crushed inside a tube.

  12. So I am one of the crazy ones who travels overseas with our kids pretty much when they are born, and have done many overseas flights with them (6 and 3 years now) but I think waiting til 4.5 makes sense if you want easier travel, for sure.

    I assume you are flying into Terminal 5 at Heathrow? There are a few play areas there, and we have also found if you walk to either end, at the very end, the gates are usually empty and you can set up shop with ipads/laptops/whatever and have lots of quiet space. But near gate A7 is a soft play area as well.

    Would you consider bringing a cheap umbrella stroller? I know at 4.5 it seems like she is too old for one but even my just turned 6 year old will sit in his sisters umbrella stroller after a red eye flight to Europe. You could always buy a super cheap one just for the travel over, and use it when you land in Heathrow, and then leave it in the airport. It may be worth the $30 or whatever it costs.

    Jet lag is always easier for our kids flying East than West, because they just stay up later than normal but sleep in. We spend as much time as possible outside in the sun, and I would follow her cues. Find a playground when you get to Paris and let her run around in the sun! Drink lots of water too.

    Does she eat peanut butter? We bring the snack packs of PB with us for our very picky son, because no matter where you go you can find bread, and you can always make pb sandwiches, which at least gives her some protein. We travel with granola bars too, to at least cut down on the chip/sweets that they seem to gravitate to in a new country. But we also let most of our ‘rules’ fly out the window when we travel, so electronics and junk food are par for the course. We try to balance it with fruit when possible 😉

    And have fun! What a great experience!

  13. We have taken our 3 year old to Europe every year since he was born and this summer we will be doing it with a 3 week old as well. Everytime (except for this summer) we had connection in Europe and Everytime we had no problem. This past summer I insisted that we limit our family to one carryon…. For the entire family. This included my wife’s purse. Everything that we carried on (with the exception of the car seat) had to fit into one rollaboard bag.

    As you can imagine this was a very unpopular suggestion with my wife. I promised her that if it didn’t work we could have more carryon bags on the way back. It was actually a huge success. When we needed to walk long distances or spend time in the lounge we had one place to put everything. It made everything so much better, now my wife insists this is the only way to travel with kids, even domestically.

  14. Gardens gardens gardens! Just came back with my five year old and sailing a sailboat with a stick was just the thing after busy day. Fodgen Paris metro subway guide app was invaluable too…worked offline on my smart phone. Tres simple. Make a late night one night to see the tower sparkle…that was a big hit.

  15. Even though your daughter seems more independent than my 4yo son, a stroller might be useful. I still travel with it, but then I also did trans-Pacific flights by myself with a then 3yo & a 6 month old. On our last trip, which was basically a 24h journey from Taipei to Sydney via Hanoi & Saigon, the stroller was invaluable when my son got too tired to walk. And when we arrived at SYD & the stroller wasn’t at the gate, the airport staff offered us a ride on the cart, which he loved & was a little pick up. When I’ve been flexible, I find my kids are more accommodating, too. I’m sure C will be great!

  16. Great article and love the comments from readers as well. We are planning for a family holiday in Europe this Fall with our 3+ year old daughter.

  17. Not sure if it is an option for you, but I swear by the daytime flight to the UK, especially when traveling with little ones. That is the only way we survived our trip to the UK with my toddler. We were there for 2+ weeks so we had lots of time to recover, but I think we adjusted in 1-2 days since the timing of the flight forced us into the new schedule. I’ve had other trips to Europe where I have taken the red-eye and it has taken me 5-7 days to adjust… ugh. Could you take the daytime flight, spend the night in London, and then take the train in the morning to Paris once you are rested? The Eurostar is lots of fun for the little ones. I would also recommend a stroller as the airports can have long walks and there may be times you just want to push her along and keep going. Anyway, best of luck with your trip. I am sure Little C will do great, my first trip to Paris was at 4 years old as well!

  18. The most important thing is to have fun. It looks like you’ve traveled with you kid a ton, so this should be no big thing. Kids feed off our stress, so attempt to be as relaxed as possible.

    Agree w/ others if you will walk a lot a stroller maybe helpful. Also in our longhaul trips w/ our now 2 1/2 yo we packed as light as we could in our carryons, except for her stuff. Just makes it easier, when you have a kid and their stuff to lug if you have the minimum.

  19. Ditto on the umbrella stroller – from about 3 to 6, the only time we used the umbrella stroller was on trips – particularly in airports after long flights. Not only did it help physically when my daughter was tired, it was also something familiar. She is 8 now, and still wishes she could have a stroller in an airport! She is a flight veteran – first TPAC at 10 weeks, TPAC at least 6 times, Europe the same and Asia twice ( am I a bad parent for losing count?!)

  20. I offered my kids 1 euro for sleeping on each flight. They accepted the challenge with pride and didn’t let me forget. Bring a stroller if you haven’t left yet. I wish we had one for my very petite 7 year old, but had already ditched mine. We r heading home from Dublin airport in 5 hours and spent 3 days in Paris.

  21. These are some great tips for my sister. Planning on a Transpacific trip here in the fall and i’ll definitely be passing this along!

  22. I am taking twin four year old girls From DFW-FRA this summer – but we are staying for 6 weeks – it’ll be all of our first transatlantic trips!

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