Global Travel with a Toddler: Pre-Departure

This post is also available on my personal blog.

Global travel with a toddler presents tons of wonderful challenges no matter how far or near your destination may be. Whether dealing with a diaper blowout or a tired and angry tiny travel companion, there is never a shortage of unexpected situations just around the corner. Global travel with a toddler during a global pandemic is a whole other beast!

My partner is beginning a new job in Germany, so our family has been working on moving from our home in Japan for the last few months. From start to finish (I don’t think the process is actually finished yet…), the experience has tested our patience and resilience as a family like no other experience thus far.

This post is the first of four in a series in which I reflect on our recent experience moving from Japan to Germany as a family. In this post, I want to focus on a few challenges we faced while preparing to move from Tokyo to Nuremberg in March 2021 and offer some suggestions for anyone considering making a similar move as a family.

Preparing to Move

Once we decided to make the move from Japan to Germany, we began the process of planning. As with many families, we rely heavily on routine and our daily schedule to keep our toddler happy and our sanity intact, so we wanted the preparations to go as smoothly as possible without completely disrupting our daily lives.

The first challenge we faced began when we started packing and selling our belongings. Our toddler is three years old, so we decided that the crib/toddler bed we had been using would not make the move with us. This posed an interesting challenge because the bed was an item that our toddler used multiple times a day, and it would be tricky convincing him to sleep anywhere else.

We introduced the idea of moving to our toddler about a month before our planned departure, and we wanted to invite him to be a part of the process from the beginning. Since we needed to find a new home for the bed, we told our toddler that it was time to get a larger bed for him, and another little kid would use his old bed. We sold the bed online, and a few days before the new owners came to pick it up, we started looking at replacement kid beds online.

Our son had tons of questions, but he seemed to accept the changes. He helped take the bed apart and carry the pieces to the new owner’s car. We wanted to give him a sense of ownership over the process, even if he didn’t really have much control over the changes taking place. The transition from his old bed went as smoothly as it could, and he soon forgot about it with all of the larger changes and adjustments we were about to make in the next steps of the move.

Leaving our Apartment

About a week prior to our actual departure, we left our apartment and stayed in a hotel. This was the first major change after all of the packing and changes with our belongings. Our hotel was down the road from our apartment, so we didn’t experience a full change of setting just yet. However, we went from our moderately-sized apartment to a tiny hotel room overnight. Navigating the space presented a slew of new challenges for us, but a couple of things helped us through this period.

First, we tried to use the room as little as possible. Since coronavirus was a real concern, we didn’t want to spend much time in shared spaces in the hotel. We decided to spend as much time out and about the neighborhood as we could, socially distanced, of course. This didn’t differ a ton from our typical daily life, but our usual stomping grounds were too far away to frequent. We found ourselves walking to nearby parks, having picnic lunches, and just walking around exploring. This approach allowed us to not be cooped up in the hotel room, avoid contact with people indoors, and create opportunities for our toddler to use up some of his energy.

The other thing that helped us during this hotel limbo was what I like to refer to as tag-team parenting. Instead of spending the whole day together as a family, we would break up the day. We would spend the first part of the morning together, and then one parent would stay with our son while the other went off to run errands, relax, and recharge. This approach allowed us all to not get completely sick of each other while we shared such a tiny space in the hotel. While most effective for my family, one drawback of this approach is that there is little time for grown-ups to connect without a tiny human around. You have to find the best solutions for your family, but this strategy worked well for us.

Preparing to make an international move involves a lot of planning and changes, but with some patience and compassion, the preparations don’t have to be overwhelming. By involving our toddler in the planning and preparation phase of our move, he was able to take some ownership of the situation and participate in the process.

Looking Ahead

In the next post in this series, I will reflect on some challenges we faced while traveling from Japan to Germany, from long flights to navigating airports and visa mishaps.

Please feel free to connect with me here in the comments or on Instagram! I’d love to chat about your experience with global travel with a toddler or any questions you may have about our experience.

Crystal is an American living in Germany with her family. Instagram: @crwainstockwrites crystalrosewainstock.com