Have you found yourself dreaming of taking an international vacation, only to think, “That’s fine for after the kids are grown?” Why do we as moms think this way? Why not have these experiences with our children? International travel with kids is a great way to bond and enjoy making memories together, and with the right planning and foresight, it’s absolutely something you can tackle.
Before You Go
Preparation ahead of time is the key to a successful trip tackling international travel with kids, so start early. The most important thing to do is apply for your passports, if you don’t have valid ones, at least 4 months early. Make sure the passports will be valid for at least 6 months after your travel dates.
Once you have your passports, make two copies and keep on with you and one with a trusted family member, do the same with along with visa pages, credit cards and any other document you might need if you have an emergency. Likely, you won’t need this, but it will give you peace of mind as you head out.
Make sure you let your bank or credit card company know that you’re traveling overseas, so you have freedom to use your cards while you’re gone. Also, take more than one credit or debit card, because each bank has a different set of rules for how they work overseas.
Your kids may want to bring some toys with them, but you need to limit the amount of stuff you carry. A great compromise is to give them a small bag to put toys in that both you can easily manage, about the size of a small backpack or bag. Tell them they can bring whatever can fit into the bag. This will also help limit the risk of losing a treasured item while traveling.
Picking Your Destination
Having an enjoyable trip actually starts when you pick your destination! The more excited your kids are about the trip, the better your overall experience is going to be, so start talking early.
If your kids are old enough, let them help you select a destination. Then, hit the library for books about the location so they can see some photos and read about the things they’ll see and do. Talk about the experiences you’ll have, look at websites, make a “to see” list and listen to your kids’ ideas about what they want to see and do. Consider locations that have things both the kids and the adults want to see and experience.
You can also build excitement by studying some of the language, if applicable. Learning basic phrases like “where is the bathroom” or “can I have some water” will help the kids feel more at home when you arrive. It’s also a fun family activity. Consider purchasing a language book or app for travelers to make your communication with locals part of the adventure.
On the Flight
A long plane ride can be your biggest challenge since it starts your trip you want it to go off without a hitch. The key is to know that your kids have short attention spans, and they are going to get bored easily without the right tools. Pack a bag for each child with new toys, stickers, books, coloring supplies, and other quiet activities they can do in their seat. Don’t allow them to open all of the new items at once. Have them play with an item for a while before opening the next one.
If your kids have tablets, load them with some new apps. This will give them a break when they need something other than a toy or book to occupy their time. Consider paying for a few kid-friendly movies on the in-flight entertainment as well. Also, try to bring a comfort item that will encourage your kids to sleep on the flight.
If your kids don’t fly frequently, talk through the security check process. It’s a bit intimidating for little ones, but if they know what to expect then it can be much easier to handle. Make sure that they know they’ll need to release their stuffed animals and carry-on bag for just a few moments, but that they will be returned quickly as soon as they walk through the special “gate.”
Finally, pack some healthy in-flight snacks. Yes, your airline will feed you dinner, but you need to keep the kids fed during the times between meals and snacks. Full kids are happy kids!
Once You Arrive
Have you ever experienced jet lag? It’s an unfortunate side effect of international travel, but you can have a plan to deal with it as simply as possible.
Try to book an overnight flight when traveling, and encourage sleep on the plane. After arrival, take a walk around your hotel to get your body adjusted to daylight in the new time zone. Try to plan an outdoor activity for the first day to keep everyone occupied. Then, eat an early dinner and try to stay up as long as everyone can, but know that you’ll be going to bed a bit earlier. The next morning you’ll awake at a fairly normal morning time, but you’ll want to plan a light day. After about 2 days you should find that your kids have adjusted and you’re ready to tackle your tours and your more heavy sightseeing activities.
Making happy family memories starts with happy kids, and sleep and food are essential to this. If you must have some late nights, build them into your schedule on days you can sleep in or take a nap the next day. Keep your schedule flexible so you aren’t rushing the children around too much. Keep snacks on hand to curb the grumps when they get hungry and it isn’t time for the next meal. Choose restaurants that serve food your kids will be willing to eat. Schedule in some down time each day.
As you plan your itinerary, get your kids’ input, and make sure the trip includes at least one highlight for every member of the family. If one child loves museums, but another prefers outdoor adventures, you can do both, as long as you plan your trip well. Don’t forget mom and dad too! This is a family vacation, and everyone can enjoy something that other members of the family enjoy for a bit. Remember that you won’t see everything, and that’s ok! It’s far better to have happy memories than to pack your days full for the sake of “doing it all.” Your kids will treasure the things they do see, especially if they get to help select your locations.
Before you head out to an attraction, go online to check the website. If you find that the local art museum is closed for renovations, you can save time and frustration by choosing a different attraction before hitting the streets.
Finally, be creative in what you schedule to see and do. While you’re “to do” list may be full of natural attractions and museums, don’t be afraid to head to the local park. Interacting with local kids can be a highlight and a great cultural experience for your own children and everyone can use the chance to burn off a little energy! Consider asking your concierge what some favorite local attractions outside of the tourist hot spots are, and take their advice.
International travel with kids may seem daunting, but with the right plan it’s absolutely manageable. Take some time to plan ahead and give your kids the adventure of seeing the world! After making your plan, go on your trip, live in the moment and enjoy seeing the world with the people you love most.