Congratulations! Your family is heading out of the country for the next family vacation. You may have waited years for this moment to arrive, patiently watching the kids grow old enough to appreciate a special Europe vacation. You probably saved up for it by sacrificing other items that could have made your day-to-day life easier, or by limiting the budget on previous family vacations. You may have joined an organized tour, or be planning it all yourself.
Whatever the situation, now that you're ready to make that big trip as one happy family unit, don't forget a few last minute tips that will help guarantee, well, if not the trip of a lifetime, at least the first of many dream adventures you'll enjoy together.
10 Tips for Overseas Travel that I Urge You to Consider
1. Think like a parent before you go.
Just because you're able to pull off this fantastic adventure doesn't mean your work is done. You're still in charge, and have a responsibility to dicuss topics like school work, reading lists, use of electronic devices, junk food, discipline, behavior on the plane, etc. so everyone knows what to expect.
2. Be cautious about travel documents.
Depending on your destination, you may need visas and other travel documents (such as notarized consent to travel letters if you're a single parent) for every family member. In addition to passports, make copies of all e-tickets, birth certificates, ATM account info and tuck them into a safe place. Travel insurance is a great idea for many destinations.
3. Determine your mode of transport in advance.
While the internet has made last minute planning easy, I don't recommend you wing it overseas when you're with the kids. They'll really want to know if you're changing countries by plane, train or ferry. If you book your tickets and pinpoint certain travel dates in advance (a real money-saving technique), it's easier to hang loose the rest of the trip. An organized tour eliminates this concern, but preparing the kids for each leg of the trip is still worthwhile.
4. Book hotels in advance.
If you're traveling in Europe in summer, for example, it's very difficult to find a hotel room that sleeps more than three and, adjoining rooms, when they exist, are super expensive. Commit in advance to a few budget places such as family rooms in hostels, countryside villas, full-sevice campgrounds or island cottages so you're guaranteed a place the kids can lay their heads.
5. Stay Healthy.
Following the motto, "Have Kids, Still Travel!" we know that long distance overland treks are wearing on everyone. Additionally, constant fatigue and exposure to different cultures can lead to stomach problems and illnesses. In the trip planning stages, consult the CDC, WHO or the pediatrician about your destination's likely illnesses. If you don't want to carry a doctor's kit, at the very least, insist that everyone in the family use handwipes or disinfectant gel regularly.
6. Pack Lightly.
In this day and age, you can buy everything everywhere. That goes for diapers, batteries, books and socks. Hand wash clothes as soon as you arrive at a destination. Insist that everyone in the family packs lightly so they can be responsible for their own carry-on luggage whether you're on a train, plane or automobile journey.
7. Bestow allowance.
We know you saved up for this trip, and you may have asked the kids to put away pennies, too. Nonetheless, allowance — no matter what the age of your children — is a pain point in the parent-child relationship. Be sure to allot spending money to each child, and don't judge how they spend it. That toy doubledecker bus may forever mean more than waiting outside Buckingham Palace for the guards to change.
8. Get kids involved in the research.
This is sound practice for any family vacation, but when you're traveling abroad it's even more important. Share which cultures you'll encounter and let kids do online research, try new foods at ethnic restaurants, shop iTunes for world music, or use Netflix to find films made at your intended destination. It all adds to the anticipation, and making kids stakeholders in the success of your trip will pay off.
9. Give everyone time to connect to friends back home.
Don't be a stranger just because you're on the road. Travelers no longer have to wait at the post office to call home; cybercafes, smartphones and local calling cards enable instant communication. Sharing the adventure with friends will help keep your teens, especially, engaged in the trip and ready to see and do more.
10. Cut your plans in half.
You don't have to start the itinerary planning by assuming you'll only get to half the museums included on your multi-attraction pass. But I guarantee you — and the whole family — will realize that truth eventually. Please don't overplan, don't force the kids to wake up early every day, don't miss baby's naps; don't insist on sightseeing 7 days per week.
Relax. Children and serendipity is the best combination we know.
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