Ask any seasoned traveler for their best advice for conquering international travel with kids and they are more than likely to give you the “why the heck would you do that?” face and promptly reply….DON’T! Families with children are jet setting more now than ever before, and with the right preparation, planning and a few creative tricks up their sleeves, parents can pull off awesome international travel with kids in tow and with relative ease.
8 Tips for International Travel with Kids
Introduce Them to the Destination
Parents generally come from two schools of thought when it comes to telling their kids about travel plans. They either make it known weeks, sometimes months, before in an announcement that is usually accompanied by balloons and confetti or they are the parents who tell the children to pack a bag the night before. Neither way is right or better, but when it comes to international travel with kids the last thing you want to spring on them is an unfamiliar place.
A few weeks before traveling let the kids know where they will be going. Show them on a map and let them see the path they will be traveling. Talk about how long the trip will take in terms they will understand. Show them pictures of the culture and people that they are likely to see when they arrive. This may help the children to not be fearful of the people and places they will see.
Try visiting the Travel Channel’s website, under the destinations section and choose the area you will be traveling to. There you will find all of their videos and shows, some snippets and some full episodes about that destination. Also try games or books, such as the series of books called Kids Travel Guide.
These books are geared toward the younger reading traveler and are filled with fun facts and tips about the region they will be visiting. Mission (insert destination here) book series is also great for little ones and this series of books has a scavenger hunt theme about the destination. Both will keep the little ones engaged and occupied for hours.
Preplan for Your Picky Eater
The last thing any parent wants is to be on a 10-day adventure in Asia with a kid who refuses to eat! Your travel plans will immerse you into a specific culture and way of life and food is a big part of that. Keep in mind that the options for food choices will be different if you are staying near the locals in a short-term rental in Cali, Colombia versus being at a large hotel chain resort property in Cancun.
If your child is already an adventurous eater, AWESOME! If not, don’t be afraid to take along packaged foods from home. Mac and cheese and mashed potato cups travel well in luggage.
Try to Keep Routines as Normal as Possible
Picking up and trekking across time zones is hard on the most well-traveled adult, so imagine that disruption on your little guy or gals’ body. If it is at all possible, try to arrange your travel late night or overnight. This will allow them to sleep on long international flights and arrive at your destination well rested and ready for adventure.
If your children still take naps, fight the urge to skip their naps during your trip. Kiddos need naps for a reason, there is only so much that their little bodies can take before they are just completely worn out. Allow them the time they need to rest and reset their body clocks. Trust that squeezing in that extra activity in place of their nap will have a higher chance of being the scene of an epic meltdown rather than the Instagram picture worthy moment you had imagined.
Don’t Overschedule Your Days
International travel with children is already a challenge, don’t add layers to those complications by over scheduling. There is nothing wrong with having a plan in place, but if you have an excel spreadsheet planned to the minute for the entire day you’re doing way too much. Think about how hard it is to stay on time when it’s just school, soccer practice and tutoring. Don’t add those additional pressures to yourself or your family. Additionally, consider travel insurance in case something doesn’t go as planned.
Resist the Urge to be “Totally Prepared”
In parent speak be prepared usually means pack everything in preparation anything. While it’s always a good idea to have some basic just in case items packed in your luggage (i.e. Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, commonly used medications like Tylenol or Motrin), it’s not necessary to bring your entire nursery or bathroom cabinet. Think hard about taking the regular stroller and the light weight stroller, the pack and play and the carrier, the bassinet and the activity gym.
While you most definitely want to have what you need to function, try to scale those creature comforts down for travel. Consider co-sleeping with baby even if it’s just for the trip if it means not having to lug the play yard across the globe. Most hotels have some basic baby items available for use, but don’t forget that no matter where you are traveling it is guaranteed that your destination has some kind of baby/child population and items for sale as well. Consider buying a low-cost item upon arrival if it makes traveling easier.
Include Your Traveling Children in Your Adventure Planning
Give them choices about what to see and do with their days while away. You may think your submarine obsessed 7-year-old would love to tour that old decommissioned sub but given the choice of that tour or trip to the aquarium they may choose the latter. International travel with kids can often surprise parents with their ever-changing wants and interests. Let them help guide their adventure.
No one knows the number of hours you spent planning and researching all the places to go, people to see and things to do at your destination, but trust that they really do appreciate it, even if they don’t say it or show it. With that being said, allow for some flexibility in your plans. Adventures sometimes take you off the beaten path as well as off of the planned itinerary. If the kids want to continue exploring at the current destination rather than pack it up and move to the next, that’s ok. If they would rather forego tomorrows adventure for a lazy day at the pool, that’s ok too.
Last but not Least… HAVE FUN!
Relax, unwind, laugh, play and create memories with your family. Travelling with children is stressful enough in and of itself, international travel with kids can compound the level of that stress tenfold. Don’t let that stress take over the trip. You and the children will both remember this trip forever so make sure that when those memories come up 20 years from now that they invoke feelings of joy, happiness and good old family time!
As parents we all can fall in love with the idea of taking our kids on the most fabulous, jet setting vacations. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of international travel with kids while enjoying the most stress free, relaxing vacations and posting the most envious Instagram worthy pictures of those happy adventures, but the reality of it is traveling internationally with kids can be hard work. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes, try to think of things that made you happy as a kid on vacation and last but not least…. Expect the unexpected and take it all in stride.
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