Traveling Internationally with Kids

by The German Teacher

I love both of the travel posts Gen X Moms Blog has posted before:  Flying With a Baby and Flying With a Toddler and always read them before we travel, to refresh my memory on the excellent advice given there.

 Since we travel internationally with Rosebud and Superdude, primarily to the United States from Germany, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on traveling internationally with children.  While it may seem daunting to fly and travel internationally with children, particularly for intercontinental trips, it can be done! 

 An international trip can be a great learning experience for a child, and offers them the opportunity think differently about what they know and the world around them.  I was 11 when I first traveled abroad with my parents, to the United Kingdom.  That experience was very enriching for my younger sister and me.  We still talk about our memories from that vacation.

 Apart from traveling to the United States from Germany with our daughter Rosebud, we have also taken her to London, Venice, and eastern France.  Already I have seen how much these experiences have interested her, and we are eager to share more travel experiences with her and her baby brother.

 The first step in planning an international trip is to reread both the travel posts I listed above.  As many times as we’ve traveled back and forth across the pond with Rosebud (six completed intercontinental trips now), I always find myself needing to refresh my memory on the excellent suggestions for flying with young children.  The second step is to research your destination and carefully plan, so that you have a good variety of activities tailored to your family’s age range and interests.

 Our international travel often involves a visit to family and friends, so it is a little different from traveling for pleasure with children, but the advice I wish to share applies to both situations.

 1.  If you are US citizens and are travelling internationally, all children will need a passport, no matter how young they are.  Keep in mind that when applying for a US passport for a minor (under 16), both parents need to be present when signing the passport application for the child.  A child’s passport needs to be renewed every five years.  If your child cannot sign for himself, the parent needs to first print the child’s full name, then sign next to the child’s name and write down relationship with that child (i.e., mother, father, guardian).

 Make a copy or two of your passport photo and signature page, and keep the copies in a separate location from the passports themselves.  That way, if a passport goes missing, you still have the passport number, which can help in acquiring a new one.  You might even consider leaving a copy of your passport with a relative.  In your passport, there is a page to record contact information, too.  Definitely write down this information, including your home address, but do it in pencil so that you can change the information later on.

 US citizens can also register their trip using STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html.  In case there is some sort of travel emergency that arises during your travel, registering with STEP alerts the nearest embassy or consulate.  Then, the consulate or embassy can offer you and your family assistance, should it be needed.  If a passport were to go missing while you are abroad, registering with STEP can make it easier to acquire a new passport.

 2.  Plan ahead and be sure to include plenty of down time for you and your children during your stay abroad.  This is especially important if you are dealing with jetlag.  To help your children and yourself adjust to a time zone change more quickly, stick to their regular schedule when possible.  In other words, have meals and naptimes occur at roughly the same time as at home if possible.

 When you arrive at your destination, try to spend some time outside to play or take a walk.  I find getting a little fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways to overcome tiredness after flying.  And, of course, little ones need an opportunity to stretch their legs after a long flight and day of travel. 

 Make sure you and your children keep hydrated and eat lighter foods while traveling, too.  To keep well hydrated, you might want to carry a refillable water bottle to fill in the airport, once you get past security. 

 If you can have a rest day with few activities planned on your first day, this is especially beneficial for kids.  This way, the kids can settle in, relax and feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. 

 3.  Especially in European cities, child-friendly accommodations may not be available or easy to locate.  One alternative to consider, if you’ll be staying in one location for a time, is a vacation apartment or home.  Vacation apartments often include a kitchenette, which can help you save money and time.  Vacation apartments can be less costly than a hotel, depending on the length of your stay and the city.  

 Another option is to stay in hostel.  Many youth hostels offer family rooms.  If you want to keep down your travel costs, a hostel is usually less expensive than a hotel.  Hostels may not offer the same level of amenities as a hotel and you may not have the same level of privacy that a hotel offers, but on the other hand, hostels are a great way to meet other travelers.  This can be especially nice for children, particularly older ones.

 I hope that these tips I’ve shared are helpful and, if you’ve ever considered traveling abroad with your kids, will help you realize it is doable and well worth it.  Safe and happy travels, everyone!

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