International Travel with Children

By Kate Riley March 7, 2016

Hi friends! Today I’d like to share a few takeaways from our international travel a few months ago, the family globetrotted to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia for 3+ weeks and had a blast. Traveling for more than a week and with kids can be challenging, you’ve got to plan ahead! Times have changed so much from my two month backpacking trip through Europe in my early twenties when it was just me but I had to carry film, maps and a guide book, there was no technology back in the dark ages :)

My children are 10 and 12 and that’s a really good age for taking them abroad. I recall the days of strollers, diapers, naps and car seats and I know this trip would not have been as enjoyable had the trip required all that extra gear. I’m a big believer in waiting until they’re older when attempting long trips to far away places because they can carry their own stuff. They can also enjoy the trip, remember it and learn from it. When they were toddlers we kept our travel close to home for years then started traveling again just a few years ago when they were 7 and 9 (from California to Montreal and Québec City). Our next big jet setting adventure will be Europe in 2017.

Passports & Immunizations. This one is obvious but make sure the kids have passports up to date since US passports expire every five years for children under 18. Many countries require that the passports must not expire for several months after your travel dates as well so factor that time in. I also scanned our passports and emailed myself a copy just in case they were lost and we needed to replace them.

Check the travel bureau to see if the country recommends immunizations, and don’t forget to research if the country you’re visiting also requires a travel visa. We found out last minute that Americans need a visa to travel to Australia but thankfully we we’re able to get them within an hour. We felt foolish not knowing that information months in advance so take my advice and check to see if you need a visa before you go!

Pack Ultra Light. Our strategy was one rolling carry on and one backpack per person, that’s it. My kids had to bring independent study homework with them, they also had a book and their school issued iPad they carried in their backpack. Matt and I also had only one carry on piece of luggage and one backpack each. We left a little room it them to pick up souvenirs but I was proud of how lightly we traveled, it helped us quickly move from place to place without spending hours repacking everything.

 international travel kids

Plan Ahead for Laundry. We did pack light and carried only a few pairs of shoes and outfits, but one of the smartest things we did was stay in accommodations every 4 or 5 days with a washer and dryer in the unit. That way I could run a few loads before we repacked and departed to a new destination. Below is a picture from our hotel in Lake Wanaka in New Zealand that offered a washer dryer combo in the bathroom.

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 hotel with washer dryer

Have a Tech Bag. For travel to three countries we needed an adapter, we also rented cars in New Zealand and Australia so a car charger came in handy. I brought my travel camera instead of my bulky DSLR. Another VERY important tool I brought with us were two portable battery rechargers for tablets and phones, they were key! I carried them in my backpack along with headphones and charging cords so we could keep the phones charged for all day exploring and picture taking.

 technology travel

Have an International Data Plan. Everyone has a smart phone these days but traveling out of the country requires you let your service provider know ahead of time you need an international data plan. To save data while traveling we turned off automatic data roaming and only turned it on when we needed to look up something on a map, that helped the limited data plan last for 3 weeks.

Carry an Itinerary. We had so many flights to catch, hotels to check into, and cars to rent, it would have been crazy to try to remember them all or refer to individual email confirmations, so we had one big list with all the details saved on our phone and a hard copy so we knew when we had to be where, which airline, which rental car company, etc.

Miniature Everything.  My theory was if I really needed something I could just buy it there so just I just brought the bare minimum… a small first aid kit, a clutch that doubled as a jewelry holder, travel size medicines and toiletries, etc. I think I bought sunscreen once but other than that we actually made it through three weeks with miniature travel cases, small sampling below.

 miniature stuff

Extra Fabric Bags. I brought a cute backpack on the trip and would use it for every daily adventure, I’d fill it with water bottles, sunscreen, phone chargers, my camera and wallet. Equally essential were two rollup fabric bags that I used for everything from beach towels to carrying groceries or separating dirty laundry. They roll up in a tight little ball when not in use and were extremely handy to have during the trip.

 fold up bags

Have the Safety Talk. When relevant we reminded the kids about beach dangers and pool rules and what to do if you get separated or lost. Having that conversation kept them aware, on their toes, and following the rules.

Limit Eating Out. We stayed in many places with a small kitchen, that saved time and money on a meal because we could grab eggs and pancake mix and fruit at a local store in the evening on arrival, then make a quick breakfast in the morning in the unit and be on our way. For lunch we’d typically pop into a cafe or store to grab a few things to nibble on, we’d carry snacks with us during the day, and then after a day of adventure we’d pick a place to sit down for dinner, that approach worked well.

Balance Adventure with Relaxation. There was a lot we wanted to see with the limited days we had but there were a few times that we decided to sleep in or spend time by the pool or an afternoon at the beach instead of spending all day running around and that really helped keep us sane having equal parts relaxation time as well as adventure time. We had a really enjoyable trip and made so many memories, ones I’m sure they’ll recall with great fondness when they’re older.

 family gold coast

A few additional notes…

Consider booking attractions ahead. Many adventures we’d book a day or two in advance but several we booked weeks in advance (like the animal encounters at the Australia Zoo). If there is something you absolutely don’t want to miss make sure you’ve got tickets ahead of time.

Notify credit card companies where you’re traveling to avoid having your card frozen when you need to use it!

And also prepare for jetlag. When we flew from California to Fiji it was a red eye flight so we slept on the plane as much as we could and when we arrived it was early morning so it wasn’t bad. On the way back it was harder since we flew during the day then into the night and when we arrived it was morning in California so we had to stay up as much as possible that day to get back on pacific standard time. It took a few days to feel normal again but we did recover.

 

So fellow jetsetters, what about you? What are your tips for international travel or extended trips? How to do entertain your kids while traveling on planes, trains, and automobiles?

25 comments

  1. HI Kate I ejoyed your post and have a question for you about your travel camera. We still have a Nikon D-90, but is too big to take when travelling lightly, so could you kindly share what your travel camera is? Thanks.

  2. It sounds like everybody had a wonderful vacation! As parents to 5 kids we try to do some international travel mixed in with domestic travel. In May of 2015 we took the kids out of school for 10 days in May (BEST time to go) to do the Zion, Bryce, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, etc route). Two years prior we did France for 10 days. Next trip will be in 2017 and will either be Greece or Italy.
    I am a NP and we often refer to the CDC website for vaccinations update both for kids and international travel. You can just put in your destination (s) and it will come back with recommendations for vaccines. Also: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/americans-traveling-abroad.html is a great resource to check to see if your country requires a visa.
    Love your blog!!

  3. Kate – could you please share where those great fabric bags are from? Great idea! Thanks in advance!

  4. We haven’t traveled very far with our kids yet (the youngest is 6) but we feel similarly about waiting until they are old enough it is less stressful to travel, and they can also fully enjoy things! This was very helpful, for when we do though!

  5. I do a good bit of business travel. Here’s my tip for keeping track of flights, hotel and car reservations. Enter the details from each email confirmation in a calendar event on the appropriate day. It will be easy to find and open the relevant details on your smart phone. For me, this is more convenient than a single document.

  6. Kate, what an organized mind you have, I need to take notes since my family and I have been globe trotters mostly by need not pleasure… I come from Romania, Eastern Europe, my hubby is Colombian and we both went to grad school Switzerland. Then our jobs took us to Berkeley, CA for two years and now we moved again near Chicago, Illinois so whenever we want to see our families, we must travel thousand of miles and I have to say that traveling with a baby ( my daughter is now 4) on such long distances is NO FUN. My daughter was 6 months old when we first travelled with her from Switzerland to Colombia, and I still have nightmares about it!

  7. We are leaving on our 4th international trip with our kids in a few weeks. They are now 13 & 17, and, in many ways, are more flexible travelers than their parents! Every family dynamic is different, but don’t underestimate your children’s abilities to handle a long-distance adventure. If they can get on a plane to fly to Disney, they can travel elsewhere!!! I can second much of what Kate has said: pack light and make each child responsible for their own stuff; limit one roller bag and one carry-on for each person; just pay to ship it – e.g. if you purchase a handbag in Europe or pottery in Portugal, have it shipped home – by the time you arrive home, that 35 euros isn’t going to seem like a lot compared with lugging your new purchase everywhere and trying to get it home in one piece; always book ahead for certain locales & attractions – if you know that you are going to want to do something, get those tickets ASAP!; research, research, research what you do before-hand and try to avoid doing everything touristy – we always see something cultural, e.g. the opera, theatre, etc, and stick to what the locals are buying tickets to; consider a driver and guide for the day – it can be expensive, but we have come away with some of our best memories on these days (budget other ways – like on Kate’s examples with food); consider staying in apartment rentals – we rarely travel any other way now – and find one in a neighborhood that interests you; take the red-eye and don’t go to bed until it is dark at your destination; have a plan for if you get separated – we always make sure our kids have the address of where we are staying and the number for the person we are renting from, and we designate one family member not traveling with us to be our “check-in” contact; we activate our children’s cell phones as well but limit their use to emergencies; push your comfort zone a bit – why fly half way around the world to just sit by the pool?; teach your kids “hello” and “thank you” in the language of the country you are visiting; and, last, but not least, don’t be afraid to get a little lost .

  8. This whole post is brilliant. Great idea on the fabric bags! When we were in France, we shopped at local markets for food for meals, but guess what? They don’t even offer sacks in which to carry your groceries…an obvious oversight on our part. We felt pretty awkward trying to balance our purchases without sacks. I’ll be sure to pack fabric sacks next time!

  9. Great post Kate! One of my tips is what I call “finding your Eiffel Tower”. When we planned our Paris vacation, everyone got to pick their one ‘must do’ and we made sure to do each one. My 5 year old (at the time) said she wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower, I wanted to have a meal at a restaurant I last visited on our honeymoon, my husband wanted to visit his favourite tea shop. Usually its the adults planning the itinerary so making sure each person has a memory that is theirs makes the trip that more special.

  10. We traveled a lot internationally with the kids when they were little and we still do now that they are adults! We spent 3 weeks in New Zealand over Christmas this year. One little tip that we used when traveling with them, when they were young was to grab a sheet of notepaper or a business card at the hotel that we were staying at and slip it into their pocket. That way if they got separated from us they would be able to tell authorities where we were staying. When you are traveling a lot, kids often have no idea of the hotel name and address! Thankfully, we never had to test it out but I felt better knowing the info was with them at all times!

  11. We’ve travelled pretty extensively with our two children who are four and eight. It’s a passion of ours and something we like to do together regardless of their age. We do our best to include them in the planning, from where we stay to what we see and do. It gets them involved and they are excited about trip. This year we are off on our second trip to Europe and will be visiting Copenhagen. The kids are busy planning their Lego purchases!

    My four year old son is also a diabetic so it certainly takes a lot of planning to ensure everything runs smoothly.

    When we return, I always print our travel pictures into a photobook. They sit on the coffee table and we like to look through them often. It certainly helps them remember and tell stories of their adventures.

  12. My family travels overseas every year as our mothers and siblings are spread out across five continents.

    A few things that help us —
    1. Securely storing electronic copies of our passports and other important documents, should the originals get lost.
    2. When our kids were younger, we would dress in the same color shirts if we were going sightseeing, to help them find me
    easily.
    3. Taking a picture of the kids every morning before we go out. Also, placing a small card in their pockets with mom and dad’s contact info, hotel info, etc. should we get separated. By the grace of God we’ve never had need for these!
    4. Discussing food safety with the kids. They are now great travelers with adventurous palates and know to exercise wisdom in consuming water, street food, etc.
    5. Try to book long haul flights for the evening when they would be sleeping anyway.
    6. Over the years I’ve also developed a packing list and just hand each kid one, then I check suitcases before we leave.
    7. Packing cubes are invaluable — we typically go for three weeks at a time and are often in multiple cities, so having clothing sorted by type saves us from having to unpack each suitcase at every stop.
    8. We pack a week’s worth of clothing + special items then drop them off to be laundered every few days — saves us from having to lug so many clothes. I also carry small quantities of detergent, etc for situations where we do our own laundry.
    9. Upon returning home, toiletries and other products are replenished so we are ready for the next trip. :-)

    Safe travels, everyone!

  13. I am leaving for Cuba in 5 weeks. I will have to do that rolling luggage and backpack for my son. Since this is an educational trip we are going to 5 cities in 9 days. Man I can’t believe I didn’t think of that… now the toilet paper can stay in the book bag!!!

  14. We’ve traveled a lot with our son, who is now 7. We went to Japan last summer as his first international trip, and it was amazing! My tip with international travel is to pick somewhere that your child is interested in as well. Our son loves ninjas, trains, and Pokemon, so Japan was a logical choice (plus, we’ve been there before pre-kid, so we knew our way around a bit). He was tired of shrines and temples by the end of the trip, but the promise of a little Pokemon toy powered him through it.

  15. Such great tips! We don’t have any kiddos yet, but once we do we plan on making travel a regular part of their lives. I took my first international trip with I was 9 and loved it, so I hope to do the same.

    I especially love your tip for making breakfast for yourself rather than eating out! What a great way to save money for other fun things.

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