11 Tips for Traveling Internationally with Kids
See the world! Whether your kids are 5 or 15, international travel can expand their knowledge and world view while providing priceless memories for your family. Here are some of our best tips for embarking on travel beyond the U.S. with kids.
Choose a Destination with Kid Appeal
Do your kids love museums? Or do they prefer to be exploring outdoors? Would you prefer an English-speaking destination, or does your family speak another language? Consider the things your family would be interested in doing, the types of adventures you enjoy and choose a destination that will be interesting for the entire family. Research the area by looking up its tourism website, local parenting blogs and daily news outlets to find attractions, events and activities that would be available during the time of your stay.
Book Non-Traditional Lodging
Wouldn’t it be great to have space to spread out, playing in a yard and cooking meals in your own kitchen? Families who’ve traveled internationally highly recommend alternative places to stay, like homes, cottages or flats. Research options on sites like HomeAway or AirBnB based on the number of bedrooms you’re seeking and area you’re most interested in. With kids, staying in a neighborhood adjacent to, but not in, the big city can be a great way to minimize overstimulation. One Atlanta family has successfully used HomeExchange to swap houses with other families in Finland, The Netherlands and Denmark! They’ve traded for use of an entire home (and all its comfort) plus a car for transportation without paying a dime for accommodations.
Allow Lots of Time
Children need time. Time to sleep, eat, explore and finish whatever it is they’re doing when you say it’s time to go. Allow as much time as possible for your trip so that kids don’t feel rushed from one experience to the next, and you can immerse yourselves in the local culture rather than feeling like a tourist checking off a list of things to see. Also downtime is necessary for growing minds to process what they see, hear, taste and feel before they can be ready for the next adventure.
Get Health and Travel Records in Order
Make sure your family members’ passports are up to date and that you and your kids have all the vaccinations required for the destination you chose. The CDC is a great source of information about vaccine recommendations and travel health warnings. If your children take prescription medications, make sure to have enough for the duration of your trip.
Hooray! You’ve decided on where and when you’ll go; now learn about the local culture and customs. If another language is spoken at your destination, look for some videos or books to help you and your kids learn key phrases and words. If a major holiday or festival will take place during your stay, learn about its meaning and celebration so you’ll know what to expect. Read up on top things to do with kids in the area and involve your kids in setting a general itinerary. Buy travel journals and disposable cameras so the kids can document their journey.
Help with Packing
Even though your kids may be old enough to pack their bags themselves, parents should ensure nothing gets forgotten. Also, kids tend to pack items “just in case,” but you’ll be able to help them leave behind the items that aren’t necessary. Check average weather temperatures for the time of your stay and see what amenities your accommodations have (games? swimming pool?) to narrow down the packing list. Make sure each child’s carry on bag has essentials needed if luggage is misplaced.
Bring Snacks, Toys and Wipes
What if the flight is delayed… a long time? Make sure to have small toys and games with you, and pack a variety of snacks. For younger children, putting snacks in separate fun containers adds some entertainment to the experience. Non-electronic card games and small toys are easily played on tray tables if you’re stuck on the plane. No one may be in diapers anymore, but wipes come in handy for just about any situation! Use them to clean up airplane armrests, dirty faces, stains on clothes, and many other travel mishaps.
Have a Jet Lag Plan
Most international flights take off at night, so wear those kids out until you leave for the airport! Ensuring they can sleep on the plane will go a long way toward avoiding jet lag when you land. However, once there, skip the naps so that bedtime can get on schedule as soon as possible. Plan for a busy first day and some crankiness, but getting on local time within the first 24 hours can help the rest of the trip go more smoothly.
While your days will be far different than the average ones at home, do your best to incorporate elements of your routine into the day. If snack time it usually mid-morning, keep that going. If dinner is usually preceded by quiet time with a favorite TV show, make every effort to stick to that schedule. Although it may be challenging, kids crave routine, and helping them find moments of normalcy in a foreign environment can help them recharge for what’s next.
Welcome the Unexpected
A local teen had the time of her life playing violin alongside street musicians in Copenhagen last summer. A family staying in a London flat befriended a neighbor who invited them all for afternoon tea. A preschooler discovered a trail near a popular square in Rome, which led his family to a stunning sunset view. Be open to unexpected opportunities and new directions your children might lead you. These experiences may become some of your favorite memories of your trip!
Popular international destinations for young families
London: In the birthplace of Harry Potter, Paddington Bear and Mary Poppins kids love to visit the spots mentioned in the books. Explore the domain of the royals, straddle two hemispheres on the Prime Meridian, and satisfy culture vultures with museums, theatres and open air markets.
Rome: Mangia! Young foodies can indulge in authentic pizza, pastas and gelato while visiting ancient Roman ruins and reliving history with experiences like the Gladiator School at the Coliseum.
Copenhagen: Visit The Little Mermaid statue by the sea, explore castles and visit the theme park that inspired Disney in this charming English-speaking town with European flair.