Family travel is an amazing gift for everyone in your clan. Head out into the world ready to see it through your children’s eyes, and you will learn even more than they do.
If you are a grand parent, parent, or family friend traveling internationally with a minor child there are many things to be aware of in your planning; sometimes even the obvious gets overlooked. Here are some things to consider..
Before you go: First be sure you have your legal documents in place – with ever increasing security, every rule is being enforced.
-Everyone needs a passport - For children under age 16 not only must you show up in person to apply for their passport but both parents must be present. Believe me, this can take some advance planning, especially if the parents are divorced.
-Your passports must be valid for 6 months beyond your return date – if not then you must renew them before you travel.
-If you are a single parent or taking along your child’s friend you must have a notarized letter from the absent parent/s authorizing you to take them out of the country. The letter should also stipulate that you may seek medical care for the minor in the event of an accident or illness. Chances are you’ll never need to show this — but if asked for it and you don’t have it this will end your vacation!
Next, do your research on where to go, keeping your child’s age and interests in mind. For instance, Peru is a great destination for hikers and culture lovers, but with no easy access to beach or wildlife it may not be that interesting for a 6 year old. There are plenty of destinations that children and adults will both love, so don’t press your agenda onto your kids – there’s always next year.
-Consider how long to go for. Most small children, and even some older ones kind of freak out of they’re gone from familiar territory for a long time. A week to 9 days (Sat – Sun) is a nice place to start. Save the 2 – 3 week vacation for when your children are feeling more confident and adventurous. It’s always better to go home wanting more, than to feel you’ve stayed too long – for all ages!
-Do you know what diseases are prevalent where you’re going? Visit a travel clinic about a month before you go. Located in most major hospitals these clinics are staffed by MDs who specialize in travel medicine. They’ll be sure you’re up to date on your routine vaccines (probably your kids already are for school, but what about you??) as well as advise you on what other things you should consider for your destination. They have all kinds of vaccines on hand that your regular doctor doesn’t, and your health insurance likely will pick up the tab.
-Did you know if you’re visiting rainforest it will likely rain?? Do your research and go prepared. Pay attention to any advance information sent by your travel agent or tour company, and read up on your destination. Computer savvy kids will love to help with this part of the planning.
-When you pack, be sure to have a few first aid items, a lot of hand sanitizer, baby wipes (incredibly useful), your choice of pain reliever and of course Pepto Bismol. Don’t forget the antibiotics the travel doc prescribed. Pack some familiar things from home. Maybe it’s a jar of peanut butter, snack bars, or favorite crackers – I promise there will be a moment when they will save the day.
-Pack only what you can all carry. It’s no fun to haul a million heavy bags, and when the bags are too full the kids can’t find anything anyway. Stock up on lightweight, quick dry clothes, and look for the one pair of shoes that works for everything. There are some great water compatible shoes you can add socks to and voila – a walking shoe! Be minimalist – but lots of socks are a must.
-Let each child, young or old, carry a day pack in which they have their own re-useable water bottle and a zip-lock bag containing a small pack of tissues and one of wet wipes, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a few bandaids. A cotton bandana has a million uses, and can easily be washed in the evening and dry by morning.
-Let your bank and credit card company know you’re traveling — it’s not fun to be in Paris and have your card rejected at the ATM
Once you’re on the road…
-Pace yourself. Whether you’re traveling independently or on a group tour be sure you have time to enjoy the hotel pool in the afternoon, or to relax before dinner. With older kids you want plenty of action – but they need hanging out time too, and everyone enjoys the time to be flexible and spontaneous. Don’t over schedule your vacation
-On the other hand, do schedule one good activity a day. Having it on your itinerary helps avoid the negotiations about ‘what to do today’ and makes better use of your time. You don’t want to go home feeling like you did not accomplish or see anything!
-Utilize local guides and drivers. Not only do they know where they’re going, they make the most of your experience and a good guide can impart information to your kids that they might never absorb from their own parents.
-If you have a lot of driving to do, break up long drives with breaks along the way. Make a 4 hour drive take the whole day, and have some fun along the way.
-You can never have too much bottled water or too many snacks with you. Thirst and hunger are the number one cause of Travel Crankiness. Be sure you are fully stocked before you head out in the morning. Wash hands frequently!
-Number two problem is exhaustion and information overload. This takes us back to planning your itinerary; be sure your toddler gets to nap in a comfortable place, your teenager gets to chill by the pool, and your guide doesn’t drone on for hours about the ancient dynasties of China.
-At the end of each day have a recap session with your kids. Whether it’s journal writing, sketching, or conversation over dinner, come together to talk about what you saw and felt that day. Can’t think of a conversation starter? Try asking what was the favorite thing, and the least favorite thing of the day, and write them down. Sharing these new things you’ve all found together will help build your lifetime memories, and you will come back to these memories for years to come. I know my family does.
In short: Be flexible, be prepared, and wash your hands. Keep your kids happy and you’ll be happy too. Bon Voyage!