I’m always surprised by the number of people I meet that have never had a passport. I’m even more blown away by those that have never even left their home state. How is this possible?
It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t realize that our freedom to travel almost anywhere without a Visa is a GIFT. Many of the countries that we can freely roam in and out of don’t allow the same liberties to their citizens.
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I’ve always had a love of travel and living life to the fullest (NOW, not later!).
I feel that opening our eyes, minds and hearts to the cultures and experiences of the rest of the world outside our daily micro-communities can only make us better people as a whole.
As such, I do everything I can to make sure I offer my son as many of these travel experiences as possible, even at an early age.
My almost 5 year old, Whistler, is often my partner in crime on both road and plane trips, both domestic and international.
His travel checklist thus far is impressive for a 5 year old that lives in California:
- United States (Washington, New York, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, South Dakota, Hawaii)
- Dominican Republic
- Turks and Caicos
I love sharing new destinations with him and watching his eyes light up as he experiences the local flavor and fun.
While I’ve become an expert at traveling with a toddler (usually on my own), I can understand and see how many might find this task a bit daunting.
I will admit, traveling with a young child, especially overseas, presents some unique challenges but everything is definitely do-able!
Here are some of my useful tips and tricks for surviving international travel with kids:
- When choosing a destination you are unfamiliar with, check with the U.S. State Department for any alerts, or safety issues you may need to consider when planning your travel. I highly recommend registering in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
- Make copies of your passports and keep them in your purse/suitcase (somewhere other than where your real ones are). You should also scan them in/take a photo and e-mail them to yourself and a family member – just in case yours are lost, stolen, or damaged.
- Take a photo of your child each morning in the outfit they’re wearing. This way, if you get separated you have a photo for reference (or in case law enforcement needs to become involved).
- Purchase travel insurance either for your trip, or if you travel frequently, an annual multi-trip plan is very affordable! Unanticipated travel delays, bad weather, lost luggage, medical emergencies and even cancellations can be covered.
- Make sure your child’s name, your name and contact information is somewhere on their person. Remember if you get separated, your child may panic and not be able to tell a stranger their name, or they may just be simply too young to know this information. Great ways of doing this are:
- Laminate a business card or piece of paper with your contact information on it and tie it to your child’s pants belt loops.
- Engrave a leather strap or keychain or clip-on lanyard with his name and your phone number. You can clip it to a belt buckle and tuck it into their pocket. (I came up with this idea randomly at a Disneyland kiosk!)
- These temporary tattoos are waterproof and last for several days! I always keep a sheet in travel go-bag because these are prefect to use at theme parks, water parks, or large hotels and resorts.
- These disposable travel ID bands are waterproof, won’t rip or tear, can be easily replaced if you are switching hotels and has both English and Spanish on the outside!
- Invest in a GPS locator like the new Apple AirTag and put it in their pocket or around their neck on a lanyard. Small and discreet, yet powerful. Uses GPS, Cellular and Bluetooth for location services so your child (or luggage, or backpack or computer or ???) could be in the next room or 3,000 miles away.
Make Your Life Easier
- If you live near any of these airports (more are being added!) and are avid travelers, consider getting a CLEAR membership. Different than TSA Precheck, it is basically a way to “cut the line” at airport security. Because you are pre-screened, you simply check in with a kiosk host to scan your fingerprints and you’re ushered immediately to the front of the line, just past the uniformed TSA officer manually checking IDs with boarding passes! Children under 18 can use the CLEAR lane for free when accompanied by a CLEAR family member. No enrollment is required for the child. Get a two month free trial (including your family!) here. Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle or Washington DC.
- The worst part about going on an amazing vacation abroad, is coming off a long plane trip back to the states, only to have to wait in a VERY long customs and immigrations line for sometimes up to 2 hours! Doing this once a year is probably manageable, but if you are a family that likes to travel abroad often, definitely consider enrolling in the Global Entry Program. At only $100 for 5 years, the hours and frustration you will save is well worth $20 a year. There are even ways to get it for FREE.
- Although I never use the car seat on-board the plane, I do bring it with me through the airport instead of checking it by using this GoGo Babyz Travelmate. This is easily the BEST travel related purchase I have EVER made.
It attaches to just about any car seat (not the infant ones), turning it into a “stroller”. Not only is it super easy to roll around, but I like that I can gate check it instead of having to go thru baggage claim (even better for when you aren’t checking luggage). Another HUGE plus is that it makes walking thru the airport a breeze because you aren’t having to drag your toddler by the arm to run to the next gate! I constantly get compliments on this and it’s well worth the expense.
- Invest in new spinner wheel luggage. I can’t tell you how many time having this kind of luggage has allowed me to push/transport more than I would have normally done on my own – especially with a toddler in tow. They glide so easily with a gentle push (or kick, like I often do) and you don’t have to worry about them falling over. LOVE. I just recently bought a new soft/hard hybrid spinner luggage that I adore because its lighter than my 100% hardside and it has easy access exterior pockets.
- Take advantage of early boarding if your child is 2 or younger. Be sure to ask a flight attendant for a pillow and blanket as soon as you board. (They will run out, so don’t wait!)
- Consider bringing along these some of these awesome audio books perfect for families with younger kids. Not only are these great for plane, bus, train or car rides – but they are wonderful to listen to as a family at bedtime as a way to quietly wind down!
- Carry a backpack as your “personal” item. It counts as a “purse” so you’ll still be able to bring a carry on as well, but you’ll get much more use out of it. Things to pack “just in case” in addition to the usual toys, books and snacks:
- headache medicine
- pepto bismol (the tablets)
- wet wipes
- antibacterial gel
- $20 in cash – broken down in smaller bills and 4 quarters
- a pen (immigrations forms!)
- chargers/cords for your devices (phone, ipad, etc)
Avoid a Meltdown (aka Crazy Town)
- Pack a combination of things to keep them busy: iPads, iPods, Nintendo DS, favorite toys (in our case Whistler’s Real Steel robots), lap games like puzzles or magnetic games, books. (We have an awesome list of best travel toys Depending on the child, bringing new toys, books, or games they’ve never played may keep them occupied longer. *TIP* buy a set of kid friendly over-ear headphones for the plane ride.
- Pack snacks for the plane ride and when you’re out exploring. Sometimes when you’re out of the country you can’t easily find a snack your toddler will eat, so it’s a good idea to bring your own. To help little ones equalize their ears during take off and landing, I always bring a sippy cup (and fill it up AFTER going thru security) and well as fruit puree pouches. Not only does Whistler love these as a “treat”, but the sucking action of either will help pop his ears upon ascent or descent.
- Don’t run out of power on long flights. Invest in a travel charger or power brick so you can charge your devices (USB plug-in!) on the go.
- If you have long layovers, having access to an airport lounge will allow you to rest and recharge with free wifi, meals, drinks and sometimes a quiet place to nap. While I get access to Delta’s SkyClub through my Diamond Medallion status, I also have a Priority Pass card. It’s the perfect supplement for foreign airport lounge access and they’ve also started letting you use your perk at certain airport restaurants too!
- Instead of buying t-shirts and souvenirs that will be outgrown, spend your money instead on tours and experiences. Take lots of photos and put a photo book together after your trip. Your children will enjoy flipping through the memories long after that stuffed animal is history. (Score a free 8×8 photo book here – just pay shipping)
- Plan time to explore, sight see, and play BUT also be sure to plan downtime. Kids (and adults) get cranky when tired, and less are likely to enjoy the experience. I like to include at least one full day of staying at the hotel or resort. Some of my best memories with my son on vacation are simply just playing in the sand, or splashing in the pool.
- If you have a family schedule at home, do try and keep that same type of routine. Children do better when kept on a similar schedule, so try and keep meal times, and bedtimes the same, when possible.
- Be flexible and ready to roll with it. You scheduled an hour to visit the zoo, but your child is having a blast and learning, so be ready and willing to adjust your schedule to stay longer or skip something else.
And my number one rule: Don’t be afraid to get out and experience something new.
I can’t stress enough to get out off your resort property to EXPLORE and experience the local culture of the destination you’re visiting.
Check out the local Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website to see what’s going on during the time you are visiting. Many times you’ll find some great ideas and offers to take advantage of that you would not have known otherwise.