First Time Traveling Abroad With Kids – A How-To Guide, Part 1: Planning
Ok so you may not ready to move abroad yet but maybe my first post got you in the mood to do some traveling with your bambinos. International travel can differ somewhat than domestic travel. Planning a vacation abroad with kids is intimidating and there are a lot of unique considerations. But as long as you’re prepared, it really is a piece of cake.
So… Over the next few posts, I’m going to share with you some of my strategies to set yourself up for success when it comes to traveling with your kids. From planning tips, at the airport, how to manage without 3G (gasp!). Soup-to-nuts. (Also, can someone please explain that phrase to me?)
It’s gonna be a four-part series, Y’all!!
Here’s a bit of what to expect:
Part 1: Planning Your Epic International Vacation With Kids <<You Are Here>>
Part 4: Getting Around & Coming Home (Coming Soon!)
*This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a commission from purchases made through them. All reviews and recommendations I make, however, are of my own genuine opinion.
But first, I can’t tell you just how excited I am for it to officially be October. The weather is finally cool here in Yerevan and I just love stepping outside and drawing in a nice long breath of crisp… car exhaust… ahhhh.
Just kidding… but not really…
October also means the pumpkins are loose and what better way to start the season with a homemade pumpkin pie!! Yep, drooling.
While October means Halloween to some, to me it is officially the beginning of Christmas season. That’s right, I’m one of THOSE people. And I’m COMPLETELY unashamed. October is when I can let my Christmasfreak flag fly without too much judgment from those around me.
There will be so much more yummy holiday goodness to come, but today is more travel – so strap in!
Quick Reference: In the past four years I have spent over 140 hours in airplanes with children over 13 different trips. 9 of those trips were international. 50 of those hours were solo mio. That’s not total travel time, that’s purely from takeoff to touchdown. I have spent A LOT of time in airplanes, and airports, with kids. And I would say that I spend at least TWICE as much time preparing for these trips as I do actually taking them. Bottom line, I do this a lot.
Part 1: Planning Your Epic International Vacation With Kids
And it ABSOLUTELY can be epic! Like I’ve said before, kids shouldn’t keep you from traveling, they should be the reason you travel more. That being said, the key to a successful family trip is good planning.
Step 1: Passports Passports Passports.
Before you can even think about planning a vacation abroad, you need to make sure everyone in your family has a valid passport, not to expire within six months of travel. This one seems obvious but you’d be surprised.
(I’m looking at you, mom.)
After you do all the prep and paperwork to apply, it takes an average of 4-6 weeks to receive it in the mail, three if you’re willing to pay more.
Don’t back yourself into a corner.
Do not wait until the last minute.
DO THIS NOW.
In fact, I don’t care if you’re actively planning a trip or not right now, make sure everyone in your family has a valid passport NOW. I want every single one of you to go check your passports right now. I’m dead serious.
The State Department has a great page that explains how to apply for or renew your passport. Because I told you so.
Step 2: Choose a destination.
Unless you’re an uber-adventurer (i.e. Everest, in which you probably don’t need this post), most places in the world are perfect places to bring kids. Brainstorm with the whole family what you would like to do on your trip! Get everyone involved and excited!
Do you want to see sites or relax without an itinerary? Warm climate or cold? Bucket list item?
Need a little inspiration? I have plenty of great ideas on my Pinterest page! Or, if you’re a little more analytical, check out Google Flights. This is a really great tool for showing you destinations based on where you are and when it’s cheapest to travel. I usually start here ANYtime I’m planning a trip.
Step 3: Book it!
How I book the flight may vary from time to time, but I will generally always follow the same pattern.
- First, I begin on Google Flights. This is generally to optimize when and where I am traveling. You can enter your departing airport, and Google will actually recommend destinations for you. You can even enter your destination and Google will show you the cheapest days to travel. OH, what a time to be alive!!
- The only catch about using Google Flights is that you can’t checkout directly from that site. It will usually forward you to either the airline’s page or a typical travel booking site (Expedia, Orbitz, etc). Normally it won’t pull the info from the travel booking sites so I will manually shop around to 2 or 3 before making my purchase.
- 9 times out of 10 I end up booking through Expedia. If you have a preferred site, go for it, especially if you’re earning rewards points!
There are some corners that are cut when you book through one of these sites though. The big one is that you are communicating through a third party. You will need to check the airline’s website separately for extra fees or to make special arrangements, for example, if you have dietary restrictions and need to request a certain type of in-flight meal. That’s right – you’re flying internationally now. You get food… and wine.
Now there are definitely some considerations to think about when you book your plane tickets. What time of day are the flights?
Connection/layover times? Long or short layovers?
Think about these things in the context of *What is best for my family?*
If you’re flying with a baby, you will have the option to purchase them their own seat or hold them on your lap.
Pro Tip: If any of your flight legs are more than 3 hours I would highly recommend buying them their own seat, especially if you have an older infant or you just make ginormous babies. Yes, it will definitely be more expensive but trust me, you do NOT want to be on a 6-hour flight with nowhere to put your baby than on your lap. Most airlines require children over age 2 to have their own seat anyways.
Now is also a good time to check your airline’s policy on kids items such as strollers, car seats, and travel cribs. You can find all of that information on their website. Most will check these items for free, but you want to make sure you know the policy ahead of time in case you need to …ahem… reference it.
Spoiler alert: baggage handlers don’t give a shit about your stuff. If you have nicer equipment that you don’t want getting roughed up, I would suggest investing in some protective bags.
- Like this bag for your umbrella stroller
which is also available in larger sizes for standard and double sized strollers.
- Or this bag for your car seat
Step 4: Hotel and/or rental car
One place where I save a lot of money when planning a vacation abroad is through lodging. There are generally three main ways you can lodge when traveling:
Name brand hotel
(Marriott, Radisson, Hilton, etc.) These tend to be the most expensive option but sometimes you can find good deals on these or their budget affiliates. The upside to these will be that they will most times be in a very central location and well known by cab drivers. The downside is that you sometimes sacrifice living space square footage.
These sometimes take a bit more research because they’re an unknown quantity. I’ve stayed in great ones and questionable ones. They will generally give you more personal service but may not come with all the higher amenities of a brand name. If you find one you like, make sure to do your research with reviews. Seek them out from 2-3 sources: Google, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Facebook, etc.
Think Airbnb, HomeAway… vacation rentals. This is by far my favorite option for my family. This option is appealing if you like a little more space and autonomy. Since you are quite literally staying in someone’s house or apartment, you have the opportunity to feel more like a local, brave the markets as really immerse yourself. With a bit of savvy filtering, you can usually find a great place with two bedrooms and a kitchen for less than an average hotel. You’re a bit more on your own but sometimes that feels good. Cons: there (usually) isn’t a cleaning service and you have to leave the house as you found it. If you’re going on vacation to get away from chores, this may not be for you. Also, there is frequently a minimum-stay requirement – better for longer trips where you just want to settle in.
Pro Tip: Make sure you book a room big enough for your family. I’ve made the mistake before where three of us had to make it work on one queen sized bed. No bueno. Mama needs her space when she sleeps.
Another piece to consider is whether or not you will need a rental car. This truly depends on where you are going and what you expect to do there. If it’s a big city with decent public transportation (like Amsterdam), you probably won’t. But if you’re staying in a cottage in Western Ireland, you probably will.
**Keep in mind: nearly all rental cars in Europe (and most of the world) are manual shift. Some automatics may be available but be prepared to pay 3 to 5 times the price.
Something else to pay attention to when renting a car overseas is your insurance coverage. Don’t assume your U.S. car insurance or credit card insurance will cover you in a certain country. There are a few out there that are coverage black holes, Ireland, Jamaica, and New Zealand to name a few. Don’t ask me why just make sure you’re covered before you get up to the rental counter. #lessonlearned
Step 5: Sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
This is a really handy program run by the State Department that you hope you never have to need but almost NOBODY knows about it. I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t know about it until we were living the DoS life.
It’s truly valuable because not only does it provide you with all the travel alerts and warnings with your particular destination, but it also connects you to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest to you so they can contact you in case of an emergency. The Embassies and Consulates have a pretty broad range of American Citizen Services which, again, I hope you’ll never have to use. But they’re designed to help YOU if you get in trouble overseas.
If all of this sounds WAY too overwhelming and you want to take a trip without all the stress of planning, I can help! As a budding vacation consultant, I can do your vacation research for you and provide you with tailored options.
I will also create a personalized travel guide and suggested things-to-do as well as a Google map to download and bring with! Prices are very affordable and begin at only $10.
If this sounds like you, drop me a line on my Contact page and I’d love to get you on your way to your dream vacation!
That’s it for Part 1!! In Part 2 I will break down how to pack and prepare for your trip and what you might expect to encounter at the airport.