If you are a parent, traveling with kids for your first time can be daunting. The meltdowns, the sleepless nights. Will it be worth it? Where do you begin?
We’re here to tell you that yes, it will be worth it. We’ve been helping families have epic trips for nearly 20 years. And we’ve done quite a few of them ourselves.
Where to begin? Right here, with some of our best tips for traveling with kids.
Let’s start with your destination.
Choosing a location
When choosing a location, Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association, has two main pieces of advice:
- Involve your children: if you get them involved with planning, they are going to be more engaged and excited from the start. “If you make the choices for them, they are going to be less engaged,” Jenss said.
- Ask yourselves what you want to do, not where you want to go. This opens you up to the many destinations around the world where you can do that particular thing. “When you become a parent, the travel opportunities don’t have to shrink,” he said. “They can broaden. It’s a matter of exploring the options as you research, finding places based on what you want to do.”
Of course, traveling with kids adds a dimension of responsibility for parents, and everyone’s risk tolerance should be taken into account.
“Any time you’re traveling, especially with family, you must fully understand the potential risks and hazards of the location where you are going—both the medical and security risks,” said Jeff Weinstein, operations supervisor at Global Rescue.
Weinstein recommends researching the following, for starters:
- Is there a hospital at your destination? Would you feel comfortable taking your family there?
- What are the security risks of your destination? Are petty crimes like pick-pocketing prevalent? Could there be a risk of something more serious like political unrest?
Are my kids old enough to travel?
According to Rainer Jenss, the sweet spot is 6 to 12. “This is when they are still really curious. They may not remember everything, but it will stoke that childhood wonder that they have in spades at that age.”
Your destination is decided. How will you travel there?
If you are within driving distance, ask yourself if driving is still something you want to do with children. It might save money, but a long drive could mean showing up to your vacation tired and irritable. Another travel mode might be worth the extra money.
If you’re flying, especially for long distances, consider a layover for working out energy in young children around the airport, rather than up and down the aisle of the plane.
Finally, purchase TSA PreCheck or another trusted traveler program (i.e. Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, or FAST) designed to facilitate the entry of pre-approved travelers. You won’t have to wait as long, and you won’t have to take off their shoes either—helpful with small kids. If you’re traveling internationally, purchasing Global Entry will speed up the process of entering the United States (and it includes domestic TSA PreCheck).
What to pack
Deciding what to pack requires more than just looking at the weather.
First, get your documents in order. This can take a bit of research and time, so start gathering these as soon as possible.
- Make sure passports are up-to-date and current for both departure and return; it can take a while to secure new ones if yours are expired are close to expiration.
- Make copies of all passports to keep in your luggage and have a picture of them on your phone in case something happens to your passport.
- Make sure your vaccine card is up to date. Some countries require vaccines for entry. Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health website to see what is required.
- If you are traveling alone with minor children, or with children who are not your own, Family Travel Forum advises carrying some specific verification documents:
- A minor consent to travel form, signed by the child’s other parent.
- A medical treatment authorization letter will allow the adult to be responsible for the child’s care if an emergency happens.
- Birth certificate to verify a child’s relationship to you.
- Copies of your travel insurance.
Now that your documents are in order, let’s talk about clothing, medicine and toys. Here are some things to consider when packing for a family trip.
- Give your children their own rolling luggage bag (ages 5 and up).
- Make peace with over packing. With kids, being prepared is better than packing light. Think through the potential for accidents (you might need extra clothes) or scrapes (you might need a first-aid kit).
- Research the weather and pack accordingly.
- Consider the modesty standards of your destination. In some countries or certain historic sites, clothes below the knees and shirts with sleeves are required.
- If you are bringing prescription medicine on your trip, research what the laws are before you enter the country, as some medications might be illegal.
- Pack an activity bag that includes books, coloring supplies and lightweight games, to help occupy kids during unexpected downtime. But don’t be afraid of boredom; it can inspire some of the best memories of the trip.
How to Travel Safely
These tips can help mitigate the risks all parents fear, like losing a child or getting sick or injured.
- Get smart about getting lost: Global Rescue experts share five tips to help prevent and respond to a lost child, including establishing a rallying point, tasking an adult to keep an eye on the kids, putting your information on your children, knowing what your children are wearing and staying calm if you do get separated.
- Be aware of your body language. “Don’t look like a target,” Weinstein said. “If you are distracted, on your phone, or walking with your head down, you look vulnerable. Instead, scan your environment, be aware of what is around you, and walk with your shoulders up.”
- Research illnesses before you go. “Understand water and insect-borne illnesses before you go and bring the appropriate prophylaxis or get the vaccines,” Weinstein said. “Consult a travel doctor before you leave. Global Rescue can conduct your travel consultation via telemedicine from the safety and comfort of your own home.”
- Invest in membership services. Global Rescue offers family memberships, which include both parents and up to six kids under the age of 26. Every family member will have access to our security, medical and evacuation services, which can go a long way from alleviating stress in situations from a lost passport to an unexpected illness or injury.
“Having a resource like Global Rescue is so important because people usually don’t have the level of expertise to get the medical care their family needs or to plan the logistics for a potential evacuation,” Weinstein said. “A service like Global Rescue should be part of your mitigation strategy in case something happens.”
You have your destination, your itinerary, your paperwork ready and your bags packed. You and your children know how to travel safely. You’ve got this. Go have fun, and make those forever memories.
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