Traveling with kids for the first time, or anytime, can be daunting. The meltdowns, the sleepless nights. Will it be worth it? Where do you begin?
Start With Your Destination
When choosing a location, Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association, has two main pieces of advice.
First, 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.
Next, ask what you want to do, not where you want to go, opening up 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,” Jenss said. “They can broaden.”
What’s The Risk?
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.
Research whether there is a hospital at your destination, and if you would feel comfortable taking your family there. Explore the security risks at the locale, including petty crimes—like pick-pocketing—or something more serious like political unrest.
Parents and kids can accidentally be separated from each other. Get smart about getting lost and share the 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.
Now that 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 a trusted traveler program like TSAPreCheck, Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, or FAST. These programs are designed to facilitate passage through security checks of pre-approved travelers. You won’t have to wait as long, and you won’t have to take off your kids’ shoes either.
Are Your Kids Old Enough To Travel?
Maureen Wheeler, the co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebook company, said if you’re planning once-in-a-lifetime trips, “then maybe you don’t start traveling with your children until the age of 7 to 10.”
Jenss said 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.”
Arthur Frommer, the travel guidebook author, said international travel is wasted on small children because they don’t remember much. But his daughter, Pauline Frommer, who traveled with her parents as an infant and is now the editorial director of Frommer’s Guidebooks, disagrees. “I have many strong memories from my travels. So, I know that kids remember more than we think they do.”
Knowing What To Pack
Deciding what to pack requires more than weather-appropriate clothing. Documentation is critical.
Make certain that passports are up-to-date and current for both departure and return, and make copies to keep in your luggage and have a picture of them on your phone in case something happens to your passport.
Be sure vaccinations are current for all your destinations. 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 several specific credentials including a minor consent to travel form, signed by the child’s other parent; a medical treatment authorization letter that will allow the adult to be responsible for the child’s care if an emergency happens; a birth certificate to verify a child’s relationship to you; and copies of your travel insurance.
When packing give your kids their own rolling luggage bag. Be sure to consider the weather and the culture at your destination so your clothing is appropriate. If you are bringing over-the-counter or prescription medicine on your trip, research what the laws are before you enter the country, as some medications might be illegal.
These tips can help mitigate the risks all parents fear about traveling with kids, allowing everyone to focus on having fun and making forever memories.