Hi friends! Today I’d like to share a few takeaways from our international travel a few months ago, the family globetrotted to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia for 3+ weeks and had a blast. Traveling for more than a week and with kids can be challenging, you’ve got to plan ahead! Times have changed so much from my two month backpacking trip through Europe in my early twenties when it was just me but I had to carry film, maps and a guide book, there was no technology back in the dark ages 🙂
My children are 10 and 12 and that’s a really good age for taking them abroad. I recall the days of strollers, diapers, naps and car seats and I know this trip would not have been as enjoyable had the trip required all that extra gear. I’m a big believer in waiting until they’re older when attempting long trips to far away places because they can carry their own stuff. They can also enjoy the trip, remember it and learn from it. When they were toddlers we kept our travel close to home for years then started traveling again just a few years ago when they were 7 and 9 (from California to Montreal and Québec City). Our next big jet setting adventure will be Europe in 2017.
Passports & Immunizations. This one is obvious but make sure the kids have passports up to date since US passports expire every five years for children under 18. Many countries require that the passports must not expire for several months after your travel dates as well so factor that time in. I also scanned our passports and emailed myself a copy just in case they were lost and we needed to replace them.
Check the travel bureau to see if the country recommends immunizations, and don’t forget to research if the country you’re visiting also requires a travel visa. We found out last minute that Americans need a visa to travel to Australia but thankfully we we’re able to get them within an hour. We felt foolish not knowing that information months in advance so take my advice and check to see if you need a visa before you go!
Pack Ultra Light. Our strategy was one rolling carry on and one backpack per person, that’s it. My kids had to bring independent study homework with them, they also had a book and their school issued iPad they carried in their backpack. Matt and I also had only one carry on piece of luggage and one backpack each. We left a little room it them to pick up souvenirs but I was proud of how lightly we traveled, it helped us quickly move from place to place without spending hours repacking everything.
Plan Ahead for Laundry. We did pack light and carried only a few pairs of shoes and outfits, but one of the smartest things we did was stay in accommodations every 4 or 5 days with a washer and dryer in the unit. That way I could run a few loads before we repacked and departed to a new destination. Below is a picture from our hotel in Lake Wanaka in New Zealand that offered a washer dryer combo in the bathroom.
Have a Tech Bag. For travel to three countries we needed an adapter, we also rented cars in New Zealand and Australia so a car charger came in handy. I brought my travel camera instead of my bulky DSLR. Another VERY important tool I brought with us were two portable battery rechargers for tablets and phones, they were key! I carried them in my backpack along with headphones and charging cords so we could keep the phones charged for all day exploring and picture taking.
Have an International Data Plan. Everyone has a smart phone these days but traveling out of the country requires you let your service provider know ahead of time you need an international data plan. To save data while traveling we turned off automatic data roaming and only turned it on when we needed to look up something on a map, that helped the limited data plan last for 3 weeks.
Carry an Itinerary. We had so many flights to catch, hotels to check into, and cars to rent, it would have been crazy to try to remember them all or refer to individual email confirmations, so we had one big list with all the details saved on our phone and a hard copy so we knew when we had to be where, which airline, which rental car company, etc.
Miniature Everything. My theory was if I really needed something I could just buy it there so just I just brought the bare minimum… a small first aid kit, a clutch that doubled as a jewelry holder, travel size medicines and toiletries, etc. I think I bought sunscreen once but other than that we actually made it through three weeks with miniature travel cases, small sampling below.
Extra Fabric Bags. I brought a cute backpack on the trip and would use it for every daily adventure, I’d fill it with water bottles, sunscreen, phone chargers, my camera and wallet. Equally essential were two rollup fabric bags that I used for everything from beach towels to carrying groceries or separating dirty laundry. They roll up in a tight little ball when not in use and were extremely handy to have during the trip.
Have the Safety Talk. When relevant we reminded the kids about beach dangers and pool rules and what to do if you get separated or lost. Having that conversation kept them aware, on their toes, and following the rules.
Limit Eating Out. We stayed in many places with a small kitchen, that saved time and money on a meal because we could grab eggs and pancake mix and fruit at a local store in the evening on arrival, then make a quick breakfast in the morning in the unit and be on our way. For lunch we’d typically pop into a cafe or store to grab a few things to nibble on, we’d carry snacks with us during the day, and then after a day of adventure we’d pick a place to sit down for dinner, that approach worked well.
Balance Adventure with Relaxation. There was a lot we wanted to see with the limited days we had but there were a few times that we decided to sleep in or spend time by the pool or an afternoon at the beach instead of spending all day running around and that really helped keep us sane having equal parts relaxation time as well as adventure time. We had a really enjoyable trip and made so many memories, ones I’m sure they’ll recall with great fondness when they’re older.
A few additional notes…
Consider booking attractions ahead. Many adventures we’d book a day or two in advance but several we booked weeks in advance (like the animal encounters at the Australia Zoo). If there is something you absolutely don’t want to miss make sure you’ve got tickets ahead of time.
Notify credit card companies where you’re traveling to avoid having your card frozen when you need to use it!
And also prepare for jetlag. When we flew from California to Fiji it was a red eye flight so we slept on the plane as much as we could and when we arrived it was early morning so it wasn’t bad. On the way back it was harder since we flew during the day then into the night and when we arrived it was morning in California so we had to stay up as much as possible that day to get back on pacific standard time. It took a few days to feel normal again but we did recover.
So fellow jetsetters, what about you? What are your tips for international travel or extended trips? How to do entertain your kids while traveling on planes, trains, and automobiles?