International family travel provides a great opportunity to create lasting memories that span generations. Yet despite the allure of visiting magical places with centuries-old history, discovering new foods, or playing in the waves on a tropical beach, we remain surprised how many people tell us they have never traveled outside of the country or consider it for a family getaway.
There’s a reason many families decide never to tackle international travel: Preparation can appear stressful in so many ways. International travel takes planning (unless you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, which often won’t work as well with families usually). And then there is the stress that comes from working out the logistics and thinking through the challenges of transportation, lodging, and adjusting to experiencing new languages and different lifestyles and cultures, especially with kids of various ages.
The key is in learning to plan well, plus traveling with an open mind. Working with our friends at Discover.com (who provided us with the nifty infographics), we have a few travel tips to share (gleaned from our Ultimate Travel Planner: A Guide to Planning International Trips). These will help you keep traveling stress to a minimum and ensure your international travel adventures inspire extraordinary stories and lasting memories you can share for years to come.
- Flights. You can use a service such as Google Flights to search for and choose your own flights, or you can use a travel service or agency. We often rely on and highly recommend Exito Travel, for its combination of technology and the human touch. To learn more about booking flights, read our story on choosing flights, “How to choose the best flight for your next trip.”
- To car seat or not to car seat. Even though you can travel with a small child on your lap (typically meaning a child two and under), international family travel experts we know recommend purchasing an extra seat on the plane to improve both your child’s safety on the plane and to allow you a needed break from holding the child. That means a car seat. Be sure the car seat you are bringing on the plane is compatible with the airline seating, and consider seeking one focused on travel needs.
- Passports a must. A passport is a requirement if you are traveling internationally, and even to purchase a ticket these days, let alone board a plane or boat. And every family member older than six days traveling with you will need a passport too. Do not leave applying for a passport until the last minute since the process can take up to eight weeks (assuming you’d rather avoid rush charges). Also, even if you already have a passport, be sure to check its validity – many countries require your passport be valid for three to six months or they won’t let you enter – finding out you have to get back on a plane to go home after a long flight and a long immigration line isn’t going to make for great memories or moods. For U.S. passport applications, go to the State Department’s travel.gov website and download a form, fill it out and send it along. If you are renewing, you will need to include your current passport with your application. Be sure you know the passport rules for children if this is a family trip. Those are also available on the State Department website.
- Visas are required by certain countries as permission to enter and travel there. Before you travel, be sure you know the visa requirements for the countries you are planning to visit (that means all countries where you will spend time, not just the country where you arrive and depart). The U.S. State Department website has information for travelers regarding individual countries and visa requirements.
- Global Entry is well worth considering as it does expedite international family travel when returning to the United States to avoid often-lengthy passport control lines. Also, Global Entry gives you access to TSA PreCheck, which means you enjoy a more civilized security procedure when entering an airport (shoes stay on, computers stay in bags, etc.) Check with your credit card company or airline to see if it offers to pay for your Global Entry fee ($100 per person). Be sure to plan this six months in advance since you will must apply in person.
- Hotels. For international family travel, be sure any hotel you select is family friendly and knows how to accommodate younger children. We use Booking.com as one resource to help us research and book hotels when we travel.
>> Money – Know the currency exchange rates so you can better track costs and prices. Oanda has a pre-formatted “Traveler’s Cheat Sheet” ready to print and stick in your wallet for quick reference (or you can download an app for quick reference). To learn many more money-saving travel tips be sure to read, “7 travel tips to save money on traveling internationally” and visit our money travel tips and advice resource page here.