I had to figure out overseas travel on my own, and it was ugly. In my hometown, more people had ridden a horse or tractor than a metro. My wife, however, grew up overseas; a child of two State Department officers, she learned from a very early age how to navigate customs, pack, fly, how to ride "the tube," and explore a new country. Our childhood experiences could not have been any different.
I recently spoke with her mother to pull back the curtain into how a State Department family prepares their kids for international travel, and here’s what I found.
- Give each child a lightweight backpack for long plane rides and let them be responsible for it through the airport:
- Have them pack a few books (or an e-reader), video games (with headsets), and snacks that will keep them entertained during travel time. Get water at the airport; don’t depend on the beverage cart passing by when you need it most.
- Include an extra shirt and pants for the inevitable spill or delayed luggage; pj’s that can do double duty are a great idea.
- Sneak in a few inexpensive surprise items for them to discover as the trip goes along.
Pro Tip: Involve the kids when you’re packing and let them have some control over what is packed for them. Let them bring a comfort item from home to help them feel secure during meltdowns or at bedtime. A favorite pillow, stuffed animal, small blanket, or article of clothing just might help calm your little ones.
Make a game out of finding favorite new snacks; for example, there are some crazy flavors of potato chips in other countries! Pick out interesting-looking snacks in local grocery stores. Once you find your new favorites, bring a few home and save them for a special evening when you look through your vacation photos; you can take turns talking about favorite memories of the trip while eating food that reminds you of the culture.
Street food in countries with good sanitary practices can be a wonderful adventure. Look around and take note of what people on the street are eating. Working your way through the "yucky" treats can also be fun and creates memories that are sure to be brought up for years to come.
Keep the kids off electronics during your trip. Instead, ask them to keep a running list of strange customs, weird occurrences, odd forms of transportation, or bizarre foods they see. Then, come up with a Top Ten list to share on your last night of the trip. Public restrooms can be good for "ewwwws" as can watching cows roaming the streets or seeing people eating with their hands in restaurants. Parents are also usually good for a laugh or two, so be good-humored if something you do ends up in their Top Ten list.
Get family-friendly tips from locals
Strike up conversations with taxi drivers or hotel staff. They’re a good source on which areas to avoid for security reasons, but they’ll probably also know of kid-friendly places to check out with your family. Ask the locals where they take their children for outings and you might find a great park or a venue with special shows, especially music or magic shows where language won’t be a barrier. You could also end up finding great, off-the-beaten-path restaurants or some gorgeous spots that aren’t in the normal tourist areas.
Give in a little
Remember that a family vacation is for all members of your family. Bed times can be adjusted to watch nighttime fireworks; normally-banned gum can be chewed on the plane to relieve ear pain; allowances can be raised to account for the unique treats or souvenirs the kids may want to get; manners can be adjusted to fit in with local customs; and – best of all – no one is required to make their bed in the hotel!
Traveling overseas with little ones is all about patience and preparation, including preparing for emergencies. Take the worry out of travel by planning ahead and by covering your family vacation with travel insurance.
How do you prepare your little ones for overseas travel?
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