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Tips For Traveling With Children To Foreign Countries

Updated on May 15, 2012

Travel With Children

Growing up, my childhood was anything but typical. While my friends spent their summers at camp or sat around bored at home, my parents -- both of whom were school teachers and had summers off -- took me on trips. But we didn't just go to Disney World; we traveled all over the world.

By the time I was 15, I'd been to Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, Israel, Egypt, Russia and all over Europe and the United States. These journeys definitely influenced my life because I'm still an avid traveler.

Many parents give up their dreams of traveling to foreign countries because they feel that it's difficult to do so with kids. However, it can be done, provided you take some precautions and plan carefully -- and in the end, seeing other countries will enrich a child's life. They will be exposed to different types of foods, people and will learn more about art, history, science and culture than they'll ever learn from merely sitting in a classroom.

Travel With Children: Traveling With Toddlers

Travel With A Baby

Traveling With Children Overseas

Tips For Traveling With Kids Overseas

When it comes to traveling with children, my biggest piece of advice is to not just jump into a trip. Taking an impromptu vacation as adults is fairly easy, but kids need some more planning. Here are my tips for planning an overseas vacation with a child.

1. Get your kid used to traveling. This is really important because you don't want to spend a trip with your children whining, "Are we there yet?" Give them a "test run" with shorter trips. My sister-in-law has taken my 4-year-old niece to some nearby states and is gradually taking her on longer trips. I grew up in New York so my parents first took me upstate and to Florida; they then took me to Canada and California. I didn't take my first really big trip until I was 8 and we drove cross country over the summer. But they worked me up to it and made sure that I'd be able to handle a longer vacation. This may vary with age. Some parents I know have taken their 5-year-olds overseas and have done fine; others have waited until their kids were around 10 to make a bigger trip. You know your kid best.

2. Get your child involved in the planning. Going to a foreign country can be daunting for anyone, and it can be especially scary for a kid. Introduce them to the country beforehand. Show them pictures and videos of the place and tell them a little about that country's food and customs. Let them have a say on which sights you'll see. The more involved they are, the more excited they'll be about actually going on your journey.

3. Take a tour. A great way to see a new country is to take a tour of it. As a kid, I liked being on tours because it meant I got to interact with people other than my parents. Search online for tours that cater to families. Disney, for example. now offers kid-friendly tours to places all over the world. These will inevitably be more expensive than if you were to travel on your own, but on a tour, your kids will get to meet other children -- and you won't have to worry about arranging hotels, transportation, etc. Even if you don't go on a full-fledged tour, you can still take day-long tours in the country you're visiting.

4. Make sure that you have all of the necessary documentation for traveling. Get your children passports, visas, etc. well in advance and make copies of your documents in case something gets lost. You may also have to bring your child's birth certificate and proof that you can legally take the child out of the country. Make sure you research your destination's requirements for adults AND kids so you don't end up with nasty surprises at the airport. Bring some extra cash, as well (in that country's currency), in case of emergencies. You never know when your credit card or ATM card won't work and you don't want to get stuck -- especially with a child.

5. Get travel insurance! Let's face it, kids are germ factories. If little Johnny gets sick right at the time of your trip, you don't want to lose all of your money. You also want to be prepared in case one of your little ones gets sick or hurt on the journey.

6. Be prepared. If your kid takes prescription medication, don't forget to pack it. Also bring items like Pepto Bismol, cough medicine, Band-Aids and children's aspirin. Also bring bug spray and sunscreen. Better safe than sorry!

7. Pack some toys and activities. You don't have to bring your child's entire toy chest with you, but pack some books, dolls, an iPad, etc. for long plane or bus rides. I always traveled with a stuffed animal to sleep with and a mini Nintendo video game (this was in the '80s before iPads!). Not only did these give me something to play with when I was bored, but my stuffed animals gave me a sense of "home" while I was away.

8. Help your child handle homesickness. Being thousands of miles from home can be tough, but these days, it's really easy to keep in touch with loved ones. Most hotels have Internet access and most cities have Internet cafes. Take some time each day to help your child e-mail or Skype his or her friends or grandparents, etc. Staying in touch back home will help your kids feel less distant from it.

9. Plan kid-friendly activities. Many cities have children's museums, puppet shows, famous toy stores, etc. For instance, Japan has a Hello Kitty theme park right outside of Tokyo. When I was in Germany, my parents took me to a Christmas-themed store that had tons of dolls on display. In Paris, they have some lovely playgrounds so we stopped by one every day. Don't force your children to only do "adult" things; do a mix of both.

10. When traveling with very young children, ask the airline if they have special seating for kids. For example, I've been on some long haul flights where babies were put in comfy-looking makeshift cribs that were provided by the airline. Swiss Air set up a crib that even came with a little mobile made up of tiny airplanes! Many airlines also have toys and games for kids and special meals. Check into this before flying.

11. Pack some travel-friendly snacks. Most countries have at least some Westernized food. I don't eat fish so the McDonald's in Tokyo was my salvation. But my parents always had snacks on hand, just in case. Good choices are things like granola bars or Lipton Cup-A-Soup (dried soup in a bowl to which you add hot water). They travel well and don't violate the TSA's liquids requirements.

12. Make sure your kid eats safely. If you're told not to drink the water in a country, keep your kid away from it. This includes having ice in drinks and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Also be mindful of your kid eating spicy foods. It may be too much for him to handle at this point.

13. Keep track of your kids at all times. This is something that parents should do, anyway, but pay extra attention to your children when you're in a foreign place and don't know the language. Hold your child's hand in markets, museums, etc. Don't let him or her go off exploring alone.

14. Teach your child some basic phrases in that country's language. Many experts say that the best time for a person to learn a new language is when he's a child. Take advantage of this! Get a phrase book and go over some words like, "Please," "thank you," "hello," "good bye." Adults will be so impressed if your child knows some words and phrases, especially when you're ordering at a restaurant. I ended up getting some free meals and souvenirs because I managed to charm the adults with my very basic language skills! Moreover, it's useful to know other languages, anyway.

15. Do something to help your kids document and remember the trip. Whenever we got home, I'd help my dad put together a slide show, which we'd then show to my class. Make a scrap book, upload a trip video, help your kid write a little blog. This will no doubt be an experience of a lifetime for you and your family; make sure the memories stay with your children.

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    • profile image

      Steffi 

      3 years ago

      I am totally wowed and prrpaeed to take the next step now.

    • Tricia1000 profile image

      Tricia1000 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for all the tips. I will be traveling in five weeks to Europe with a small child. He is well-traveled by now, but I always plan ahead making provision for even the smallest detail. Many of the things you mention, for example, travel insurance and proper documentation are requirements for South Africans to get a visum and yes to make copies is essential. Traveling with a small child can be stressful but also a lot of fun. It is like giving them an extra education.

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