For many parents, the idea of traveling abroad with little ones sounds like a daunting task, but plenty of families are up for the challenge: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 2 million children travel internationally each year. "Introducing children to traveling at a young age helps them to grow into awesome travelers and also exposes them to other cultures that in turn will assist their academics," said Beth Blair, of The Vacation Gals, who is a mother of three. "There is nothing better than firsthand experience." With proper planning and a little creativity, it's easier than you'd think to explore other countries with your kids. U.S. News tapped three family travel bloggers for advice on ensuring a smoother trip aboard this summer.
Before booking a flight and packing your bags, putting in the appropriate amount of planning and research can save you time, money and a headache when bringing your children along.
"Most family-friendly places tout themselves as such," Blair said. "Costa Rica and Italy come to mind as no doubt great places to bring the kids."
Most countries that are suited for family travel are safe, clean and will grant you access to proper emergency medical care, in case you need it, but check with the U.S. State Department for the lowdown on any countries you aren't familiar with and to learn about visa requirements. You should also check with the CDC to see if any vaccines are necessary. While you're at it, make sure your health insurance will cover you and your family in case anyone falls ill or is injured while overseas. If it doesn’t, consider purchasing travel medical insurance. Parents can also consult the newly formed Family Travel Association, an organization that pulls together resources and experts to provide planning tips and travel and safety advice for the ever-growing family travel market.
Make sure passports are valid, including for infants, and don't forget to make photo copies of each passport in case one gets lost or stolen. And if both parents won't be accompanying the child, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection suggests having a signed consent note from one or both parents.
Even though international travel is more affordable this year (especially to Europe and South America) thanks to the strong U.S. dollar, doing a little research can save you even more money. Holly Johnson, founder of Club Thrifty and mother of two, advised planning out a detailed budget for each day and taking into account the currency exchange rates.
Johnson also suggested searching the Internet for restaurant menus and other typical food costs in the country you're visiting to get an estimate of how much you'll spend on meals.
See: How to Fly with Kids
Airport security and the flight to your destination can be a challenge when traveling with kids, but knowing the protocol and doing your best to streamline the screening process can ease the hassle. Many major airlines have check-in requirements for international flights ranging from one to three hours prior to departure, however it's always a good idea to plan for extra time when you're bringing children along.
"Nothing stresses anyone out more than being rushed at the airport. You'll always run into long lines and delays. The less time you have to get through security, the more stressed you'll be," said Corinne McDermott, mother of two and founder of Have Baby Will Travel.
Currently, the Transportation Security Administration regulations allow kids 12 and younger to keep their shoes on during screenings. Exceptions to the 3-1-1 liquid rule are also made for those who need to carry formula, breast milk and/or juice on board the plane, just make sure to tell TSA agents upfront before the screening starts.
Once you've made it onto the plane, have a plan for keeping your kids entertained. A hyper 4-year-old forced to sit still for any amount of time in any situation, let alone a lengthy plane ride, can be a recipe for disaster. Bring a variety of items for your children to choose from, including any tech toys you may carry, such as tablets or smartphones, so kids aren't stuck doing the same thing the entire flight.
"I go into the flight thinking that they'll be awake for the duration, and if they fall asleep that's a bonus," McDermott said.
Taking a redeye could increase the chances of your little one sleeping through most of the flight and help your family get a leg up on jet lag, but don't expect that to diminish the feeling completely. There's no magical solution for hopping time zones, but normalizing your child's schedule as quickly as possible can help him or her (and you) bounce back quicker.
"If you stick to your home routine in your new time zone, you'll have a day or two of tired and cranky [kids], but then you'll be in sync. The same goes for coming home," McDermott said.
Just as sticking to a similar routine can help kids acclimate to the new time zone, it can also help calm their anxieties about being in a new place. Try to keep naps, meals and bedtimes on the same schedule you use at home.
Set out a general plan for each day, but make sure to include some down time for the whole family. Allow children to help pick activities and sightseeing opportunities, while remembering that you can be flexible. Another reason kids are so well-suited for travel? They love adventure, so you don't have to adhere to a strict agenda.
If you are prepared as possible, not only will it give you peace of mind but it'll also give you more quality time to spend with your children, which will keep your kids happy and the trip running smoothly.
"The first time always seems the most daunting," McDermott said. "With every trip, the load gets lighter and you get more confident and your kids get more confident in traveling."
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