20 Tips for Successful Overseas Traveling with Children

Travelling with kids is a memorable event for family and a lot of fun! However, it can also be quite stressful at times. The key to successful family travel is to minimise your stress— that’s it! We travelled to Thailand with our sons, the youngest being 8 months old, for 14 days. We were a bit nervous about how the little one would cope with our plans, including a yacht day trip to the island in Thailand. But it turned out to be great!

Also, we did 14 days of trekking in Nepal’s Annapurna Sanctuary in 2019. Our youngest son was 9 years old at the time. I’ve already posted about this trek on the blog, so you can check it out “Nepal Annapurna Base Camp Trekking Itinerary with Children“. Originally, our plan was to visit India, but our son has noise sensory issues. Therefore, we decided to go to a less noisy country, yet still culturally rich—Nepal. He was 9 years old, which is quite big, but the long flight from Sydney to Kathmandu seemed like it could be challenging for us. So, I prepared for every possibility, considering what we would do if he lost his temper or if other unexpected situations arose.

We all know that kids are unique individuals, and some may be easier to handle than others. As parents, you may have to deal with nightmares, hiccups, and highs and lows, including your own. But by preparing for a wide range of possibilities, you may find yourself better equipped to handle challenges than you expected. That’s what I’m going to talk about.

I’m a paranoid person and worry about quite a lot of things, unlike my husband. He just doesn’t really care; he is very easygoing and believes that he could get everything easily. No, I can’t do that. I will be so worried about everything…. Our medical bag is always big; if you ask me something, I will probably give you straightaway, hahaha. Anyway, let’s get started! I’ll share what I’ve learned from previous years of travelling overseas with our kids.

1. Get Your Passports Ready

We are living in Australia, so we’re not familiar with the rules and conditions for applying for passports in other countries. In Australia, you can apply online for passport renewal if your passport is not fully expired, which is the easiest method. Additionally, it’s crucial to note that many people don’t realise you need to have at least six months of validity remaining on your passport. Otherwise, you may not be allowed to enter your destination. The specific requirements vary by country, so it’s important to check beforehand and not take any risks. After putting in all the effort to book hotels, arrange tickets, and pack everything, imagine being denied entry into the country! It’s a total nightmare!

Within Australia, following the COVID-19 disruptions, international travel has resumed, causing delays in the passport issuance process. Some have reported wait times of up to three months, as I was informed at the post office when renewing mine. However, there is an option for expedited processing at an additional cost (ok, I googled additional cost is A$252). So make sure your passports are valid for more than 6 months, and ready to go!

2. Make Reservations For Everything in Advance as Possible

This is essential. Nowadays, you can reserve train seats online, so be sure to reserve whatever you can in advance. If you are travelling with a baby who needs a cot, hotels typically recommend that you reserve one. I have experienced situations where the hotel forgot to provide a cot for our younger son, so since then, I always emailed them to confirm the reservation. Sometimes, packages may include offers like ‘little kids stay free,’ but if you need an extra bed, be sure to check the details when making a reservation. It’s best to email the hotel for a record rather than calling.

3. Book Your Trip During Low Seasons When Possible

This not only saves money but also reduces stress with fewer crowds. Since our sons attended private school (the older one is now an adult and no longer in school), their holidays in Australia typically started a week earlier than those of public schools. Additionally, during the last week of each term, there wasn’t much academic activity. So, we took the kids out of school a bit early, even though public schools hadn’t yet begun their holidays. When we travelled to Italy last year, we took our younger son out of school a week early in mid-November for 28 days, and it was perfect! There were no crowds, no queues at the attractive museums and galleries. Additionally, a few times, our elder son was out of school a week early to go to Thailand during the low season to avoid school holidays.

However, it’s essential to check the regulations regarding school attendance. Taking kids out of school for extended periods can lead to trouble, as it may be against the law. Additionally, I wouldn’t recommend this practice for high school students, as many schools disapprove of it. There have been stories of private schools warning parents not to continue with early holiday-taking, as it disrupts the school’s academic curriculum. But for primary school kids, as long as the school approves, go for it!

4. Plan Some Variations in Your Itinerary

When planning your trip, be sure to schedule some days for relaxation. For instance, during our trip to Thailand with our two boys—one 10 years old and the other just 8 months old—we stayed at a single hotel in Ko Samui but ventured out nearly every day. As a result, we became quite exhausted and burned out, then we ended up cancelling some activities, like a jungle cruise with elephants or a visit to the zoo. On our last major trip to Italy, which lasted 28 days and included visits to major Italian cities, I made sure to allocate at least five days in each city with one day dedicated to doing absolutely nothing. This helped alleviate stress for both the kids and ourselves. Travelling to different environments can be both fun and tiring for kids, especially little ones.

If you plan to visit many attractions such as museums, galleries, or historical sites, keep in mind that your kids may not be interested in everything you have in mind. Make a list of what you want to see and research whether it’s suitable for children. Then, plan your itinerary a bit minimalised, focusing on activities that will interest both you and your kids. Visiting local farms or forests, away from cityscapes, can provide a relaxing mental break for both you and your family.

5. Limited Travel Days Are Sometimes Necessary

A family trip can be incredibly enjoyable, but it can also become ambitious. While the allure of extending the trip may be strong, especially considering the high flight costs and the effort involved in bookings, it’s important to consider the needs of your children. If they are too young to effectively communicate their feelings, the trip may become stressful for both them and you. I’ve witnessed young children, even as young as 1 or 2 years old, in Italy, screaming and crying seemingly without reason, although fatigue was likely a major factor.

As parents, you know your children best, so remember to take it easy and listen to their cues. If a particular trip seems too overwhelming for them at the moment, there’s always next time. By adopting this policy, you can ensure that each trip you take together is truly fantastic and enjoyable for everyone involved.

6. Book Night Flights For Long Journeys, If Possible

If the flight duration is less than 10 hours, I prefer booking daytime flights. However, for flights longer than 10 hours, it’s better to book for night flights. This helps maintain their sleeping routine and is easier for them to handle. Additionally, they can have two longer sleeps during the flight, which aids in adjusting to the destination’s time zone upon arrival. For instance, departing in the night from your country and arriving in the morning at your destination makes it easier to transition to the new time zone. This applies not only to children but also to adults, making it easier to adjust to jet lag.

7. Accommodation Choice, Hotels or Apartments? Based on the Child’s Age

It depends on your preferences and your children’s needs. I personally prefer hotels with room service and breakfast included, but if you’re travelling for an extended period with small children, you might consider different options. Some children are fine with eating out and enjoying the experience, while others may struggle to sit still or have specific dietary needs. So, eating out or sitting still in one place might be a problem. In such cases, booking apartments allows you to enjoy takeaway pizza and have a comfortable meal while watching TV, which can be more enjoyable for everyone.

Additionally, renting apartments offers flexibility for both children and parents in terms of sleeping habits. Parents can enjoy their time alone, whether it’s watching movies, having late-night conversations, or indulging in a dinner with a different menu from the kids’. This freedom allows for relaxation without worrying about waking the children. Moreover, opting for apartments often results in cost savings and provides more flexibility.

8. Book 4 Nights Stay At Your First Destination

If you are travelling with small children, I recommend staying at least four nights at your first destination. Even adults experience jet lag and disrupted sleeping habits when travelling across different time zones. Staying in one place for a longer period can help return to your normal daily routine. You don’t want your child waking up in the middle of the night during your trip, as it can affect their mood during the day as well as yours.

However, our last trip to Italy was different. We moved from Milan to Venice for only one night and then stayed in Venice for three nights. Our son was 12 years old, old enough to cope, but I would not have done that if he was younger. In Venice, we took it very easy, mostly in the afternoons, allowing for relaxation in the hotel considering our longer trip as we planned 28 days in Italy.

It all depends on your itinerary and your child’s age, but make sure you plan to catch up on your daily routine, especially sleeping habits. In this case, it’s easier to spend four days in the same place if possible, especially when you have a small child.

9. Bring a Few of Their Favourite Distractions

This is not necessary to mention; nowadays, it’s on most parents’ lists! Distractions for children are very important, especially when they’re having a meltdown or on the verge of one. Even easy-going children need distractions when they’re in that mood.

You need to set boundaries, such as time frames—like for half an hour, then do something else. Especially with iPads, they can stimulate kids’ brains and might worsen the situation rather than occupy them. From my experience with the iPad, it’s better to avoid playing busy games, such as running, shooting, and quick movement games; these can be worse. I deleted all those types of games after speaking to our son’s therapist. It’s probably better for them to watch movies, do puzzles, or even read instead. Make sure to download content onto your iPad beforehand, as access to high-speed wifi may not be available at your destination.

Good example:

  • Colouring books and pencils
  • iPad
  • Kindle
  • Watching movies
  • Audiobooks
  • Legos in the small pouch

10. Planning The Trip Itinerary Together

Sit down with your children and talk about potential destinations. Let them involve their interests and preferences, and narrow down options together. That would help them create more excitement for the trip and be memorable. You can research activities together for each destination. Explain to your kids and ask what kinds of activities they like. They should be family-friendly options such as amusement parks, zoos, museums, or outdoor adventures. Let them learn to compromise. Each family member suggests their preference, but it’s impossible to accommodate all of their wishes. If there are conflicting preferences within the family, you can teach them to encourage compromise and negotiation. Let them find a good solution or seek out locations that offer a variety of activities to suit everyone’s interests.

Once you have discussed all the options and considered everyone’s preferences, then make the final decision as a family. This process of planning a family trip together will benefit in creating a sense of excitement, ownership, and anticipation for all members of the family, which is quite important for little ones, not only involving them but also considering their perspectives.

11. Celebrate Family Trip Achievements Every Now and Then

Allow your child to acknowledge and celebrate milestones and achievements during the trip as their efforts. It will create lasting memories and positive associations. Changing environments can be challenging for some children, so it’s important to recognize and praise their behaviour. Encouraging their good behaviour is crucial.

Offering a small reward like their favourite snack or treat, such as ice cream or their preferred snack, can be a fantastic way to motivate and reinforce positive behaviour during the trip. It serves as a fun incentive for them to continue exhibiting good behaviour and can make the overall travel experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

12. Teach Them Respectful Behaviour and Basic Local Culture

Teaching kids about the local culture, customs, and etiquette is super important. It’s not just about being polite – it’s about getting them hyped about where they’re going and making connections with the people there. When kids dive into the traditions and ways of the local community, they start to see just how cool different cultures can be. Understanding what’s normal in different places also helps them feel more chill when they’re away from home. Plus, it’s rad for them to grow up appreciating diversity and being cool with everyone’s differences.

13. Let Them Participate in the Airport Process

Airport processing is sometimes very stressful, especially when there is a long queue to check in, even for adults. I can feel some tension there too, so little ones could feel that too, and the worst-case scenario is a meltdown. You just don’t want that! So, it’s a good idea to let them be involved and engaged in the airport process, explaining what we are doing. This can be a great way to avoid meltdowns.

Flying in and out is a part of the travelling process, and we can show them manners in using public transportation and logistics; that’s a good lesson for them too. You can explain what will happen, such as luggage check-in, what the boarding pass is, and which aeroplane you are going to board with gate numbers, etc. So they would know what to expect and what is going on around them.

14. Getting a Rental Car is Not Bad Idea

I personally prefer public transportation over renting a car, but this depends on where you go, what you do, and the age of the kids. If you have small children, definitely get a rental car. We usually get a car when travelling within Australia. You’ll see why if you come to Australia – this country is huge. Mostly, you need a car to get around, as Australian public transportation is lacking. A rental car provides the flexibility of being on your own schedule and is convenient if you have a lot of luggage. Trying to manage trains with small children and big suitcases? No thanks, just get a car or pack light.

But if you decide to get a car, make sure your itinerary is clear for as a road trip. If you’re visiting multiple destinations, the rental car option might be expensive, but the cost of public transport for a family of four would be higher too. Just weigh the factors and decide accordingly.

15. Prepare Some Snacks With You

Snacks are a very good distraction, especially your kids’ favourites. Especially on the aeroplane, they turn into activities and distract them very well. This helps to avoid meltdowns too. Some kids are fussy about food, so they might not like the food on the aeroplane. We buy a bit of snacks at the airport, which is a bit more expensive than the local supermarket, but we are on holiday – let’s get what you want; that’s what we do every time.

You can also buy some snacks anywhere anyway, but if they’re your kids’ favourites, it’s a good idea to give them when they’re in the middle of a meltdown. However, I love going to supermarkets in different countries, and so does my son. We just go and look for something interesting to munch.

16. Don’t Forget a Stroller And Carrier

When we went to Phuket in Thailand, we brought a stroller for our 8-month-old son. We debated whether to bring one because we were also bringing a carrier, like a pouch-type one, for outdoor activities such as excursions. However, we were glad we brought both. It was easy to put him in the stroller and push him around, and he slept there for daytime naps while we were having lunch. However, in some other places, especially in Europe, a stroller might be less convenient. It’s best to research where you’re going and then decide whether to switch to the carrier, so make sure you bring both types of carriers for little ones.

17. Bathroom, Bathroom, Wherever You Go Don’t Forget To Go

Okay, let’s talk about the bathroom…this is important for me too. I’ve had a bit of trouble with my bladder since my first son’s difficult labour. When I feel like I need to go to the toilet, it’s pretty urgent. So this isn’t just about your kids. Public bathrooms can be quite hard to find if you’re not in a shopping centre or restaurant.

So, make sure to use the bathroom before going anywhere. After a meal in a restaurant, museum or before getting on the aeroplane. Yes, after the meal you have to go. You have to make this a habit, even if you don’t feel like you need to go. It’s better to empty your bladder sooner rather than later. I always forget this, but my husband is really good at reminding me because I’m the one always saying, ‘urgent’…

18. Trying to Avoid Jet Lag As Much As You Can

With small children who need nap time or are easily distracted by changes in routine, it’s a priority for parents to establish their routine as soon as possible. If their sleeping habits are inconsistent, they’re more prone to meltdowns without clear triggers. After checking into your hotel or accommodation, it’s best to get out and start moving around a bit; this stimulates them and gets them into their daily activities. If your child is small and needs nap time, you can put them in the stroller or in the rental car seat. Avoid letting them sleep during the day; keep them awake! Activities like going to the park or walking around the street are good ideas, but be mindful not to over-tire or over-stimulate them, as they may have trouble falling asleep later. After a nice dinner, make sure to follow their bedtime routine just like you do at home. Sometimes, it may take three nights or more, but it will get better each night. Keep their bedtime routine consistent, just like at home.

19. Make Sure to Pack Extra Warm Clothing in Handy

“While it may seem obvious to some parents, packing extra warm clothing is a crucial tip, especially when traveling to destinations with fluctuating temperatures or where air conditioning can be too cold for children. Additionally, on airplanes, temperatures can vary, potentially leading to discomfort. Therefore, it’s essential to pack warmer jumpers or long-sleeve T-shirts to ensure your children stay cozy during unexpected chills. Conversely, in warmer climates, layered clothing can prevent overheating and potential meltdowns. Including this tip ensures you’re prepared for any weather conditions, enhancing your family’s comfort and enjoyment during the trip.

20. Using Google Maps Wisely

While I was planning to go to Italy, I used Google Maps to save places. That actually really helped us to go through daily activities easily. You can save any places in different files and it’s very easy to organize where we should go. Then, of course, you know Google Maps; when you need it, just open the app, then hit your saved place, or you can see the nearest place from your current location. I can’t imagine how we could have done our Italy trip successfully without Google Maps. We might have had a big fight between me and my husband, just like we did when using a map to navigate in a car 25 years ago!

Basically, that’s all about planning in advance, especially with small children. Travelling with small children can be challenging—I know, I’ve done that. But organising before you get on the airplane is key, and as your child gets older, you’ll find it easier. Nevertheless, family trips, especially international travel, are exciting for all of us. Again, just organise well, and you’ll be fine!

Hope this article helps with your next family trip!

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