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Preparing for International Family Travel

Planning the ultimate family vacation fuels excitement and anticipation. But don’t let destination research and the thrill of developing an itinerary distract you from important travel preparation. Here are nine tips to get your family ready for an overseas adventure.            

1. Secure passports

Everyone needs a passport to travel internationally … even the baby. Once you apply, it could take anywhere from four to six weeks to process, so plan accordingly. For first-time applicants a passport book is $135 (age 16+) or $105 (under age 16). Passport applications for minors must be submitted in person with the child accompanied by both parents or guardians. If one parent / guardian is unable to appear in person, a signed and notarized Statement of Consent form must be submitted. Visit the U.S. Passports & International Travel site for more info.

2. See a doc before you depart

In fact, you may want to schedule doctor visits for each family member a couple of months in advance of your trip. Some immunizations and vaccinations can take up to six weeks to be fully effective. Check your health insurance to understand what’s covered if you need medical attention overseas.

3. Research the best time to go

Work and school schedules often dictate travel plans. However, if you are afforded some flexibility, it pays to research the high and low travel seasons of your destination. It could mean the difference of a few hundred or thousand bucks and fewer crowds.

4. Learn about the culture

The best part about traveling internationally is teaching your kids about a culture that’s different from their own. Travel books and online resources are readily available and can help prep your family for all kinds of exciting adventures. Visit our Family Travel pages for more tips on planning an educational vacation.

5. Talk about the food

Depending on where you’re going, this can be a tricky venture for picky eaters. Talk about local foods ahead of time with your family and ease into a cuisine with a trip to an ethnic restaurant or grocery store before your trip. Once abroad, buffets offer a wide array of options.

6. Discuss the importance of safety

Without scaring the kids too much, it is important to talk about being vigilant and staying safe in a foreign country. Be alert while sight-seeing; identify predetermined meeting areas for each excursion or leg of the vacation; locate the U.S. consulate or embassy; and show the kids what local law enforcement officers look like if they get lost. If your children are younger, write down your contact information on an index cards and place it in their pockets.

7. Prepare for the long flight

Let your little ones pack their own small carry-on so they can make decisions on activities to bring – coloring books, electronics, headphones, you name it! And, start off on the right foot by planning some activities before you board. See our list of downtime distractions here.

8. Pack smarter

Instead of having a suitcase for each person, mix up the clothes inside. This way if one piece of luggage gets lost or delayed, one family member isn’t completely out of luck. Again, have the kids participate in packing, but remind them to keep it light. You can (and should) repeat outfits. Most accommodations have washers and dryers, but it’s a good idea to check ahead of time just to be sure.

9. Update your child's teachers

As much as you try to avoid it, sometimes planning a trip during the school year is your best option. If you need to schedule a getaway while school is in session, work with teachers to develop a plan. Not only can children do a little homework on the flight to avoid getting too far behind on classwork, they might be able to give a presentation to their class about everything they’ve learned. It’s never too early to start working on those public-speaking skills!