Pulling off a great family vacation requires a lot of planning, patience and effort. You get better at all this the more you do it. You stay more focused on what’s important — and less on what’s not. I’ve travelled a lot with my kids — and learned a lot of lessons — these are my top tips for having a great time while travelling with children.
1. Check the validity of your passports. Be sure they’re good for 3 months after the day of your arrival home. Many people make the mistake of thinking that as long as they’re back home before their passports expire they’ll be fine. (It seems like common sense doesn’t it?) But not so. Authorities will often demand that your passport be good for several weeks — even several months for some countries — past the day of your arrival home. Some airlines will not let you board the plane if there is not enough extra time on your passport.
2. Scan your passports and email them to yourself, along with any other important documents — e.g. green card, birth certificate, the visa pages of your passport. If you ever lose your passports abroad, this will save you a ton of time and hassle when you have to replace them.
3. Notify your credit card companies before you leave. Banks are very careful about fraud nowadays — and run algorithms on your billing history to spot any irregularities. A charge from a country or city that you’ve never previously had a charge from could easily get your credit card frozen. And unfreezing your account from a foreign city in a different time zone will be a lot harder than just calling your bank before departure.
4. Take more than one credit or debit card. Cards work differently in foreign countries, some will work at bank ATM but not at a corner store ATM, others will work in restaurants but not at an ATM. There are a number of complex rules and reasons but if you don’t work in the banking industry you’ll never know all of them. The best remedy is to take multiple cards.
5. Make an Out-The-Door list. Leaving for the airport — as your holiday starts — is one of the most stressful times of any trip. Have a list of things you need to grab as you’re leaving your home. I don’t mean a list of things you need to take (i.e. 2 pairs of pants, 3 t-shirts ). I mean a list of things you’ll need to physically grab. It should be a last minute checklist of all the little (and big) things you’ll need as you are going out the door. There will be the bags, of course, the money belt, some water in the fridge for the airport, some snacks on the counter and sweaters for the plane. Plus all the indispensables you’ll want to double-check one last time before heading to the airport: passports, credit cards, cash. There’s a lot to remember — so have a list for it!
6. Language & Translation. While you don’t need to be fluent or have perfect pronunciation, learning a few key phrases in your destination’s language makes a great impression and could also make your travels much smoother. Being able to speak the language in a foreign country is a great way to connect with the local culture. Using translation services from professionals like Translate Shark can be ideal if you’d like to have travel or other documents translated. Don’t forget to use an online tool like Google Translate for instant translations in 64 different languages.
7. Count your suitcases, backpacks, handbags and keep the number in your head. This is simple and maybe painfully obvious, but it sure helps. You hop in a taxi, “bag count — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — yep they’re all here”. Easy. (Bigger families may want to conduct a kid count as well.)
8. Use a small digital camera. The fantastic shots you think you’ll get off the Grand Canyon, or Taj Mahal or Great Wall of China will be left and forgotten. The really great photos that you’ll love and savour for years to come will be the up-close and intimate shots of your kids and your family. And the key to getting great family photos is to take a lot of them. A ton of them! And the way you do that is to take a small camera, have it with you all the time and take pictures as quickly and discreetly as possible. You might insist, I’ll do all that, but with a bigger better camera. But you probably won’t.
9. Book a hotel for the first nights of your trip — but then stay flexible. My advice for travelling singles (or couples) is always to book a hotel for their first night after arrival, then get your bearings, figure out where you want to go and just find hotels as you need them. I’ve upgraded this for travelling families — reserve the first 2 or 3 nights. I realize this advice won’t work for everyone. Some people need certainty and plans and dates. And having all your hotels reserved for the duration of your trip can make things easier. But you’ll also lose some flexibility. If something’s working — if you’ve found a great little beach resort or a really fun hotel with friendly staff — you’ll have to say goodbye because you’ve already booked a room in the next town. On the other hand, having the freedom to leave a place that isn’t living up to expectations is a great bonus and can make the difference between an average vacation and an unforgettable one.
Renting an RV or camper from a reputable company is an even more flexible option for travelling with kids.
While you’re planning where to go and what to do next, you might look into public transport options, something like Oxford Tube – if you’re going to Oxford of course! I tend to go once a year to visit family friends.
10. Put enough in your carry-on bags for the first day or 2 of your trip. This is good advice for anyone but especially when travelling with kids. If your bags are lost you don’t want to be hunting for diapers or a pair of shorts immediately after your arrival in a new city or country.
11. Prebook Meet & Greet Parking. There’s enough stress at the airport without having to struggle with bags or wait for transfer buses with restless children. By prebooking meet & greet parking with companies like SkyParkSecure, not only can you save money on your airport parking but you can walk right into the airport with the family in tow without having to worry.