15 tips to plan your first international family travel
It is exciting to travel with the family anywhere, and if it is an international travel excitement gets manifold and so does the stress. Now imagine, if it is the first time traveling internationally – both excitement and stress take a new level. We can easily manage stress and add more fun with good planning and involving the entire family. Proper planning eliminates unpleasant uncertainties and allows your family to have a good time together. I have put together these field-tested tips based on my extensive travel with my family of four. It will surely smooth your planning for the first or next family trip.
First of all, the most important thing, remember to stay positive while planning. Sometimes, different time zones, languages may create some obstacles, but take it in your stride and enjoy every moment by planning early. Start planning early to avoid unwanted stress and save money too. Let’s get started.
1. First of all – decide when do you want to travel
What time of the year you want to travel is a key factor in your planning. Our planet is huge with immense diversity, in terms of culture, food, landscape, and weather. When you want to travel will narrow your choices of “where”. If you ‘re going to see aurora borealis in Iceland, winter will be more favorable, whereas summer will be an excellent time to enjoy long days and green landscape. Monsoon season is absolutely not the time for a trip to Nepal. Winter is a perfect time to head for Chile. You got the point!
2. Pick your travel destination
Based on the time, interest, and purpose of your trip, choose your destination for the travel. Here you may like to consider the political stability of the country and your budget for the travel. Of course, your family’s preferences are a major factor – historical buildings, outdoor activities, culture, wilderness – whatever it is, your family’s choices will be a deciding component for “where.” Think about the total days of your travel, and you may not want to take a 24-hour long flight, only to spend a week there.
3. Get your travel permits
Check your passports, and they should have at least six months’ validity from your planned date of return to home. Next, check for the visa requirements on your destination country’s embassy/consulate website and get the ball rolling. Check the country’s entrance/exit fees, to avoid any surprise and keep the cash for payment. Depending on your budget and destination, either get an agency to sort out these details for you or take care of them yourselves.
4. Buy your wings
Once you have decided when and where will your first international travel with family, it is time for action. Search for the air tickets on https://www.momondo.com/, https://www.skyscanner.com/, and https://www.google.com/flights/, and start tracking ticket prices. In my experience, I have noticed tickets prices go down mid-week, so keep an eye, get a feel, and buy them when you think the time is right – not too early, not too late. It is a good idea to check the visa requirements for any country which you have to transit through or have a stopover. Sometimes, it is not worth saving a few dollars for the inconvenience of getting an additional visa for the family.
5. Plan your itinerary
This is the exciting part of the planning, as things start changing from abstract to real. I highly recommend to get the latest copy of a Lonely Planet guide for your destination country and read it. That’s how we do, every time. It has excellent itinerary suggestions for a range of travel duration. Shortlist the places you may want to visit and discuss with the family. Don’t overpack your itinerary, curb your temptation. It is way more fun to travel deep rather than broad, and your little ones will also be happier. Check the best route for your itinerary using google maps. Next, check your options for local travel between those places – renting a car, taxi, train, bus, or by air. These decisions will give you clarity on in-transit days vs. travel days. Alternatively, shortlist some highly recommended tour agencies and contact them to discuss your desired plan. Find the one which works best for your family. Once you figure out those details, create a date wise master travel plan (MTP), discuss with the family one more time, and finalize it. You may download a sample, if you like, link in at the end.
6. Gather information and excitement
Get the age-appropriate books, DVD about your destination country for your kids, and encourage them to finish reading them 3-4 days before your travel. Search Vimeo, Youtube, and all other paid subscriptions for documentaries about your destination and watch them with your kids.
7. Add details to your Master Travel Plan
You start reading details about every place you have planned to visit. Find the main attractions of the place, off-the-beaten-path options, activities, festivals, etc. and pick the ones which appeal to you the most. Add them to your MTP. Find out about the tickets, if needed, and check if you need to buy them in advance. Also, add on your MTP as the to-do item.
8. Go places
Decide your choice of mode of travel between places. It will depend on the country you are visiting, your budget and desired comfort, e.g., renting a car for your Italy travel will be a great idea, while you may consider trains for Switzerland, buses for Chile. Rome2rio.com is an amazing resource to plan your local travels. Make all the reservations, add details on your MTP, along with departure and arrival times. Make copies of the e-tickets and put them in your Travel folder.
9. Stay comfortably and within budget
Finding the best deal on your accommodation is an essential part of travel planning, it is a significant travel expense. I highly recommend getting started with HotelsCombined.com. It is one place to search for a wide range of booking site, e.g. booking.com, Agoda.com and more.
If you prefer a bigger place for your family, with an option to cook your meal, then go for AirBnB.com. It is a great alternative, especially if you are on an extended trip. Flipkey.com and HomeAway.com are your other choices to search for a comfortable place and save some money for shopping souvenirs. Book your accommodations, and add their address and contact number on your MTP. Send emails to your hotels and ask for a pickup from the train station/airport/bus station. Make sure to download their App on your smartphone.
10. Fill your days with happiness
Check your to-do list on MTP added during step 5, align it with your arrival and departure time. Discuss them with your family, ask your kids if they would like to add something based on their recently acquired knowledge. Finalize it and buy the tickets. Add details on your MTP, and make copies of all the relevant emails and e-tickets, and put them in your Travel Folder.
11. Be travelers, not tourists
May sound clichéd, but seriously you will agree with me that it is far more fun to stare at the building when you know some history of it. Snuggle up and read some guide books…. sections of the Lonely Planet guide, learn about the country and places you have been busy planning to visit. Understand their customs, basic etiquettes while in that country, their religious and political sensitivities, and shopping styles (is haggling the way to shop?). Search google for tourist scams, educate yourself and your family about them without causing any stress. If you plan to drive there, check the driving laws and requirements. Be safe, but not fearful, enjoy every moment with a bit of indulgence.
12. Add some smarts to your smartphone
Download maps.me and the maps for all the places you plan to visit, google translate and relevant dictionaries, and XE currency. Ask your kids to download Duolingo to learn a new language for fun and maybe for some use.
13. Stay safe and healthy
Get an appointment with your kids and your doctors and inform them about your travel plan to check any additional vaccination or preventative medication is required. Take actions are per your doctors’ advice. You may also double-check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/ for more information.
Talk to kids about the importance of washing hands before eating, especially while traveling. If your kids feel a strong urge to pet any dog they see, like my kids, talk to them firmly about not touching any stray dog or cat and show them some videos about rabies.
14. Put things in order
Make a list of all the things which need to be taken care of at the home front, before leaving for your trip. Delegate tasks as needed and get the things done.
15. Pack your bags
Pack right and pack light. Check the weather at your destination and make a packing list. Check the baggage policy of your airlines and start packing. You may want to check the ease of using a stroller at your destination when traveling with babies. Decorate your bags with some colorful tags to make them stand out from the baggage claim carousel.
All of these tips are field-tested, some learned from mistakes. Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section.
download sample Master Travel Plan.