My husband and I recently cashed in a slew of airline miles and traveled overseas with the kids for the first time. It was one of the best trips ever. (Shockingly! I mean, we’ve had beach trips that have left me high-tailing it back to my house at 12 am) It will definitely be one our family will remember for years to come.
The prep work involved in getting six people on an international trip isn’t for the faint of heart. I would NOT call myself a traveling aficionado, so it took some thought, planning, and serious interviewing of my more traveled friends to make sure I was covering all of my bases (y’all know who you are! :-)).
Here are some of my tips and tricks* for getting over an ocean and through the foreign woods – with all of your children and your paperwork intact. I hope they inspire you to get out of your bubble and into a foreign land – it truly is worth every penny.
* In no particular order!
Passports are an obvi for any international travel. Smarty Susan wrote an AWESOME post on it a last year that I bookmarked and referred to when we applied for the kids’ passports – click here to read it. We had great luck at the Providence Road (South Charlotte) post office – easy to get an appointment and an easy process once we were there. I had EVERYTHING ready to go so we weren’t waiting forever in a tiny room with four kids. Remember both parents need to be there (unless you have permission – I’ll let the legal peeps figure that one out for ya!).
This is optional – especially for kids. Global Entry is the US Customs and Border Control’s way of making it a little easier on travelers whose backgrounds have been pre-checked. There are two big benefits to it: you have the chance to get pre-approved by the airlines, which means you can go through a faster security line, skip the shoeless brigade, and keep electronic devices in your bag through the scanner. It also enables you to go directly to Global Entry kiosks when you’re coming back through US Customs. This can be a HUGE timesaver if you’re connecting through somewhere like Miami (depths-of-hell Customs) or JFK in NY. I am sure it can save you time in Charlotte, but we came back mid-week when things weren’t super crowded so it didn’t really make a big difference for us.
Typically, kids can sail through pre-check security with a Global Entry adult. They CANNOT, however, go to a Global Entry kiosk in US Customs because it’s all connected to the individual passport. This is really important to keep in mind. My husband and I had Global Entry, so it worked to our advantage going through security in Charlotte with four kids (that’s 12 shoes we kept laced up!) but it didn’t make a lick of difference when we went through Customs in Charlotte on our return because our kids didn’t have Global Entry.
A few things to note on this one:
– It’s pricey. Cost is $100 per application, so if you’re traveling with a couple of kids, it adds up (that’s why my hubby and I chose to just get it for the two of us!).
– It’s tough to get an appointment. I called in November and got an appointment in March at CLT Douglas. Getting an appointment is the hardest part. Once you’re there, it truly takes longer to find a parking spot than it does to get interviewed. (Smarty tip: look up and smile when they say they’re taking your pic. It winds up on a card you’ll receive a few days later! I got a mugshot.)
– It’s only good in the US. It won’t really do you any good at your foreign destination’s airport.
Click here for more information and to apply for Global Entry.
Passport ID badges
I was OBSESSED with the idea that I would lose one of my kids. It’s not like I have a history of losing anyone, but I do lose things, and I thought that with the added dimension of a foreign language, a foreign land, and a big city, one of my kids would be gone-zo in the blink of an eye. Like a purse. Or a wallet. And, all I could imagine was them trying to tell a foreign police officer something and no one understanding each other. With this in mind, I decided to basically brand them. I shrunk a copy of their passports to a business card size, wrote emergency information on the back, laminated it (yes, I have a laminator), and attached it to a lanyard. They had to wear them under their shirts at all times. They hated me for it, but I felt better knowing they could be identified. (On another note, I’m thinking of opening a reverse-fake-ID biz – ya know, making us 21 all over again??! Who’s in?)
We rented an apartment through HomeAway.com after my friend Tish recommended it, and now that we’ve done it, we think that’s the BEST way to go with a family. We had a full kitchen, plenty of beds, a big den, and a washer (key!). We weren’t on top of each other like we would be in a hotel, and it was way more economical when you factor everything in. Plus it was a chance to live like a native in a foreign city :-).
I’m past the stage of diapers, sippy cups, potty accidents, and everything in between. So, I didn’t even THINK to pack a change of clothes or plastic bags on our flight (See? I told you I am not a travel aficionado!). If you’re past all of that, too, and think you don’t need reinforcements, hold up, sister. What I didn’t know was that my youngest gets MOTION SICK. Let’s just say the Rome airport got to see a whole lotta me as I walked out of the bathroom in just my camisole and track pants after my five-year-old threw up ALL OVER me right as we were about to cross through Customs. Yep. Definitely take a change of clothes no matter what stage you’re in. And, a friend of mine suggested carrying those rolled up doggie bags for any future pukers. Brillz. Those are going in my carry-on next time for sure.
Wipes, tissues, pens, small notepad – ya know, the essentials
This might seem obvious to some of you more “organized” moms, but for those of us who never seem to have snacks, Kleenex, or a pen, this is actually a to-do for us (you know who are you, and it’s OK, I am the same :-)). Make sure to pack travel-sized Handi-Wipes, Kleenex, Lysol, and Purell. I used all of those on our trip (here’s the purse I used – I loved it!). And, a pen and a small notepad come in handy when jotting down facts the family is learning on some amazing tour OR what gelato place everyone keeps raving about ;-). My kids loved the notepad – there’s something way more adventurous about writing it down rather than typing it into a smartphone.
The best app we used our entire trip (besides Google Maps) was the Trip Advisor app. This came recommended by my friend Carrie. It’s a GREAT app. We used it primarily to find the best restaurants, and every recommendation we got was solid. I’d recommend this app if you’re going anywhere – not just overseas.
Interactive Packing List
My mom found this interactive packing list from Independent Traveler. It helped me SO MUCH. Who would’ve thought of a clothes line? Not me! But, dang, I really did need it. It’s easy to use and customize. I’m using it for every trip we take from now on!
Speaking of packing, one of my Smartiest friends, Rachel, came up with this idea: plan outfits for the trip and take pictures of them. That way you don’t even have to THINK when you get up. Just thumb through photos on your phone (or DropBox) and BOOM. Instant style. Plus it really helps when packing. I referred to these photos every day. I love my brilliant friends!!
Like my lost-kid obsession, I was also obsessed with losing my purse, wallet, or six passports, so I had back-up copies of everything on my Dropbox account. I figured if anything was lost, I could access it all from any computer or smart phone. I am sure this can be done with a number of other apps or tools, but I am familiar with Dropbox so that’s what I used. Luckily I never had to access anything, but I felt way better knowing everything was there at the touch of a button.
This is just for fun. Rather than text or email family with pictures, I set up a separate, private Instagram account for family and friends who wanted to follow our journey (or at least they said they did :-)). I never felt like I was “over-sharing” because anyone who followed the account knew what they were getting into :-). We loved documenting our trip this way – almost like we were sharing our trip with everyone we loved. It’s also become a great photo diary for us.
I’m making a photo book with all of the pics, and while I have more pics than I posted on Instagram, it’s serving as a record keeper for me to make sure my book goes chronologically. I also plan to make a small Chatbooks with just those Instagram photos and hashtags. I figure the only way the kids will truly remember this trip is through photos, so I plan to print and document as many as possible!
That’s it! I can’t believe it, but we did it – and actually had a blast. Feel free to comment below as to what you’ve found most helpful when you’ve traveled internationally with kids – it takes a village!