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Tips for Traveling Internationally as an Expat Parent


Deciding to travel internationally with your children is a great adventure and a huge responsibility. There are many things to consider including what I like to call the "travel policy" of where it is you are going. The travel requirements for the means of transportation such as the airline and the airport through which you reach your destination. These things are just the basics, some other considerations might be weather, crime stats, local transportation you might get to your destination from the airport. So many things to consider. Some things might never come up however they might be good to know just in case. There are many things I learned the long way or just got lucky on because I certainly didn't know them before I went through it.

Like needing to purchase a round trip ticket when visiting Jamaica. Fortunately, I did, but not because I always book round trip tickets when visiting other countries. There's also that time I booked a one-way flight to Guatemala and couldn't use the same means to book a return flight once I was ready to leave. I ended up having to phone a friend to ask them to book me a flight out of Guatemala. It all worked out.

As a part of this article, I have a very important honorable mention. The first is to take more time than you think you need. When traveling with children, if you think you need to be at the airport two hours before your flight and you believe that will be a sufficient amount of time, add another 90 minutes, especially when the children out number the adults as is my case as a single mother traveling with three children.

One thing about children is that when they are in a new environment, you can definitely count on them to forget which way is left or which way is right, and which way is up or down. You'll find yourself constantly explaining that "it's the same thing just in a different place" which is why emergency planning and repetition is so important. That extra time will result in being significantly less stressed. Trust me the whole process is stressful enough.

Once, my children and I were standing at TSA check-in for about 10 minutes and you know that 10 minutes is long time when it comes to getting to your flight on time. I wasn't able to get through because they didn't have a person to do the little hand swipe test. I thought for sure we were going to miss that flight, and I almost passed out running to get to the flight in time, only to see they were a bit late to began boarding. You never know, though because many times before, boarding has occurred earlier than stated.

Another reason to add time is because discrimination is real. They will detain you for security reasons due to your hair style or clothing or some other random reason. In my case, having loc'd hair. I no longer have locs at the moment, but when I did, I could always count on being detained. This happened when entering another country, during connecting flights which was a huge pain because sometimes, there just isn't enough time between those flights, and when reentering the United States. Especially if you reenter from a country where ganja is legal. TSA be ready to check your paraphernalia for residue, threatening to arrest you if they find anything. True story, this actually happened to me, but thankfully, I had time that day.

You Go First

Traveling to a destination first, without your children, is a great way to get a feel for the location. You can get a better idea of what things there are to do, how to get around, the safest areas, travel requirements, and other accommodations. You can even find new friends which makes for a much easier trip and some excellent local expertise to help you build your itinerary.

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Organize Well

Pack as little luggage as possible and only take what's absolutely necessary and leave out things that you can purchase once you get there. Organize using plastic zipper bags and label with a permanent marker. Figure out what is necessary to carry-on the plane and check everything else. Carry on as minimal number of bags as possible. I'd say one personal item per person, like a back pack, nothing big and certainly not something your children will need your help with. Always keep identification and things that need to me accessed quickly and easily in the same place. Keep a small sticky note of what's in the bag inside the bag.

Keep A Travel Log

Everything you've packed, write it down and where it has been packed. Think of it as inventory. You'll want to keep up with all your things as closely as possible as you may not be able to recoup them if lost. Trust me. Keep a full travel log of everything that is in each bag and check to make sure you have every bag during each destination or layover.


Pack Quality Not Quantity

There are a lot of important things to think about when packing. One of the most important is whether you can purchase an item once you get where you are going. Some items that you may need or just enjoy having for ease or comfort may not be available in other countries at least not as easily obtained. You definitely want to pack hard to find necessities while leaving regular degular items for purchase once you arrive. When packing quality items consider how long you will be staying, one week or one month and what you might need for everyday living. Do your research!

Locate Your Nearest Embassy

Not much else to this directive. The purpose of an embassy is to assist citizens from their country who are traveling or working overseas. The most common reason I've encountered for embassy use is losing your passport while traveling internationally. Heaven forbids this ever happens to you and if it ever does, you'll want to know where the embassy is located. The embassy can also assist with finding a local doctor or lawyer if a situation calls for it.

Emergency Plan

Put together an emergency plan and make it engaging also known as fun or interesting for children. Insert all the bells and whistles. Emphasize its importance and go over it multiple times and practice it a few times. I cannot stress the practicing enough. My children and I have been in somewhat emergency situations abroad and once things were settled, when I asked why they didn't do the things that were part of our emergency plan, their answer was, "I forgot". Emergency plans don't help much when "I forgot" is a thing. Include,

  • What to do if I'm gone longer than one hour
  • What to do if we get separated
  • Escape plans and routes
  • What to do if I'm incapacitated
  • How to's (call emergency, get a taxi etc)
  • Who to call when...
  • Most important items to grab in critical situations

Photo A Day

For safety and security purpose, take a photo of your children everyday that you go out. This is useful to record what they look like that day in case anything should happen as well as what they are wearing. Send it to family, just in case something happens to your device. This is great for memories, too.

My family and I are new to international travel and I've already learned a few important things that are necessary from trial and error. This is a hugely inconvenient way to learn when you don't have much room for error in the bank account. It's good to have dependable children as well which I'm still working on but realize I might never attain. Either way, I hope this list is helpful for you and you can learn from my short comings.

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