Two young boys watch planes out of an airport window - plan an international family vacation

What You Need To Plan International Family Vacations

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You’ve done the town, the county, and the region already, and the great big world is begging for exploration! You have vacation time and a destination in mind. You may have even checked out our article on making travel fun for kids. Well, now it’s our time to share our favorite tips on how to plan international family vacations.

two young boys eat breakfast in a bedouin tent in the Wadi Rum Desert of Jordan - plan international family vacations

The boys catch a meal in a Bedouin tent in the Wadi Rum desert

How to Plan International Family Vacations

Airline Booking

Figure out your needs

When you plan international family vacations with kids, things take a little extra time and preparation. Make sure you plan accordingly. If you are traveling with a baby, check out our article on what you need to know before flying with a baby.

Sitting Together

There are few laws in place that guarantee families that fly together, sit together. Some airlines have even been so bold as to make parents pay extra for the chance to sit with their young children. More and more airlines are caving to the pressure of those who plan international family vacations but never assume you will be sitting together. It helps to check with the airline about their seating policies. Alternatively, you can call the airline directly.

The shortest stopover isn’t always the best

Stopovers usually suck. Sometimes,  you’re herded off the plane and forced to leave the terminal. This means picking up your luggage, checking back in and then waiting to board your next plane. Because of this, picking the shortest stopover isn’t always the best option. Ensure you know what the process is for getting to the next leg of your flight.

  • Do you need to pick up your luggage or change terminals?
  • Is there enough time to get to the next gate? Will you have time to handle food, bathrooms, and any other possible situations? Can you do this and still make it with at least a few minutes before you need to board the next flight?

A mother and two young boys walk through an airport walkway - plan international family vacations

Booking a Hotel

Book Ahead

Whether you are staying in a resort, an eco-lodge or a campsite, it pays to book ahead of time, especially for the first couple of days of your trip. Being impulsive and free when on the road can be fantastic, but make sure you have a place for your family to lay their head when you arrive at a destination. Many hotels have a 24-hour cancellation policy as well, so if you book hotels in advance, you can always change your mind a couple of days before once you’ve booked something else.

Determine before you leave what kind of traveler you are. While we use hotels as a place to pass out and recharge our cameras, others may focus on amenities, pools, location, restaurants, activities for the kids, and more.  Make sure that your hotels fit the needs of you and your family.

Kevin Wagar and his son relax on the beach in Grenada

Passports

Make sure your passports are valid

First thing is first. Passports are crucial when you plan international family vacations. Very few countries will let you enter without a valid passport, and even fewer will let you in unless that passport will be valid for at least 3 months past your planned return home. Don’t make a mistake that won’t get you past the border. Customs often demands that your passport is valid for several weeks to several months past the day of your planned exit from the country. Some airlines may not even let you board a plane if there isn’t enough leeway on your passport.

Make copies of your passports and other important documents

Even seasoned travelers can have important things disappear when traveling. Luggage can be lost or stolen, accidents can happen and mistakes can be made. Make copies of all your crucial documents, including visas, passports, birth certificates, etc. This will make dealing with the embassies WAY easier if you ever have to replace them. We recommend keeping  both a digital and a printed copy of each document.

Know whether you will require a Visa to enter a country

Some countries require that you have a document authorizing your entry through their borders. This document is called a Visa (not to be confused with the credit card). There is a website called Project Visa that gives you the information you need to know which countries require Visa’s from which countries of origin.

Check to see if leaving the country requires a Departure Tax

Departure taxes can often be overlooked by travelers. A Departure Tax is a fee placed on visitors to the country that must be paid prior to their exit from the country. The amount of this fee varies depending on the country you are visiting and can even depend on your country of origin or even whether you are departing by land, sea, or air. Many countries don’t accept credit card for departure tax either, and there can sometimes be long lines when trying to pay. These need to be taken into account to ensure you catch your flight home.

A closeup of a hand holding a Canadian passport - plan international family vacations

Credit Cards

Let your Credit Card companies know you’re leaving

Give your credit card companies a call before you head anywhere that is outside of your country. Banks are very careful about fraud and unexpected changes in activity or location could trigger them to shut your card down without notice. This can be a massive pain to undo if you’re in a foreign country. It is even worse if you have little access to telephone and the internet. It’s also super embarrassing when you’re trying to pay for dinner or entrance to the local water park.

Bring a backup credit card

Credit cards and debit cards can be finicky beasts. Some work in some places but not in others. Some places only accept certain brands. Be sure to take a backup credit card in case of emergencies.

Cash

Make sure you have local currency

Cash is the lay of the land in many places. Before you leave, make sure you have enough local currency on-hand to deal with any activities that may not accept credit cards. Be prepared for situations where you may need cash such as emergencies, souvenirs or things such as lockers, food, bathrooms, etc. Never forget to have cash-on-hand.

Spread out your cash when traveling

Having your cash in one place when traveling is super convenient, but if it ever gets lost or misplaced, it’s a disaster. When you’re thinking about how to plan international family vacations, make sure you include spreading out your cash between different bags, pockets, and people, just in case.

A market with lamps, clothing and trinkets - plan international family vacations

Packing

Make a last-minute list

Getting ready to head out the door can include a tornado of activity. Make sure you have a list of everything you need to grab and do before you go. It would be awful to forget something in the mad rush of leaving for the airport. This isn’t a packing list, this is a last-minute checklist of bags, turning off the AC, leaving a light on, snacks, passports, credit cards, cash, camera, etc. This is your last chance before the airport to make sure everything is in place. Make sure your bag count is up-to-date by making a list of your luggage.

Keep crucial items in your carry-on

Never put in your check-in luggage anything that you can’t live without. Make sure that your carry-on includes at least an extra full-days worth of clothes, a camera and anything crucial for the kiddos, including diapers, wipes, snacks, etc.

Tagging your luggage

Those tags that they hand out at the airport with spots for your name, phone number, and address have a good purpose. If you ever misplace your luggage, or during the mad rush to get off the plane, forget an item onboard, this is the information that the airlines will use to track you down. Make sure you have identifying information on both your check-in and carry-on luggage, just in case.

Luggage overflowing with winter clothes on a wood floor - plan international family vacations

Staying Healthy

Check with your national health service or a travel nurse/doctor

Depending on where your family is traveling, certain preventative health initiatives may be needed. You definitely don’t want someone in your family contracting malaria, diphtheria, or even just a bad case of the runs. Check with a travel nurse/doctor, or bare-minimum, the country’s national health service. It’s important to see if any vaccines or preventative medicines are advised for your destination.

Pack healthy

Accidents and illnesses happen. Be prepared for eventualities. This is even more important if you are going to more remote destinations. Check out our list of items to keep kids healthy when traveling and make sure these items are checked off of your list.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is something often overlooked many people plan international family vacations. Often, a person’s personal or work insurance may cover health aspects of travel insurance. This isn’t always the case and you should be aware of what your current insurance does and does not cover.  Travel insurance is usually bundled into packages. Trip Cancellation, where travel insurance is usually sold as a package of coverages that can be broken into three basic components, according to the Insurance Information Institute. As with all insurance, getting your claim can be difficult, so here are some tips on making sure make a successful claim.

  • Trip Cancellation packages insure you against non-refundable fees incurred should you be forced to cancel your trip at the last minute. Different packages allow for different circumstances and their price points match the flexibility you may request, from critical illness/death in the family up to cancel for any reason packages.
  • Health/Wellness packages protect you from possibly the most expensive costs you can incur while in a foreign country. These instances that may require medical expenses, hospital stays and/or medical evacuation can be life changing if you aren’t covered, however, they are also the most likely to be covered under premium health insurance plans.
  • Concierge Service offers you a contact point that can direct you to key places such as services, doctors, contacting family members and so on.

A stethoscope on a world map - plan international family vacations

A good family vacation could be the best thing to ever happen to a family. Memories are built, boundaries are crossed, and stories can be told time and time again over holiday dinners. Use these tips to plan international family vacations. You can relax through your trip rather than fret over things you’ve forgotten.

If you’re looking for more tips for beginner travelers, check out this article from The World Pursuit.

Do you have more tips to help those who need to plan international family vacations? We would love to hear your tips in the comments, or even feel free to contact us directly if you’re shy!

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Kevin Wagar

Kevin Wagar is a creative designer and technology expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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58 Comments

  1. Awesome awesome guide!!! So many things to think about that often get forgotten. Or that are just overwhelming so people give up on traveling abroad. Sad, but true. Thanks for the great info!

  2. This is great advice and the bit about informing your credit card company of your travels rings particularly true with me. We went to the US this summer and never thought of letting our bank know, it just didn’t occur to us. Four declined payments and two 20min phone calls to the bank later, all was sorted but we could have done without the stress!

  3. Such great tips! I always leave a copy of credit cards, ID, itinerary etc with someone at home as well as keeping a printed copy in a separate location in my luggage from the original. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use them.

  4. Really great guide! Traveling with kids definitely changed the way I prepare for a trip. Before, I just threw a few things in a bag, now I have a packing checklist and start packing a few days early.

  5. There are plenty of tips here for solo and couple travelers too but must be way more hectic with kids because you can’t think for yourself only. You have to think of their comfort and safety as well.

    You guys do it so well. I know some people who refuse to travel with kids cuz it is so hard for them (and they have nannies). That’s why I’ll only have kids once I’m ready.

  6. As a travel agent as well as travel blogger this is a great list! I have a similar checklist for clients and myself when I go away. And comprehensive travel insurance is a must, I really think it should be compulsory!! Especially travelling as a family it is so important.

  7. I will say that I do admire people who travel with kids. Travelling with children requires so much more planning that just taking off on your own or with your partner. Travelling with grand kids is a bit of a trend too these days. These look like pretty neat tips.

  8. Ah, the departure tax. So many confused people at the airport in Costa Rica! That’s one of the countries that charges a departure tax, and apparently no one but us knew it. Great tips!

  9. I make copies of all our important travel documents and email a set to myself as well as leave them at the house for anyone who may need to access them for us. My hope is that if they’re readily available through my email, I can access them quickly.

  10. Some great tips here. I haven’t got kids, but I know for a fact that it’s certainly something that requires a lot more meticulous planning than if you’re travelling solo. So all this is advice worth heeding for the day I do travel with kids – especially that related to insurance, which can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times!

  11. As a solo traveler, I also have a checklist of things I do before every international trip, which a lot of them you have included in this post. But, there are sooo many things I would have never taken into consideration having not read this…like potty breaks for the kiddos during stopovers! Sure, if it’s just me, it’s easy peasy, in and out, but this could be a big to do for those with families. Also, there’s definitely more planning that has to be involved like booking hotels. I’m guilty of waiting until I get to a city/country and then booking a hotel while standing at baggage claim. Having these details ironed out, when you are responsible for others, way ahead of time is so important.

  12. Lots of great tips here! We once had to go begging in the airport in Vietnam as we didn’t realise we had to pay departure tax and there was no ATM at the airport! I hasten to add this was when I was young and foolish and well before I had kids, lol!

  13. This is such a great checklist! It’s so easy to overlook something when planning and heading out on a big trip. It’s helpful to bring a credit card and ATM card that has no foreign transaction fees also.

  14. One overlooked aspect of travel insurance is through your credit card’s program. For premium credit cards (like the Chase Reserve), insurance is covered automatically and is often time better than what you can normally buy. If you travel internationally often, I would plop down the yearly fees and get a premium credit card. The amount you save from travel insurance alone will offset the cost. And that’s only one of the reasons to do so.

  15. International Travel is a different ball game altogether and hence needs special attention. It becomes all the more imperative to ensure that you are all set, when you are traveling with kids and family. I still remember the butterflies in my stomach on the first international travel that we undertook, many years ago. This list is quite comprehensive and can serve as a reference.

  16. What a great guide to traveling with kids internationally! We’ve been through 15 countries with our 3 boys, and you hit all the major points I could think of. Being prepared really makes for a more enjoyable trip, as you can really be in the moment when you’re standing in a beautiful cathedral or at a jawdropping view, and not worrying about where you stashed your cash and does your insurance cover this?

    We also found that a properly protected portable tablet is a real lifesaver for keeping kids occupied during flights, stopovers and long drives. I spent a lot of time making sure we had the right chargers and plugs, and that really came in handy.

  17. This list is really helpful to me as I always do international traveling. I have take departure taxes for granted and not only they are not acceptable by credit card, I have to hand in the exact amount(they usually dont give the change). I believe preparation and do our homework before travel goes along the way.

  18. It’s quite stressful planning a trip for myself, so I can only imagine what it’s like to book travel with a family. I always assumed that airlines have to seat family together. It would make sense that a child would be with their parents, but always good to call the airline and make sure! Travel insurance is a must 🙂

  19. These all apply for me as well and I have no kids! Except maybe, the seating. I think the short layover isn’t the best is probably a really good piece of advice especially if you have to take care of the kids you want plenty of time to get from A to B. Great guide.

  20. Very comprehensive information! Travel planning can be stressful and I imagine that traveling with kids must make things even more complicated. Checking the expiring date of your passport or informing the bank are sometimes forgotten but I know people who have had problems with that.
    I cannot think of anything else to add 🙂

  21. AMAZING tips! Especially about the layovers! I totally agree – it’s always better to have a bit more time on your hands so you don’t have to rush between flights. I normally aim for minimum 2 hours and a half just to be safe!
    Thanks for sharing all these awesome tips!!

  22. Loved this! I don’t have kids yet and always had an irrational fear that when I had kids, I had to stop traveling. You’re helping me to realize that doesn’t have to be the case!

  23. Really comprehensive list, and all fabulous advice. With the passports, my tip is to assign one person the job of handling all the important documents. Have been on many family trips where she thought he was handling them and he thought she was handling them and then all hell breaks loose when you’ve lost a passport :S!!

  24. Such a useful guide! I agreed that the shortest stopover isn’t always the best. We happened to miss flight once at the Vancouver airport because custom was taking too long!

  25. Good tips! We do not have children, but most of your planning advice is good for couples and solo travelers. I am amazed how many people forget to check their passports expiration date before booking an international trip!

  26. I’ve been lucky enough to have been travelling with my family since I was 18 months old. To be honest, I don’t know how they did it – travelling with a baby (and then more in the coming years!), so much respect! Since getting older, I definitely appreciate everything my parents have done a whole lot more and find that family holidays are a lot more relaxed now. There’s more of us to carry the luggage, look after paper work and drive. I think you definitely covered all of the family need-to-knows in this blog post. Good job 🙂

  27. Great tips! I don’t have a family of my own yet, but some of these apply to all travel. And one day (I hope!) I will! It’s such a different want to travel I think.

  28. Very very handy tips. Especially now that I am heading out. I had almost forgotten to check on the departure tax. I will now that I read it. Well written.

  29. I was actually talking about your blog to a couch surfing friend my boyfriend and I made in Jeju. I was saying how awesome your blog is because it covers all aspects of family travel. His dream was to roam the world as a digital nomad with his wife and children. I’ll definitely be passing this along to him because he’ll find it super helpful. All these tips are great!

  30. This is a great post with lots of useful information! Have your kids ever been questioned while entering a country? When my family moved to Australia, my dad told us we might be questioned whether or not they were our real parents…

  31. I never would have thought of many of these. I recently just learned about the departure tax. Seems like such a weird thing, but everywhere is just a bit different! I think the best tip (that I didn’t know about) is about the layovers. Sometimes you do need more time when traveling with more people…or just to figure things out. Thanks for such a comprehensive list!

  32. Hi Kevin,

    Great note on the departure tax.

    I recall 5 years ago sitting in Bali, waiting at the ATM to take out cash to pay the departure tax we were surprised with, and wished to pay via credit card. Thank goodness that archane system has been phased out. Tax worked into plane ticket now, I believe.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

  33. These are great tips! Not only for family travel, but for travel in general. I absolutely agree that short stopovers are not necessarily the best. As a flight attendant, there are few things more frustrating than 5-10 minute delays, because people will often become nervous about making their connections. ALWAYS allow a connection time of 2 hours or more.

    Bringing a back up credit card is also extremely important!

  34. Those are all very important things to keep in mind. I did not travel internationally until my kids were around 9 or 10 so I didn’t have to keep up with so many things. Not sure I could have done it, especially considering strollers, car seats,etc. Some of things you mentioned, I would never have given a thought to. Glad you are so versed in kid travel and can share your info, learned probably the hard way. 😉

  35. Really comprehensive list. We don’t travel with kids, but our advice is:
    Passports and other important documents should be handled by only one person.
    Give each person a role to fill, cash handler, map reader, printing off and confirming all bookings, etc.
    But above all don’t ever think you can travel without travel insurance.

  36. Great tips! I’d go so far as to say avoid stopovers if you can help it. The few times we’ve had to do it, it has been a real hassle. Sometimes I plan trips to make it a long weekend somewhere so that we can avoid the rushed stopover. I take one bag for the 3 day stopover so we don’t have to open all the luggage.

  37. This is a brilliant post to refer back to and double check that you havent forgotten anything. (Especially last minute) We always keep hard copies of important documents and keep a spare copy on dropbox just in case. 🙂

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