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The tickets were bought months ago, a roll of the proverbial dice on health and weather and the unreliable nature of the freelancer's payment arrival. Purchasing the airline tickets made it real and, as is the way of things that once seemed but late-night talk and what-if wishes, reality beget reality and car rentals, hotel rooms and train schedules fell into place like so many overpriced puzzle pieces.
For the first time in years, we are going on a family vacation that doesn't have its roots in work or projects, as fun as those trips may have been. It is really happening, and there is nothing to do but pack accordingly.
Traveling with kids is a big deal, to the point that there are numerous blogs, magazines and assorted apps dedicated to it—so you know it's legit. However, while those things surely offer detail and value, the truth is that traveling with kids is as easy as you want it to be. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of work involved, or that some aspects of the prep and travel may not be as fun as you (or the kids) may like, but taking a deep breath and relaxing a bit goes a long way. (That feels like it could be a travel joke if I tried a little harder.)
Throughout our planning, I have discovered a few hints, hacks, shortcuts or whatever else you were searching for on Google when you found this page, ideas that can help parents travel with kids. And because I'm a giver, I thought I would share them with you. You're welcome.
First, if you are traveling abroad then you and all the members of your party will need a passport. This is important. Also, it's a well-known fact that the amount of time one need spend obtaining a passport is roughly twice that of the vacation they have planned. Needless to say, we did a lot of research in terms of requirements and time before taking the boys in to process theirs. You can do the same. This official passport website has all the information that U.S. citizens need, including locations, contact numbers and any required documentation or paperwork. Read it, don't let it intimidate you and get your passport(s) processed as early as possible. Everything about it takes time.
Second, I read somewhere that you can take your own miniature bottles of liquor on the plane as long as they meet the TSA requirements regarding liquid ounces. We're going to do it. Actually, I probably should have started with this tip, it's that important.
Next, plan your finances beyond your adventure. Make sure you leave something to come home to for all the bills waiting. If possible, pay some of your bigger bills in advance. It's a relief knowing that the money in your bank account can be spent on your vacation without worrying about rent or car payments.
Speaking of money, don't bother with travelers checks and don't fall victim to hidden charges and high rates at the currency exchange. Instead, use your ATM card for cash withdrawals. You will get the local currency and the math is done for you.
Experiencing other cultures and seeing new things is a wonderful way to ensure the next generation grows up a bit more empathetic and aware, and the world will be better for it.
Whatever number this is: did you drink your miniature bottles of liquor yet? Good, let's talk about the flight. I've written before against businesses that ban children, like public restaurants, and there is always similar talk about airlines—for the record I'm against banning kids there, too. That said, don't let your kid be the example of bad behavior that people point to (said with the full understanding that sometimes there is nothing any parent can do about a fussy child—especially when there are changes in cabin pressure that may cause young children discomfort in their ears).
Plan activities to keep kids occupied on the plane like reading, coloring and, obviously, the time-proven standby of an iPad loaded with games, videos and movies. The longer the flight the more likely that kids will grow restless with any single activity, even an electronic one, so bring options.
In addition, kids are allowed a carry-on, too. Have them pack a blanket, neck pillow, earplugs and eye mask (if they will wear them), and a favorite stuffed animal. Make them as comfortable as they can possibly be and, whenever possible, have them sleep according to the timezone of your destination (this goes for all of us, adjusting our body in this way helps fight jet lag).
In regard to your actual destination, do everything you can, but pace yourself—only you know what your children can handle so don't push it. Take them to museums and natural wonders, go to places that locals frequent and talk to strangers. After all, it isn't just the things that make a place, but the people who live there.
Traveling is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child. Nothing opens a person to possibility and understanding more than the moment they realize it really is a small world after all (sends check to Disney). Experiencing other cultures and seeing new things is a wonderful way to ensure the next generation grows up a bit more empathetic and aware, and the world will be better for it. It is the best souvenir that you will ever find, although keychains make a nice gift, too.