Tips for Traveling Internationally With Kids

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Traveling anywhere with kids can be daunting, let alone traveling across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. Bruce Kirkby and Christine Pitkanen, hosts of Travel Channel’s Big Crazy Family Adventure, provide tips on how to travel internationally with kids safely and (somewhat) stress-free.

1. Get immunizations. Visit a travel clinic 3 months in advance to ensure that you have time for all vaccinations. Our advice: Get both required and recommended vaccinations. More than once, we’ve been happy to have peace of mind that our children were protected during an outbreak abroad.

2. Check passports. Ensure that your children’s passports are valid for 6 months beyond your travel dates. Also, in some countries, infants’ passports are valid for only 3 years, so be careful.

3. Prepare for long flights. We didn’t fly on our most recent journey, but we’ve been on plenty of long flights in the past. Our key strategy: Bring an armful of new toys, books, stickers, pencils and crayons, and load your tablet with new apps. Kids have a tiny attention span, so you’ll need to keep them engaged from takeoff to landing. And bring some healthy snacks, too. Waiting for in-flight meals to be served will surely lead to blood-sugar crashes.

4. Teach them how to say "hello," "goodbye" and "thank you" in the local language before arriving. They’ll love trying the new words, and it will open doors everywhere.

5. Bring a bit of home with you. It can be a favorite stuffed animal, a blanket or a water bottle — anything that will ground them and remind them of home, even on the other side of the world.

6. Limit the toys. A great strategy for bringing toys from home is to buy a small nylon sack (think large pencil case or toiletry bag) and leave your kids free to bring any toys they want from home … as long as they fit in the sack.

7. Keep as many home routines in place as possible. These can include breakfast, familiar snacks, mommy time and TV time. Foreign cultures operate on wildly different schedules — notably dining late. Maintaining your family’s home schedule can be difficult, but it’s worth its weight in avoided tantrums and exhaustion.

8. Prioritize sleep and food. These are the 2 keys to kids’ happiness anywhere in the world: Keep them well-fed and well-rested, and everything else will fall into place. Pick and choose late nights carefully. Build your agenda around your children. Don’t be too ambitious and pack the days full. Leave lots of downtime. And always have snacks on hand for times when the next meal is nowhere in sight.

9. Provide options and plans. Let the kids know your plans early, and even let them in on the decision-making process by giving them some options each day. Having them be responsible for and aware of the itinerary will reduce whining immeasurably.

10. Be open to serendipity. Traveling with kids will open new worlds and new possibilities you could never imagine, so when opportunity knocks — a local invites you for dinner, a fisherman offers to show you his boat — go with it. These are often the most rewarding moments of any journey.

11. Have patience. Traveling with kids takes patience, so pack yours. It’s worth it, because nothing is so rewarding.

12. APW: Always pack wipes. And hand sanitizer.

13. Travel light. Be ruthless as you go through your luggage. Bring only what you absolutely need. In this day and age, you can pick up almost anything you need anywhere in the world, so if you are not sure, leave it at home.

MORE: Keeping Family Trips Fabulous

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