15 Practical Tips for Families Traveling Abroad
A family trip abroad with the children often requires thoughtful planning and preparation. To make the trip fun and memorable, parents are always on the hunt for some great travel tips.
We discovered one family with considerable travel experience and plenty to share. The Cummings-Lazenby family traveled and volunteered around the world for a year with their two children, then ages 14 and 10. You don’t need to be a globetrotter to benefit from their advice. Some tips are for longer trips, but many are practical for trips of any length and for just about anyone, not just families! You will not see most of these tips in guidebooks!
Country considerations included: safety, cost of living and unique experience. While we wanted to shake up our kids, we didn’t want them to explode. We slowly increased the level of ‘cultural hardship’. Turkey is a great warm up to the ’3rd world’ as it is a ’2nd world’ country.
2. When to Go and For How Long
There was something romantic about going for a year, but if you have less time or insufficient funds do what you can. The kids were 10 and 14 when we returned – great ages as they were old enough to help out, carry their own gear and they will always have these memories. Any older and they would have had a more difficult time missing school and their ‘independence and anti-dad’ gene would have started kicking in.
The teachers were very supportive – “sounds like a great education”. We did a proposal to the Alternate Learning guy with the Board of Education. They even gave us up to $600 to buy books and educational experiences. The kids wrote hundreds of pages in their journals and read everyday. Combine that with the geography, religion, history, biology and language lessons of traveling and I’m confident they got a great education. We assumed we would meet lots of other families traveling, but we met only a few. As a result the kids spent lots of time talking with people from all over which was great for their confidence. We did enroll the kids in 3 weeks of summer school upon returning to help smooth over some of the gaps in their education.
These experiences were some of our highlights. For a family it was great to stop moving and set down roots for a while. A great way to meet real people as opposed to just waiters and front desk staff. There is no shortage of organizations out there that want a great deal of money for you to volunteer. Some use your funds to support the project while others seem to be making a huge profit off your altruism. Be realistic with your expectations, you aren’t going to change much except yourselves. Make sure you have the skills required to help out.
5. Surviving the Togetherness
Being together 24/7 (as they say) presents some challenges especially if you are an introvert and need some space. Most mornings I got up early and went for a walk or run.
There are ATM (bank machines) virtually everywhere. Take several bank cards, we had at least 2 eaten. Check with your bank on fees, we were charged $4 per withdrawal a considerable percentage when in some countries the maximum you can take out is $100. Make sure your daily maximum withdrawal is sufficient. VISA cards are not always accepted in lesser establishments and they often want to charge a 3 percent premium. Notify your bank where you will be traveling otherwise they may shut down your card because of unusual activity. Travelers cheques are pretty much old school, but we had some for an emergency. Carry lots of US cash for emergencies, to get out of trouble and for entry visas. In Cambodia the bank machines spit out US cash. Give some to kids for just in case stuff.
We spent some time fretting about visas before we left. You can’t get them all before you leave because usually they are only valid for 3 months after obtaining. We got all of ours at the border except for Vietnam and India – you must get those before arrival. Get them at their embassy in a previous country. For Australia you can get online if your airline hasn’t obtained it. For many countries they take only US cash for visas and at up to $240 (Turkey, Americans pay $60 – go figure) for our family per country. They add up.
8. Cost of Traveling
There is a huge variance between countries. We spent as little as $50 a day to over two hundred in Europe and Australia.
You need to get your shots at least 6 months before you head out. The kids required a dozen. These now cost hundreds of dollars, shop around.
Computer: We traveled with a laptop. Quite heavy, but great for downloading photos. I also bought an external hard drive to copy photos in case one was stolen and kept them separated. The kids did powerpoints on it and we also watched the occasional cheap DVD on it.
Cell Phones: Roaming charges kill and there is cell phone coverage in most places. Buy an un-locked, GPRS phone (also called quad)- we got ours in England (keep the receipt in Turkey you had to prove it wasn’t stolen). When you go to a new country simply get a new SIM card, a pre-paid card and you’re making local calls. If you have a pre-paid phone, like one of the new cell phones T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon offers, the SIM card can possibly work in your phone. We actually had two phones for when we split up, but a maid in Darjeeling decided she needed mine more than I did. She was probably right.
IPODS: This sure beats packing a tape recorder and tapes like 20 years ago. We left with two, bought a third and a splitter so two could listen from one. We also bought IPOD speakers which was very luxurious for our rooms.
Cameras: I had a digital SLR Rebel XT and the kids traveled with a cheaper digital camera that also shot video. I took some 15,000 pictures, I can’t imagine trying to do that with film unless you’re a purist or ludite. Go with a telephoto lens for tighter shots of wildlife and people shots. Take a padded case to protect it. Take a travel photo course – a few tips like the ‘law of thirds’ will make a huge difference to your photography.
Internet: Internet cafes are everywhere. An amazing resource for connecting with friends, booking flights (airasia.com is your friend), hotels, paying your credit card (and checking for fraudulent use) etc.
Blog: A great way for friends and family to stay connected and hopefully inspire some to get out there also. This is also great reminder of the trip that will be online forever (so they say). Travelpod has been great and the price is right at FREE. Learn how to compress your photos to speed up downloading.
11. What to Bring
Go as light as possible. You can buy Lonely Planet all over, some are cheaper knock-offs. You only need a few clothes, buy T-shirts along the way. I’m a huge fan of the wicking shirts especially in hot, humid countries. They also dry overnight. Most of the countries we visited were hot so we lived in shorts (for ladies not always appropriate). We all had a backpack and daypack for books and valuables. Buy a cheap striped ‘bum bag’ to put these types of packs into for plane travel as it saves the straps and looks less interesting. I had a travel backpack which zipped wide open for easy access, could be locked (use a combo lock, get the kind where customs can open without breaking) and the straps could be zipped away at the airport. We also had a monster pack on roller boards filled with books and anything we weren’t using for that country. We would check it at a guest house and pick it up after exploring a country. Take receipts of your camera and computer purchase in case you are ever accused of stealing it… again never happened to us, but apparently it does.
Prepare for the worst. Set up a Power of Attorney to take care of any financial matters that may arise. We also had people set up in case we both became incapacitated ‘Enduring Power of Attorney’. Make sure your wills are up to date. We also did up a legal letter ‘Letter of Consent’ to all Customs Offices giving either of the parent authority to travel out of country with our kids without the other parent. We were never asked for this document, but apparently it does happen.
You have to continue to pay your provincial health care while out of the country. You’ll also want additional coverage should you need help overseas or need to fly to somewhere like Bangkok in an emergency. Some are very expensive, we went with TD Meloche Monnex Wide Horizons Solution Travel Insurance which was very reasonable.
Put all important information, contacts, passport numbers, visa numbers (change the digits slightly with some formula, in case found) and give copies to everyone. Email this document to your self with scanned passports so that if you’re stripped clean you can always go to the web. I’m not a big believer in around the neck or below the belt money belts. I had a leather belt where I kept some money and used a zippered front pocket for my valuables.
Take some business cards with all of your emails and home addresses, you’ll meet people that you’ll want to keep in touch with. It beats scratching out contact info on napkins.
Don’t stress out about how under prepared you are. You can’t possibly work out all the details for a year away. Have a loose plan, but be flexible enough to go with a travelers recommendation or a hot tip from a local. That’s when the magic happens.
If you’re taking electrical devices (camera battery charger etc.)you’ll need a plug-in adaptor beause there are an endless number of electrical plug configurations. The best are one piece and have multiple sliding bits for all kinds)
Give yourself some time at home before restarting work. Quite a shock to your system after the freedom and daily adventures of being away for a year.
How little you need.
How much we have.
How little others have.
And yes we can make a difference.
It’s a huge, diverse world, but also small and similar.
To read their full adventure, check out their Travelpod blog.
photo credit: alex-s