After a long hibernation of COVID lockdowns, we are getting back out into the world with pandemic children and babies, some of whom have never met a plane or left the country! When you are ready to scratch the global itch with kiddos in tow, I’ve got you! Here are 3 tips for international family travel I came up with after spending 14 days in Mexico with my family of 8.
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International Family Travel Tip #1: Calculate your family multiplier
This applies to absolutely everything you do and spend! Whether it’s knowing what time you can realistically get out the door to that Frida Kahlo museum reservation or how long it will take you to fill out COVID affidavits at the airport, or knowing how much to budget for meals or unexpected trip changes, this number will save you some gymnastics.
Here’s a little formula I propose for time:
(Time per each person / number of total people)*2
(Me + Hubs + Tween + Toddler + Baby + Tata + Tia + Laura / 8)*2 = 40 minutes
That is the actual fastest we can mobilize our crew and GET OUT THE DOOR (I’m not yelling, you’re yelling).
This is probably the minimum amount of time you need to budget for each stage of travel (40 minutes to arrive at the airport and get checked in, 40 minutes to go through immigration, 40 minutes to get bags and go through customs, 40 minutes to fill out paperwork, etc).
For expenses, you might have more simple math, like figuring out what a meal out would cost you here for your whole crew and dividing it by the exchange rate (this works for Mexico), or multiplying it by 1.5 in France, etc.
Don’t forget to budget for the magic of change fees, plot twists, and acts of god. Trust me, we had all three on our trip (including hurricane Agatha predicted to our exact GPS coordinates!) and you’ll want to speed up your mental math.
International Family Travel Tip #2: Have (something of) a Plan
Depending on your kiddos ages and their abilities or needs, think about a typical weekend at home. Can your family unit handle 1 big activity per day? Two? Three if you take the next day off?
Let your older kiddos research on Trip Advisor or Yelp and let your little ones see pictures of where you might go, and circle back to those moments. All ages can help make lists of things they want to see or do and including them builds ownership in the experience and teaches them how to travel.
For our crew, I tried to book our days like this:
- Breakfast at home to give everyone a chance to rest
- One ambitious and toddler-oriented activity in the morning
- Lunch out somewhere near the activity
- A long drive home so my toddler could nap in the car after lunch
- Snack at home of local foodstuffs we bought together at the market
- A restful activity within walking distance in the afternoon
- Another snack on the street soaking up the evening life
- A leisurely stroll home eating too many sweets
- Collapsing into bed
Sometimes Hubs and Teen snuck out for pancakes while toddler watched the damned Paw Patrol for some 1 on 1 time, and sometimes I kept everyone out too late on a night ghost tour train that left everyone in tears. Ahh, the memories!
International Family Travel Tip #3: Brief the Crew
When you travel on a dive boat, there is a daily briefing at breakfast. No matter what age, stage, or predilection, communicating the plan and setting expectations can go a long way towards minimizing moaning, groaning, and all out meltdowns. These plans can (and should!) flex of course. Imagine you passsed an amazing manga art gallery with your tween’s favorite series in the window, your toddler fell asleep in a beach hammock next to a Corona-drinking siesta man…etc.
Setting the plan also combats the different levels of travel anxiety your kiddos may feel, helps you pre-empt questions about screen time, and allows any conscientious objectors to propose alternatives and compromises while there is still a chance they may be acquiesced.
We combined our trip with some remodeling at home, so my son was extra edgy and out of routine for having had to see his toys all packed up. Daily communication about the plan (usually a few steps at a time) was a visible anchor to him to his sanity. Yes, there were meltdowns when we couldn’t but the 36” Comisario Woody (Sherrif Woody from Toy Story) in the market, but that was to be expected. (Side note: why didn’t I just buy the damn thing? It would have made him so happy until we got home and it just collected dust). Which leads into my bonus tip:
Bonus Tip: Buy/Do/Try the Dang Thing
If I think about where we succeeded and where we failed on our trip, I don’t regret a single moment we pushed ours and the kiddo’s limits. We stayed out too late walking around the Zocalo and the ruins in Mexico City, we went swimming with dolphins in the sea on a choppy raft (and turned the boat around when the baby had had enough), we ate so many churros and kinder eggs. I only regret the times I said no, and none of the times I said yes.
Life is short! Taste the fruit and take the adventurous path…and do it together. Whether they remember each helado or not, they’ll remember the sense of adventure and the richness and texture of their blurry distant memories, sugared over with the warm glow of love and togetherness.
Los amo mis ninos!