International travel with kids is extremely rewarding, but it also requires a little extra planning. Luckily, we’re experts when it comes to planning family travel—and because every Journy itinerary is built from scratch, we've seen all sorts of requests: planning activities around 3pm nap time, only recommending restaurants with room for a stroller... you name it.
So next time you're considering or planning your family's international vacation, turn to Journy and this foolproof guide for everything you need to know.
Benefits Of Traveling Internationally For Your Kids
Some of our favorite reasons to cross borders with the little ones include:
- Encouraging empathy for other cultures
- Exposing kids to new foods, languages and communities
- Fostering a sense of independence and self-confidence
- Nurturing curiosity
Quick Tips For International Travel With Kids: Setting Your Family Up For Success
In addition to safety and planning tips for international travel with kids of all ages, we've included some age-specific information. Feel free to cherry-pick as it best suits your family.
Yes, your child needs a passport, too. You’ll need to go through a similar process to procure a passport for a minor that you’d go through to get your own.
First, head over the State Department’s website to download the DS-11 form. Fill it out and provide two passport photos and proof of citizenship. You’ll also need to show evidence of your parental relationship and parental consent.
Pay the fee, mail in the info and wait for your child’s passport to arrive.
Flying with kids is almost as challenging as running with bulls. In addition to your carry-on luggage, checked luggage and that giant bag of bagels you bought after security, you need to somehow wrangle your child on the plane, too.
Here are some tips to make the experience easier:
- Consider priority boarding
Most airlines allow families with small children (under two years old) priority boarding. If your airline doesn't offer this, we'd suggest springing for priority boarding when buying your ticket.
- Pack items that will keep your kids comfortable and distracted
When it comes to keeping your kids (and everyone seated around you) happy, we recommend snacks, entertainment and plenty of blankets.
- Don't be afraid of a little extra screen time.
In-flight entertainment is your best friend—plus, there's usually a dedicated kids section for age-appropriate movies and TV shows. Take advantage of it!
- Recreate their bedtime routines on an overnight flight
Consistency is key, so if bedtime stories are part of the normal routine, stick with it.
- Invest in noise-canceling headphones
This will help ensure they fall asleep—and don't wake up until you arrive at your destination.
READ MORE: Family-Friendly Guide To Mykonos
About six weeks before international travel with kids, you’ll want to visit your primary care provider to ask about immunizations. Your child’s immunization plan will depend on your destination(s).
The CDC makes recommendations on which immunizations your child will need. You can also find information on the best ways to keep your family safe in international destinations.
Jet Lag/Time Zones And Schedules
Anyone who has sleep-trained a child understands the importance of routine. One of the biggest challenges of traveling internationally with kids is keeping your regularly scheduled routine while dealing with jet lag, changing time zones and unavoidable skipped nap times.
Our best advice? Don’t strive for perfection.
Stuff happens. You probably won’t stick to your routine. There will be some meltdowns.
That’s okay. Simply try to stick to your home routine as much as possible.
We recommend at the very least making a commitment to observing your typical bedtime routine and possibly your nap schedule (this is where Journy can help!).
A few days before your trip, start getting your kids on schedule with the new timezone. If your kids thrive on routine, try to switch it up a little before embarking on your journey.
Planning Your Itinerary
Don’t overbook your itinerary when traveling with your kids. This goes for both international and local travel. Kids get tired quicker than adults do. Even if your kids aren’t nappers, there’s a chance they’ll need one anyway. Plan your high-energy activity for the morning and a chiller activity in the afternoon.
It’s extremely common for little ones to experience culture shock on an international trip—especially if they’ve never traveled outside of the country before. We recommend a few tips to help set kids up for success:
- Teach your pint-sized travelers how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you in the local language(s)
- Start introducing kids to foods common in your destination
- Watch documentaries and TV shows filmed in your destination
Research any child safety concerns regarding your destination before you book your vacation. Some destinations require extra safety info when it comes to kids. Otherwise, we recommend the following for every destination:
- Brainstorm a contingency plan, should you get separated
- Show your kids photos of police officers’ uniforms in your destination so they can identify them
- If your group is large, consider color coordinating your outfits each day to easily spot little ones
- Purchase identification bracelets to help people contact you if they find your lost child
- Register with your destination’s embassy
- Always bring an EpiPen or allergy meds in your day bag
Always Have a Back-Up Plan
Maybe that kid-friendly restaurant you had your heart set on is closed on Mondays. Or your designated lunch spot doesn’t offer highchairs. It’s always a good idea to have a back-up plan when traveling internationally with kids.
You don’t want to find yourself scrambling to find a back-up restaurant while standing in the middle of the street with a hungry, screaming toddler.
International travel with kids often means sometimes switching up mealtimes. In some areas of Italy, you’ll find that restaurants are closed during the typical American lunchtime. Mexicans generally eat lunch between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Know the mealtime customs of your destination before you board the plane.
Packing List: Suitcase
When it comes to packing, don’t go overboard; you can always buy a few pieces of clothing when you get to your destination. Remember, you’ll need to carry your child in addition to whatever you pack in your suitcase!
- Safety/self-soothing items, such as a blanket or stuffed animal
- Enough clothes to last each day of your trip (and an emergency outfit)
- Toys (but not too many)
- Weather-specific clothing (rain boots, layering items, mittens and hats, etc.)
- Toiletries (toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner)
We recommend buying as many toiletries as you can in your destination (unless your child needs hypoallergenic items).
Packing List: Day Bag
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lightweight stroller/carrier
- Change for coin-operated bathrooms
- Diapers for little ones
- Emergency outfit for spills/accidents
- EpiPens/allergy meds/child aspirin
- Sunscreen/bug spray
Tips for International Travel With Kids By Age Range
Depending on how you look at it, traveling with babies can be both easier and more challenging than traveling with older kids. Your baby is more likely to sleep through most of your trip; but you’ll also need to pack an arsenal of bottles, bibs and blankets. We recommend bringing a carrier for baby and focusing your efforts on keeping plenty of diapers and bottles in your bag.
Toddlers – Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers are a little more work than infants and babies. You’ll need to schlep around diapers, food and strollers. Yet, you don’t have the luxury of assuming they’ll remain asleep for most of the day.
We recommend bringing a stroller for tired little legs and scheduling plenty of downtime and naps for the second half of the day.
Ages 6 – 10
Kids in this age range will reap tremendous benefits from international travel. You’ll set them up to be curious and flexible.
Things don’t turn out the way you expected? No problem! Just consider this a teachable moment and explain that sometimes surprises are better than your expectations.
We recommend scheduling plenty of high-energy activities for the mornings (when kids have tons of extra energy to expend). Keep activities light in the afternoon.
Also, bring tons of snacks and water along. Pack comfortable (broken-in) shoes. Try to schedule activities geared toward kids in this age range (such as safaris, zoos, science museums and art programs).
Ages 11 – 13
Kids in this age range are old enough to explore all day. Their attention spans are also long enough to include more museums, tours and other planned adult activities on your itinerary.
Keep them happy by sharing your itinerary with them at the start of each day. You could even make them their own copies to avoid the inevitable, “How much longer until lunch?” questions.
Ages 14 – 18
Kids in this age range are practically adults, which means you can travel with them and still feel like an adult yourself. They’ll probably be interested in just about anything the adults are—though they might pretend otherwise. Keep teens happy by asking them for input on the destination and itinerary.
You might even give them a little freedom to wander solo for a few hours each day (depending on your destination).
Ted Damianos, a top-tier sommelier at NYC's La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, just traveled to Liguria, Italy with his 11-month-old. Here's what he had to say about it.