How to enjoy international family travel

Travel in any form involves stress—you have to get from one place to another, find a place to stay, discover what you want to eat. But travel can also equal learning opportunities, amazing memories and life-changing experiences for you, for friends, and for family.
International travel, especially, can make many people feel anxious, particularly if they’re planning to go with children. They’re not only having to deal with all of those arrangements—getting there, lodging, eating—but language barriers as well as cultural stumbling blocks as well. But there are steps you can take now—while you’re still dreaming about vacation or planning a trip—that can eliminate a lot of those hurdles.
For starters, research what it takes just to get in to the country or countries you’re planning on visiting. It will probably require at least a passport, if not additional documentation. How else can you focus on the trip and not the troubles? This summary graphic explains it.

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But, one step at a time.  Let’s jump in at travel permits first. Many North Americans, and some Europeans for that matter, are used to travelling with identification cards of one sort or another. In most cases that means a driving licence or a National Identity card. Now, these are fine for certain land crossings or sea-points of entry within your ‘zone of recognition’, but identity cards are throwbacks to the Napoleonic era and they aren’t going to get you up, up and away to more distant points on the compass. No, you’ll need documentation that is the ‘real McCoy‘; aka a passport.

If you don’t yet have a passport, initial applications can be tricky. Kids add another hurdle too; especially if you are, or were, resident overseas and birth certificates or other documentation needs to be matched up or authorised with an Apostille stamp (an international convention for recognising document authenticity). So plan early.

In the USA and Australia for instance, applications must be made in person for a first passport; while renewals are mainly done by post (see the USA infographic below). In the UK, you can usually do it online: https://www.gov.uk/apply-renew-passport; or in person if an emergency.  Wherever your citizenship, check with the passport authorities well in advance of travel and remember: high tourist seasons can cause backlogs and delays in issuing offices, so make sure you sort things out early.

Visas can be a complication too.  If you are working with a travel agent they’ll advise you and assist with applications. But, if you are on your own, then double-check details and apply well in advance.  Some visa requirements are quirky and stringent, requiring personal face-to-face interviews; but nowadays visas to many destinations are fortunately, and increasingly, available online. The good news is that whatever visa processing difficulties you as a ‘western’ passport holder may face, they are small inconveniences compared to the lot of travellers from many African, Middle Eastern and some Asian countries. Tourists from Afghanistan, at the bottom of the visa-free pile, can only go to a measly 25 countries without visas (and most of those are definitely not on the tourist trail)… Compare that to the world-leaders in visa-free travel, the Germans, who can pack a bag tomorrow and whizz off, carefree, to 177 countries ‘ohne Visum’!

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Then there is the consideration of your funding while away.  How can you plan your on-vacation monetary resources to avoid personal fiscal pitfalls when you take along the family? We’re not talking pick-pocketing or ATM scams here, that’s a separate story for another article.  No, this is about managing your traveller finances effectively and wisely.

I travel very extensively around the world and most times don’t worry too much about forward planning. My experience is that a credit card to hand can fix most things in most places.  You’d be surprised just how widely ATMs and other forms of electronic banking technology are available.  Like mobile phones, cash-points in developing nations are generally ubiquitous and provide a simple and quick source for cash at moments of need. So cards may be the way to go, so long as your home bank charges for foreign use aren’t too high – check with them (and compare with other banks online) before you travel and consider taking an alternate credit card if they are too expensive.

Fact: In terms of quantity of ATMs per 100,000 residents, the USA tops the global list at 222. Portugal comes in as European champion with 170, unless you count San Marino with 220 (but their population is only 33,000 so that means they have a net of just 74 machines!). Back in Afghanistan, the folks there languish at the bottom of the table with 1.07; but let’s face it, right now they undoubtedly have weightier issues than ATM penetration on their minds.

In terms of holiday purchases on credit card, my golden rule is always pay in the local currency, even if you are offered the choice of transacting in your own currency.  Many people choose the latter option for the comfort of knowing their final cost, but in most cases, the exchange rate commissions and handling fees charged by the local bank will be considerably higher than those of your own bank.

Here’s handy info-graphic to help you navigate your travel finances wisely.

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My main advice about travelling with kids has nothing to do with passports or money however. It is simply to urge you to share family time on vacation wisely.  Give them your attention. Enjoy the mutual learning experience. Have fun. Put your mobile phone back in your pocket and be part of their world, not distant, distracted and remote. Time passes all too quickly. Before long, they’ll be older, independent and off on their own adventures!

Credits: Infographics by Ghergich.com; pic from Pixabay; ATM data from The World Bank; passport ranking from Henley & Partners.


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