This post was originally published as a guest post on a friend’s photography blog. Unfortunately, her blog is no longer active, but you can still read the tips below!
So You Want To Hop the Pond – 10 Things You Need to Do RIGHT NOW
Travel can be stressful, even if you’re going alone. Add a spouse and one or more kids in the mix, and you could be in for a wild ride. I’ve continued traveling since my first child was born in 2007, and I can tell you from experience that a little planning goes a long way.
Maybe you’ve gone to Grandma’s with the kiddos or to a family reunion a few states away. But, now you’re thinking of taking the kids to Europe. Are you crazy!? If the idea scares you because you simply don’t know where to start but secretly thrills you anyway, take a deep breath and read on.
Before you go anywhere, you’ll need to do some homework. Let me walk you through 10 very important things you need to do right now before you even buy tickets to “hop the pond” as they say.
Get a Passport. You might still be able to enter Canada or Mexico without a passport, but no airline will allow you to fly internationally without one. It’s important to remember that each family member needs their own passport, babies included. Processing times can vary, but I would allow at least 3 months to receive your completed passport book.
Download the passport application forms you need online in advance here. Save time, money, and stress by taking your passport photos at home for free. (Want to know how? Click here!) Gather the required documents and head to the nearest courthouse (or make an appointment at a post office). Don’t sign the application just yet – you’ll need to take an oath in front of a federal employee and then add your signature.
Remember that each person applying for a passport needs to appear in person to take the oath and sign the document. If your child is the applicant, BOTH parents must be present or you must bring a notarized letter detailing the absent parent’s consent.
Make a Budget. An amazing vacation provides your family with memories that last a lifetime. But, let’s make sure that the memories are all that remain after you return home. Don’t take a vacation you can’t afford. It’s fine to put your expenses on a credit card (and it’s actually wiser to do so especially if you have a special credit card such as World Mastercard with added travel benefits). But do yourself a favor and make sure you have enough funds to pay off the bill when it arrives.
Flights will vary widely, so use Bing Travel to give you an idea of the cheapest ticket in recent history as well as the average economy fare.
But what about a hotel or vacation rental? Will you take public transportation? Rent a car? How much will you spend on meals? Souvenirs? Entrance fees? An awesome resource for determining costs in major cities around the world is The Price of Travel. Select a continent, country, and city from the navigation bar, and you can easily view the price of meals, accommodations, and attractions.
Don’t forget to add the cost of parking your vehicle at the airport (or taxi ride), additional insurance (see below), weather appropriate clothing, luggage (if you need it), pet boarding, as well as en route meals and entertainment to your list.
Start Saving. Are you overwhelmed already? Don’t be! Now comes the fun part. How can you be creative and find ways to save up for your adventure? Take a good look at your every day expenses and make some changes.
Could you get rid of cable and live with just Netflix for 6-12 months? That could cover your rental car and gas right there. Do you get your hair cut every 6 weeks? Could you stretch it to every 8? You may have just found the money to purchase necessary luggage. Do you budget for clothing? Consider stashing it away and shopping when you get to Europe instead. What about eating out? Squirrel away the money you give to the pizza guy so you can splurge on an Italian feast in Italy instead. Could you give the kids a travel experience this year instead of electronic gifts?
These are just a few ideas – the main thing to remember is to be creative in how you stretch your means.
Where do you want to go? You probably don’t need any help with this one. Everyone has a dream of where in the world they’d like to find themselves some day. Make a short list of places you love, and ask the rest of your family to do the same. Have everyone agree on three destinations, and then research each one before making a decision (more on that below).
How long can you be gone? Consider time off of work, school holidays, boarding your pet, and your budget.
Research entry requirements. Some countries are a breeze to enter (hello, Germany). Others are a big more strict (sorry, UK). Still others are literally invitation only (uh, Russia). Other than your passport, what is required at immigration control? You might need proof of onward travel, sufficient funds, or immunizations. Some countries in Africa, Asia, and South America require insist that you be vaccinated against specific diseases and that you carry proof in the form of a little yellow international health book. Find out exactly what’s required at your destination here. In addition to all that, you might need a visa. Speaking of…
Do you need a visa? What are the requirements? Wait, first, what’s a visa? It’s not a credit card; it’s special permission to visit/live/work in a country. As with the entry requirements, some countries are relaxed about visas – you can purchase one upon arrival. Others have a complex system and very strict rules about how to obtain one. Find out what you need here.
Consider travel insurance. There’s a saying, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” It’s a nice mantra, but truth be told, I don’t purchase it every time. Policy rates will be more if you have something called trip cancellation. Trip cancellation means just that – you have an emergency that causes you to cancel your trip (think your son stole third but ended up with a broken leg). In this case, the covered expenses (usually airfare and hotel) will be covered by the policy.
Check your health insurance. Generally, American health insurance does not cover medical expenses overseas. They may reimburse a few costs, but it’s a good rule to just consider your policy completely useless abroad. I have purchased – and like, but luckily never used – Travelex insurance. Keep in mind that if you plan on taking part in any kind of high risk activities like bungee jumping or if you are pregnant, you’ll need a special (code word for expensive) policy.
Note that many, but not all, travel insurance policies include health insurance. Examine your coverage closely.
One more word of advice – if you’re going to spend the money for supplemental health insurance, make sure you have emergency evacuation coverage. This means that if you find yourself in a third-world hospital, you can be airlifted to the nearest western hospital for better care on the insurance company’s dime.
Have an emergency plan in place. Family vacations are meant to be filled with happy memories. But tragedies can and do happen. Protect your family by ensuring you have an up to date will, power of attorney, and guardianship for your children. Establish an emergency contact at home that knows what should happen in case of the unthinkable and provide them with a copy of your itinerary and any other necessary documents.
My hope is that this list gives you the confidence you need to move forward and plan an amazing family vacation abroad! If you have any questions on what I’ve discussed here today, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. Happy travels!