Traveling with Children Abroad
Want to travel the world with your children, but not sure how to do it? We've got tips on everything from passports and visas to packing for your next family travel adventure
Traveling with children can be stressful, but with enough preparation you can ensure a relatively tears-free trip, for both you and your child. From the plane ride to passports and Pampers, we've asked several seasoned veterans how they have managed to take their children abroad without leaving their sanity at home.
While they are in their formative years, providing your children with the opportunity to see other countries and cultures can be an invaluable gift. However, it is a vacation and you want to be sure that your children have fun. Bill Nichols, co-author of Exotic Travel Destinations for Families (Santa Monica Press, 2004), suggests that when planning your trip, be sure that the destination is 'age appropriate' and engaging. "I always recommend any trip where there is something active to do," he said, adding that children would usually rather see animals than museums. "If you're going to Paris, take a boat ride down the Seine or go to the Eiffel Tower. If you want to do the Louvre, go straight to the Mona Lisa."
Nichols and his wife Jennifer traveled with their two children, Alison, 18, and Will, 15, from the time that Alison was six months old. Among their most memorable vacations are trips to the jungles of Belize, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, the markets of Morocco and Thailand. "Once you've decided on a destination, get out a globe and show them where they're going. Have them learn some words in the country's language. You want them to be excited and ready for the trip."
Don't leave home without it
Traveling beyond US borders almost always requires that both you and your child have a passport. A recent change in the passport application process mandates that minors under the age of 14 appear in person in front of a passport agent, according to Stuwart Patt, spokesman for the Consular Bureau of Affairs. When submitting the application, you will also need the child's birth certificate, a valid form of ID from both parents, two passport photos and the $70 application fee. Patt recommends that parents always carry their child's passport while traveling abroad, to ensure that it is not easily lost or stolen.
Before traveling with her 18-month-old daughter to Brazil, Los Angeles resident Lael Lowenstein called ahead to her local passport office. "I didn't know that all children no matter how small must have a passport." She also learned that since her husband could not appear with her when applying for her daughter's passport, she needed a signed letter of consent from him. In the case of single parents that cannot obtain the signature of the other parent, they must show proof of sole custody or a court order permitting travel with the child. For more information: travel.state.gov/passport_services.html
Brazil is also one of a few countries that ask US visitors to obtain a Visa before departure, which can be a daunting process. "It was a nightmare," said Lowenstein, "My advice is to get as much information before hand. Then just smile and expect things to go wrong." In most cases you must apply at the country's consulate located in the nearest major city. Since there is no standard Visa application procedure, be sure to either contact the country's consulate or visit their website for the list of required documents and fees. Go to: travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html
In addition to either a passport or birth certificate and government issued ID, Mexico and Canada require that single parents, grandparents or guardians traveling with minors carry a notarized letter of consent from the other parent authorizing travel. Maria Fox is originally from Mexico but now lives in New York with her husband and two children, and travels to Mexico twice a year. "Whenever I travel with my children by myself, I have to have my husband write a notarized letter. The letter includes my name, both child's whole name and the dates of travel." For the latest information on traveling to Canada and Mexico: travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html
Passports take approximately three to six weeks to be processed, while the period for visa approvals varies. If you need your child's passport processed immediately, you can make an appointment with a passport agent at additional cost and it will be ready within a week. Currently, representatives from the State Department are not anticipating further changes in passport regulations, but calling ahead to either the passport office or consulate ensures that you are informed of the latest developments in international travel guidelines.