Tips for International Travel
Ten tips you shouldn’t leave home without
Traveling abroad as a family is very rewarding, yet it can also be challenging. During five months of travel through Europe, our family learned a few lessons the hard way, but we also collected many travel tips that helped us avoid making the same mistakes twice. We’ve compiled these tips for families based on our experiences, as well as the unlikelihood of finding them in your guidebook.
1. Research cultural differences.
Even if you are going to an English-speaking country, there will be cultural differences that can be confusing or even intimidating. Discussing these differences with your family prior to your trip will ease the adjustment process. Researching a culture also helps you avoid major inconveniences. For instance, knowing that many European shops close for a three-hour lunch break is helpful when planning your day.
2. Schedule two free days in your itinerary.
If every day of your vacation is jam-packed, not only will everyone be exhausted and grumpy, but you will risk missing your top sightseeing pick. There are always obstacles in sightseeing, like transportation strikes or getting lost. Having absolutely nothing planned for two days gives you the flexibility to visit places you’ve missed, or to revisit favorite spots. A truly free day to relax, wander or sit in a park with gelatos all around may end up as the highlight of your trip.
3. Fill and carry daypacks wisely.
On our daily excursions, we found that three bags amongst the five of us were perfect. We carried water bottles, weather-related extras and a language phrase book. (Money and passports should always be in your money belt.) We kept one bag empty, as we always collected things throughout the day: extra snacks, maps of museums, souvenirs, etc. Also, with fewer daypacks, a tired individual can pass on a bag to a refreshed family member.
4. Leave technology at home.
Watching the landscape change through a train window is invaluable to a child’s sense of distance, imagination and wonder. Handheld games, laptops and cell phones will serve only as a distraction. However, if you travel for longer periods, allow kids to connect online with their friends at home every couple of days, an important part of easing any travel blues.
5. Triple-check your hotel room for belongings.
We have five people in our family and belongings tend to spread. We ended up with three phases to departing any accommodation: initial packing up, a verbal confirmation that important items were accounted for and double-checking the bathroom, bed covers (prime location for lost stuffed animals) and under beds. After vacating the room, one person returns for a final check.
6. Give teenagers their freedom.
If you let your teen go solo to the mall in America, you can let them roam on their own in the average European city. Give them a bit of pocket change, a map, and the phone number to your hotel. They will benefit immensely from finding their way around a new place and having to manage in a new language. A little independence goes a long way as a self-confidence builder.
7. Download travel podcasts and “apps.”
Tours can be expensive and limiting, yet detailed information about a world-famous sight is imperative for making the experience interesting and memorable. Have one person listen on his iPod and then share the best information with the group. Kids love quirky facts and mysteries, so be prepared to offer something different than the audio guides available for rent.
8. Insist on a luggage limit.
I know you’ve heard this before, but we did too, and foolishly did not heed the warning. Imposing a size limit on luggage is even more important if you will be doing a multi-city tour, taking public transportation or have physical challenges. Believe me, you will not need half of what you think you do. Be sure to tell your clothing-conscious teen that my 15-year-old daughter, now familiar with the hassles and sore muscles of a heavy suitcase, insisted that I include this tip!
9. Fend off irritation with a good plan.
Get familiar with each other’s travel styles and agree beforehand to compromise. For example, one person may need extra time getting going in the morning, while others like to be out the door by 7 a.m. So, let the early birds enjoy breakfast, and bring back fruit and a muffin for the sleepyhead. Also, everyone tires out at different times of the day; simple planning will make everyone happier. Leave younger children with your older ones at the hotel with pizza and a movie, while the adults try out the local cuisine at a restaurant around the corner.
10. Don’t believe everything you read.
If you are nervous about international travel don’t fuel your fears by repeatedly reading discouraging information. Yes, there are pickpockets in every city in the world, but if you read the countless warnings, you’d never step foot in a beautiful city like Rome. Take common sense precautions with you and leave your needless worries at home.
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Laura Pardo and her family are currently traveling through Europe for ten months.