Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

We are soon headed for our second trip “across the pond” with our two youngest in tow. Now 7 and 5, the girls’ last international travel adventure was a little over two years ago. We will travel from Chicago to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to Nice, back to Paris, back to London (with a small layover in Ireland) and then return home. Our itinerary is similar to the last, replacing time in Germany with the pebble beaches of Nice (and a little extra time to explore both Paris and London).

I remember our first time traveling abroad, my husband was living in Germany temporarily for work. I couldn’t find a direct flight from the United States to Germany for the girls and I through Expedia (my preferred method of booking travel – I’ve yet to have a bad experience). All available flights were routed with a layover in Turkey. Traveling alone with small children, I wanted to be able to speak the language and, at the time, international travel to Turkey was not encouraged. I played around with the flights and found that the girls and I could travel to London first and then fly to Germany for cheaper than the flights to Germany that were routing through Turkey (and because a pit stop in London, duh).

I have traveled domestically throughout the United States many times (my 7-year-old has already been to 27 of the 50 states and stuck her toes in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf), I’ve taken the all-inclusive trips to Mexico, and I’ve crossed over to Canada a handful of times, so international travel is appealing to be able to see some “new” sights while crossing “new” countries off of our collective bucket list.

I have always been a “bargain hunter” for our trips, and have never compromised quality for price. International travel is no different. I’m our family’s personal travel agent (as most moms and dads probably are – especially if you’re currently reading this), dedicating lots of time to researching areas, the hotels, the food, the locals and then I book our trip at a fraction of the cost (so get ready to research)!

If you’re looking to travel overseas (more specifically with children), I have lots of tips and tricks to share with you. Most of my advice will apply to domestic travel as well, you can just ignore the suggestions that obviously don’t apply. To clarify, I will be advising based on the assumption that you’ll be using Expedia (which I am NOT receiving compensation from), but if you have your own preferred travel app use that instead.

*First and Foremost – have/get/find your passport. It is recommended that you allow six weeks turnaround time (to be safe) when ordering a new one. Make sure it’s not expired (ten years for adults, five years for children) and also make sure you have applied for a new one if you have changed your name since your last trip*

The first step I take to traveling is to know where I want to go and what we would like to see. What is the main goal for your trip?

Relaxing? Sight seeing? Both? You’ll want to book hotels based on your ultimate take-away goal. You can buy flight and hotel packages which can save you some money, but the hotel may not be anywhere near the beach (for example), which means you’ll have to pay to travel to and from the beach (or rent a car) and that extra cost could have been better spent on a hotel closer to your preferred destination or landmark.

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll also want to make sure that the hotel is child-friendly. I once booked a flight/hotel combo package to Florida and ended up at a hotel that was essentially in spring break mode year round (I’m talking vomit on the balcony – it was bad), despite that the pictures online showed a colorfully painted pool and several playgrounds. We took all four of our kiddos on that trip and ended up booking a second (and quiet) hotel down the strip for the remainder of our stay. Double booking certainly didn’t save any money.

The second important question to answer is how many days you would like to be gone on this adventure. All of these questions are better answered with a budget in mind, of course. We would love to travel to Europe for a month at a time, but our budget worked best for about two weeks (and my husband’s vacation time wouldn’t allow a paid monthlong vacation, either). The biggest cost of your trip is the flight and hotels, but don’t forget about the somewhat hidden extra cost of bag check fees and an Uber or taxi(s). Four checked bags can add about $200 (or more) both ways (plus you have to lug that mess around). Plan to pack light and with only a {generally free} carry-on per traveler if possible (hey, no worries about lost luggage and no waiting at the baggage claim). If you’re staying somewhere with laundry service (or in an apartment or Airbnb), consider that you can also wash clothes or have them washed on your trip.

In Paris, there is a regulated taxi fee of €50 to and from the airport to your hotel. We were able to budget that into our travel cost but many places are based on a combination of mileage and time and are not as easily budgeted (be sure to look into these specifics while researching your destination, you may find helpful information regarding regulated costs or preferred modes of transportation in the area – your hotel may offer a free airport shuttle and that is definitely worth considering when it’s time to book a hotel if you’re trying to save money).

Speaking of transportation when traveling with children, car seats and area car seat laws should be researched. We purchased two BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seats off of Amazon. They pack easily without taking up much space (and then you also avoid the sometimes extra cost of requesting a car seat through your Uber or taxi service), AND, most importantly, your children are safe while traveling.

Are your dates modifiable? If so, the extra wiggle room can save you hundreds of dollars. Final round trip costs from Chicago to London were $515 per adult and $415 per child because we are leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Wednesday. I have read that there are certain days that are cheaper to fly on, however, I personally have never found this to be consistent. I always play with the dates (and different months if you can) to make sure that extending it (or shortening it) one more day would save money (leaving on a Wednesday and returning on a Wednesday would have cost us $203 more, per traveler so it was definitely worth shortening our trip by a day). Just make sure that you check general weather habits for the time you are traveling. Snow and rain at home could mean sun and heat somewhere else (and vice versa). Avoiding high travel times and holidays will always save you money. Don’t forget to research low travel times for your intended destination (you don’t really want to share the beach with 10,000 spring breakers and your three-year-old).

Hotels are typically more expensive on weekends versus weeknights so if there’s a fancy hotel you have your eye on, you can actually save more money by staying there through the week. Sometimes, staying only one weekend night can also save some cash. We stayed at a hotel in Paris in a duplex suite with a near €1000 nightly price tag for only $289USD per night (I’ve easily spent double that on hotels in Chicago that weren’t nearly as nice).

The best part of using your Expedia app for booking flight and hotels, is that once you book your flight, you save an additional percentage off of a hotel(s) in that area (and gain Expedia points for future travel). For example, the first time we went to London, I booked our flights and saved almost 70% off of a Hilton Hotel. I ended up with a total cost of $63 for the night, and it even offered a breakfast buffet (it wasn’t included in the price but the availability is convenient).

Breakfast buffets can be really great for efficiency, convenience and even budgets. Sometimes children are free, but almost always their meals are at a reduced-cost. It’s an easy way to find something you like in a county that offers a variety of “new” and maybe different foods. If you’re staying at a tropical resort, foods are usually catered towards the majority of travelers to that area but it’s not always like that when staying in a different country. In London, for example, we had baked beans and chocolate croissants for breakfast; in Oelde, Germany, melon, prosciutto and fresh baked bread. This is something to keep in mind for picky eaters (our youngest being extremely guilty of this), buffets generally offer something familiar.

Fun fact: Most other countries have much stricter government regulations and guidelines on their food than here in the United States. In many other countries (most, in fact), you won’t find an overabundant number of preservatives (if any at all) in your food, and definitely not corn syrup. I loved that in Germany, the condiments were made daily from fresh ingredients (but be prepared picky eaters, even something as innocent as fresh ketchup definitely tastes different).

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