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18 Beginner Tips for International Family Travel

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Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

You know that feeling you get when you finally click “book” for your upcoming international trip?
You’ve researched, chosen your location, and finally made the purchase. The butterflies of excitement and anticipation begin swirling inside of you! 

…then, shortly thereafter, in creeps the fears of the unknown. The questions begin circling: What can you expect?  Will this new, foreign land be uncomfortable?  Will you enjoy this new experience?  Will you be able to find what you need?

Your first trip overseas can be nerve-wracking, and questions on whether this is the right decision are commonplace. 

Let me assure you right now, YES, IT IS!

While there is a small learning curve, international travel is 100% worth the effort.  Experiencing different cultures and ways of life enriches and amplifies your life and helps you appreciate life in general.

This post will explore a few tips that will help you prepare and enjoy your international travel.

Stay Calm and Carry On

My number one tip for anyone traveling abroad: RELAX.

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Opinions shared are my own, and I only endorse products I support. By clicking on any of the links below, I may get a small commission if you purchase at absolutely no additional charge to you. I appreciate your support.*

Travel is challenging, and travel days are the worst part.  The more you can relax, the better things will go.  You should expect some hiccups and certainly don’t plan for everything to go smoothly.  You’re ahead of the game if you are mentally prepared for a few mishaps, and they never happen. 

Keep in mind everything can be fixed eventually.  Even if you miss your fight, don’t have time for food, have cranky kids, your baby cries the entire flight, or can’t get a taxi… it will all work out. Default to tip number one and stay calm. Use the resources and people around you to reroute and get back on track. Rest assured, many people have been in the same situation and lived to tell their tale.

Travel days are the price we pay for travel.  Once you’ve had a few days of making fantastic memories, the stress of the travel day won’t be anything but a story to tell.

Packing Tips for International Travel

One of the first things people consider when traveling internationally is what to pack! Here are a few quick tips to consider.

  • Check the weather for your destination. You’ll obviously want to pack clothing that aligns with the forecast. I just use my Apple Weather App and plan accordingly.
  • Opt for layering.  If you are heading somewhere cold, consider substituting your large winter coat with a windbreaker and sweater.  This will save you room in your suitcase and be more versatile for the warmer days as well.
    We executed this in Iceland with sweaters and rain jackets, which was perfect.  We also utilize thermal underwear, like this set, for cold weather destinations, outdoor markets, Disney, etc.
  • Consider your wardrobe. While you want to be comfortable and true to your style, neutral staples that don’t wrinkle are the easiest way to go, giving you more outfit pairing options. Nylon material is excellent as it offers stretch and looks great. Neutral colors will also, generally speaking, help you blend in better if you are looking to avoid standing out as a tourist. When traveling, you really want to prioritize comfort and functionality above fashion.
  • We try to stick with only two pairs of shoes per person, but occasionally I’ll go for three. This will obviously depend on your itinerary, but shoes are heavy and take up loads of precious room. Generally, a functional pair, formal pair, and casual pair will do the trick. (For example, I packed high heels for the formal night on our cruise, which I typically wouldn’t bring)
  • You’ll want a smaller carrying bag.  Keep your essentials within hand reach with a small, secure bag. Chris calls this his “nurse.”  You can use a fanny pack, backpack, purse, etc. Just make sure not to lose these precious valuables and if you opt for a backpack or purse, beware of pickpockets.
  • We have a few travel items we love and can’t travel without.  See this post for more suggestions!

More Packing Tips For Travel Abroad

  • Roll your clothes rather than fold them.  Believe it or not, this gives you more room and makes your clothes easier to see in your suitcase.
  • Don’t overpack. Plan your activities and only bring what you really need…overpacking is very common and a huge hassle. We suggest packing once and then going through and taking a few things out. 
  • You can always purchase forgotten items. Focus on your essentials and recognize you can always purchase items you may have forgotten once you arrive. While it might take a little bit to find, you will find anything you need. Sometimes we even plan to buy things in the country (like beach toys, sunscreen, winter boots, etc.), which saves us precious packing room.  We call these our “BIT” items for “Buy It There.”
  • Bring your vitamins. Of course, you’ll want to keep your essential medications in a carry-on to ensure they don’t get lost. Also, be sure to pack some extra vitamins. Travel can tax your body in various ways (jet lag, long flights, diet changes, etc.), and ensuring you get the proper nutrition to stay as healthy as possible will make your trip much more enjoyable. 
    We have a staple list of vitamins we take to keep our energy up that we highly recommend!

Flying International

It’s very difficult to travel abroad without boarding a flight to get there. You’ll want to prepare for some serious flight time when traveling to a foreign country. Depending on your destination, you could be in the air for 10-12 hours. Our longest flight was to and from New Zealand, which was about 12 hours.

This means hours of sitting, lots of time to kill, and several bathroom breaks; which only increase when traveling with kids. You can find my best tips for flying with a baby here.

Health and Wellbeing On Long Flights

Get Moving. Especially if you are pregnant or have circulatory issues, it’s important that you get up and walk about once an hour during these long flights. Although many domestic flights are difficult to walk around in, international flights offer bigger planes with wider aisles, making it much easier. Taking a walking/standing break every hour or so is a good idea to keep your circulation moving and your mind a change of scenery.

Bringing Your Own Snacks. You’ll want to pack some healthy snacks in your carry-on. While most international flights offer one meal, it’s often not very large, and with Covid, allergies and preferences are not considered. The last thing you want is to be hungry with hours to go or have grumpy hangry kids with no snacks to offer. 
Candy and junk food will make you feel yucky, especially with limited movement, so think crackers, veggies, oranges, etc.

Entertainment: Whether you are traveling as an adult or with kids, you’ll want some form of entertainment for long flights. Some of our favorites with kids are:

  • Sticker books
  • Playdough
  • Small toys
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Reading books
  • Tablet (we love the Kindle Fire)

Gadgets to Make Flying More Comfortable

None of these items are necessary, and I would not recommend buying all of them.  Finding the perfect travel accessories takes a bit of trial and error. Eventually, you’ll find one or two that make all the difference for you. 

Typically on a long, international flight (5+ hours), the airline will provide a blanket and pillow for you to use.  However, this experience varies greatly and is unpredictable since Covid.  This year, we’ve been on flights where we’ve had to ask for the items specifically, others where they were automatically on our seats, and some that did not have any pillows or blankets as they had run out before the back of the plane.  

When taking an overnight flight with kids, I will bring items to help them to sleep better.  I love this inflatable footrest pillow that turns the seat into a little bed. 
I also love my travel pillow like this one.  It’s the first (after many tries) that allows me to sleep sitting up.

Some other comfort items we love include:

Gate Assignments at the Airport

In some countries, specifically throughout Europe and Brazil, we’ve found it’s common for your gate to be unassigned until it’s time to board your flight.  This differs from the USA, where you often know your gate before arriving at the airport. In these scenarios, you’ll need to pay closer attention to airport signs and the clock.

Layovers When Booking International Flights

When booking your flights, you’ll want to pay attention to the flight times and special attention to layover times.

Any time you change countries (outside of the EU), you’ll need to go through customs.  This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, depending on staffing, line lengths, strikes by the employees, and other factors.

Because of this unpredictability, our minimum layover time on an international arrival is 1.5 hours.  This is tight!  Three hours is much safer and more comfortable. With the extra time, you can be confident you’ll get through customs and have time to secure a meal before your next flight.

Our longest layovers have been 7-10 hours during the day, and a few have been overnight.  If you have a layover of more than 6 hours, check to see if there is a hotel in the airport you can book.  If you have an overnight layover, try to book an airport hotel; preferably one you can walk to or take a quick shuttle.
Nothing is more refreshing than sleeping on a real bed and getting a hot shower after a long day of travel.  A quick hotel stay and break from the airport can really help reenergize and boost morale!

We’ve also slept in our fair share of airports.  For this, I strongly recommend bringing your own blanket or coat to lay on the floor.  Choose a quiet area, stick in some earplugs, and cuddle with the little kids so you can feel if they wake before you.  For very small children, have them sleep in their car seat near you.

As always, I recommend you bring the family traveler’s secret weapon: Melatonin!  This natural sleep aid will help safely ease you to sleep without any lasting effects.

Arriving on International Flights: Customs

Custom Forms

Before your arrival, you will be given some customs forms to fill out. When arriving in a new country, customs are required for entry. Essentially, the role of customs is to control the flow of goods in and out of the country.

 In general, these forms want you to declare the following:

  • if you have a large amount of money (like more than 10K in cash), 
  • any fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, meats, or other contentions to the local environment,
  • if you are importing a large number of goods without paying customs.

The flight attendants hand out these forms early in the flight.  I try to make it a rule of thumb to fill them out right when I get them. I’ve often forgotten and am scrambling to fill them out in line, which adds more stress.

Tips for Customs Declarations

  • Pack a pen in your carry-on.  They do not provide you with one to use on the plane.
  • Keep a note on your phone with every family member’s passport number and expiration date. This information is required on customs declarations; having it handy is much easier than rifling through the passports themselves.
  • If individual forms are required for each passenger, fill them out and place them in the corresponding passport when done.
  • You can always ask the flight attendants for basic help if you have questions.
  • Often you’ll need to provide an address in the country.  Use your hotel or Airbnb address here. (this is another excellent thing to keep in your phone’s note)
  • Don’t stress too much.  While these forms are essential, they shouldn’t induce a panic attack.  Do your best to fill it out and correct it with the agent later if you make a mistake.

Going Through Customs

All flights arriving from another country are shuttled through a separate airport passage once you deplane.  This passage will lead you to the customs area.  

Pay attention to signs (often employees direct people if you have questions), and make sure you go to the “foreign passport” line.  

Sometimes, if you are a US Passport holder, you’ll have a line grouped with other countries.  For example, when we flew from Lisbon to London, we went into a line that included EU Passports, Japan, Canada, and a couple of others.

At the desk (or machine), you’ll show your passport and declaration form. Someone will look at your documents and stamp your passport before you exit.

Since Covid, every country now has its own forms that you’ll complete before you fly.  Bring these through customs as well, as sometimes they are rechecked.

After your passport is inspected and you are cleared through customs, you can collect your luggage. 
If you have declared any items, such as money over $10,000, certain fruits or vegetables, meats, livestock, etc., you’ll be required to pass through one additional inspection.

*Generally, do not bring fresh fruits, vegetables, or meats into a new country.

General Tips for Traveling to a Foreign Country

Safety In Foreign Countries

  • Don’t be scared!  Remember that the media generally portray the worst parts of countries and are often much safer than what’s shown. People are good worldwide, and you shouldn’t start your trip scared.  If you are intelligent, alert, and take basic precautions you’ll be safe! 
  • Learn the emergency number for the country you are in (it’s often different than the American “911”).
  • Keep kids close and observe the behavior of other families. If locals look at ease, you can generally feel the same.
  • Go out in the daylight and stay in at night until you know the area.

Spending Money Abroad

  • Some countries will rely heavily on cash (usually second or third-world countries), and others will be solely on credit cards.  It’s good to have both options, regardless, in case of emergencies.
  • To obtain cash, we use ATM machines. We love the Charles Schwab debit card for withdrawing cash in foreign countries because you can get reimbursed for all those foreign ATM fees. When selecting your ATM, be sure it is in a trusted location. Banks are the safest. I’ve heard horror stories of ATM machines “eating” people’s debit cards, leaving them in a severe predicament.
  • Check whether your credit card charges foreign transaction fees.  Our does, sadly, and we will soon be applying for this Amex Travel Card, which does not.  From my research, this is the top travel card.  For frequent travelers, the club access is really useful as well!
  • Try to avoid currency exchange.  Whenever possible, do not go to the currency exchangers in the airport unless you know you have to have cash for your first taxi and there are no ATMs.  The conversion is terrible, and you’ll lose money every time!
  • Know what your daily ATM max limit is.  Most cards have a limit of around $500-600 USD, which can mean a lot of cash in a foreign country.  
  • Tipping isn’t the standard worldwide.  Most people working in the tourism industry worldwide will expect tips.  However, many European countries do not tip regularly, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to.  Most countries in Asia and South America do. Research the standard for the country before visiting.
  • In many third-world countries, specifically with street vendors, you must negotiate.  They will recognize you as a tourist from a mile away and charge you a premium price upfront.  Start the negotiation by offering half off their named price, then negotiate up to something you are still comfortable with. It’s essential to set your limits and be willing to walk away!  I have walked many times but also negotiated down a lot.

Eating Internationally

One of our favorite ways to experience a new culture is through food. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone and try the local cuisine you usually avoid.

I forced my family to try escargot as a dare on our first trip to Paris; it is now one of our favorites!  (Note, if you like mushrooms, you’ll love escargot).

When navigating food in a foreign country, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Most restaurants will have an English menu, but if not, Google Translate is always your friend!
  • Watch what the locals are ordering and give it a try!
  • If you are nervous about the food or do not like the cuisine, know you can find “American food” almost everywhere. When in doubt, McDonald’s is a worldwide chain.
  • Grocery stores often look different in foreign countries and can be confusing. Again, Google Translate can help you communicate with associates to find what you need.  Remember to bring or buy reusable bags, as many places are battling disposable bags.
  • In big cities with tons of competition, it’s hard to find a bad restaurant…they don’t stay in business.  

    *France has the best food in the world, in our opinion :). 

Transportation in A Foreign Country

How you get around a country will depend significantly on where you are. In Europe, you’ll likely walk or use public transportation. In Asia, buses, walking, or scooters are the most common. In others, you’ll want to rent a car. You’ll want to do some research ahead of time to find the best options for your destination.

Car Vs. No Car

Renting a car can add lots of freedom to your trip. You’ll be able to explore much more and avoid the stresses of public transportation.

However, it can also add stress! In big cities, cars are much more of a hassle than they are a convenience. You’ll have to consider parking if you choose to rent a car, which can be tricky to find.

We didn’t rent any cars in Asia and skipped a car in Rome and Paris.  However, exploring outside of the city is quite difficult.

A good compromise might be to rent a car for just part of your trip.

Tips for Parking Internationally

  • Use Google Maps to find “parking near me.”
  • Use Google Translate to understand the signs.  In Japan, we learned the hard way that only certain SPOTS in the parking lot were overnight.  We paid a fortune leaving our car overnight in the wrong spot due to the language barrier.
  • Try to rent a car that fits into parking garages.  This will be your best option in cities.
  • Have cash for parking machines, including coins. Not all will accept credit cards.
  • Brush up on your parallel parking skills; you’ll use them often!
  • Take a picture of where you parked.  We’ve lost our car several times and been convinced someone stole the car.

Ride Share Apps in Foreign Countries

Rideshare apps (such as Lyft and Uber) are available in most countries. With large families like ours, this can be tricky as we typically have to reserve more than one car. However, it is usually a much quicker option than public transport and often cheaper than taxis. You also avoid the hassle of payment as it’s all done through the app.

You’ll need to research the appropriate rideshare apps for where you are going ahead of time.  For example, Rome doesn’t use Uber and uses FreeNow instead, Asia uses Grab, etc.

Why we love rideshare apps abroad:

  • You don’t have to exchange money or charge a credit card.  All payments are made in the app before you get in the car, and prices are set, not metered.
  • No need to try and explain the address you want to the driver.  You put in the address, and off you go!  No words have to be exchanged, so language barriers are not an issue.
  • In most big cities, cars are quick and readily available.  We rarely wait more than 10 minutes for a ride.
  • You might be going somewhere that would be impossible to walk or take 3-4x as long on public transportation.
  • Often, you’ll get a very nice driver and can learn fun facts or suggestions about your location.
  • Many of these drivers also offer tours.  If you find one you like, you can exchange numbers for another time to do a tour.
  • You don’t have to worry about parking and can travel between cities without having to backtrack for your car.

Downsides of ride-share apps in foreign countries:

  • If you are traveling with small children, it’s a pain to carry around car seats.  The Mifold is a great option, as long as you don’t need an infant seat!
  • If you are traveling from a beach or swimming and are sandy, you might be refused a ride.  This happened to us a few times in Brazil.
  • It’s hard to just “explore” without your own car.  You always need a destination in mind.

Other Tips For Getting Around In Foreign Countries

  • Many big cities are VERY walking friendly.  From South America to Asia to Europe, big cities have more people who don’t drive cars than those who do.
  • Use Google Maps to get a variety of transport options, including public transportation, walking, driving, etc. (Google Maps is more reliable internationally than Apple Maps. Download it ahead of time)
  • Understand that outside of the US; the first floor is actually the second level.  Floor 0 is ground level.
  • Like in the US, many buildings won’t have a “floor 13.”
  • In most countries, using a stroller is tough.  We always recommend a baby carrier like this one instead.

Overall, the anticipation of international travel is often much scarier than the realities. Our advice: stay calm, go with the flow, and enjoy as much of the country as possible. Do what you love! If you love to lounge by the pool, do it. If you want to visit every museum in the city, get moving! 

International travel is exciting and is meant to be enjoyed. Take in the culture and trust us; you’ve got this!! 

Good luck with your travels! Like all things in life, the easier it gets the more you do it.



Book your first international flight with Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Check out top-rated hotels from Booking.com, Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Learn more about the world through guided tours from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Need to rent a car? Visit Rentalcars.com.

Get insured while traveling with World Nomads

Capture your best travel memories abroad as we do with a GoPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out your travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

A Review of Christmas at Gaylord Of The Rockies: The Perfect Colorado Family Holiday Vacation

Best Apps For International Family Travel

Obtaining Two Passports: When You Need Them and How to Get Them

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