Rule #1: This is Not Their Mother’s Trip To Europe. Kids will irrevocably alter a trip, and you have to be okay with that. This trip is not the feature film, it’s the teaser trailer—the hook that will sell your kids on the joys of international travel forever. Slow down. Play like a local.
Rule #2: You Don’t Need All That Stuff. Remember when you had your first child and carried a bag filled with everything you might need for the next 18 years of their life? For many parents, their first trip abroad is like that. Take some cues from your fourth-child friends and their two-diapers-in-a-purse style of parenting. Bring the bare essentials.
Rule #3: Your First Day is a Loss. I don’t care how early your flight gets in, or how close your destination is to the airport, or how short your trip is and how important it is to cram in every last experience you can. Just accept it right now—your first day is a loss.
Rule #4: Always Know Where the Ice Cream Is AKA The Rule of Two Locations. In any given seven days of travel, you should only sleep in two different locations. It takes a couple of days to get your bearings in your temporary “neighborhood,” and knowing where the closest ice cream cart is can be a day-saver.
Rule #5: We’ll Laugh About This Someday. Travel with kids is a lot like Junior High. The one thing you desperately need, perspective, is the thing that’s hardest to come by. So remember, you’ll laugh about this someday.
Rule #6: Not All Friends Are Travel Friends. So, you and your BFF (Best Friend Family) are going to Italy and you KNOW you are going to love every second of your time together? Wonderful. But let me offer a few pieces of advice that can help along even the smoothest of dual-family trips.
Rule #7: Jet Lag, Baby. You might think you know about jet lag. You may have traveled a lot, and you may feel you’ve got a handle on how you react to it and how best to combat it. But I submit that you have never seen anything like a baby with jet lag.
Rule #8: You DO Need All This Stuff. If at any point in your packing you hear yourself utter the words “what if,” stop. Take that thing back out of the bag. “What if” is your enemy. “What if” will see you dragging four giant suitcases through the London Underground. You are not going to tea with the Queen. You are not going to get snowed on in Rome in June. Step away from the closet. You do not need that thing. Here’s what you do need . . .
Rule #9: Your Kid is Your Passport. Traveling with children will often gain you instant friends and helpers as well as getting you admittance to all kinds of “special” places and experiences you’d never get otherwise. Whether it’s being pulled to the front of the Immigration line or getting invited to dinner with a local family, your kids are your ticket to a better experience.
Rule # 10: It’s Not Worth It. At least once in every vacation, your well-laid plans are going to come up against the Will of Your Offspring. You have to be willing to adapt. Even the most travel-hardened kids are occasionally going to declare their independence, and you need to know how to pick your battles.
Rule #11: You’re Not The Boss of Me. This is your trip, and it should feel like it. Your trip is not going to look like anyone else’s. Only you know what you want to do, only you know what your toddler will tolerate and your teenager will adore. Plan YOUR trip. And don’t let guilt make you do things you don’t want to.
Rule # 12: Start a Travel Tradition. Build some continuity into your travels and save money on souvenirs with these simple, frugal, unusual ideas for creating family travel traditions.
Rule # 13: Eat This (and That). One thing many parents worry about when traveling overseas with their kids is the food. Will they eat it? Will they hate it? Will we end up eating at McDonald’s in Paris? The answer to these questions is yes. And it’s okay.
Rule #14: The Detour Can Be the Adventure. Disasters happen, but almost every situation can be salvaged and many will become your new favorite travel stories if you respond to them correctly. They might even become the stuff of family legend.