International travel, whether for professional, pleasure or personal reasons, can be a daunting prospect when there are children involved. However, as with many other intimidating tasks, much of the worry can be sidestepped with proper planning and preparation. With this in mind, here are 10 tips for preparing children to travel internationally.
- Immunizations – Depending on where you’re traveling and what the conditions there are, you and your children may need a round of immunizations to protection from communicable diseases. It’s advised that you make an appointment with your pediatrician to ensure that all immunizations are up-to-date and that any additional vaccinations required for travel are obtained.
- Make Passport Arrangements – For children preschool-aged and up, the process of arranging their passports can create an opportunity for discussion and explanations. Walking him through the reasons for each step can help your child understand more about what he should expect and what is expected of him on your trip.
- Talk About Personal Space and Sound Boundaries – Children that are old enough to communicate verbally may need a refresher course in what is and is not acceptable behavior in regard to noise levels and personal space boundaries on an international flight.
- Fill Out and Explain an Emergency Contact Card – Filling out an emergency contact card with your child’s name, address and pertinent personal information, as well as any emergency contact numbers, while your child is looking on provides the perfect opportunity for explaining what the card is for, and what he should do if he finds himself separated from a parent.
- Pack Gas Drops or Other Gas Remedies – Parents of infants should make sure that gas drops, or their favored gas remedies, are packed in a carry-on or diaper bag for quick access; high altitudes cause gases to expand, which can lead to abdominal pain during the flight. Every parent knows that with pain come howls; in these situations, gas drops may be a lifesaver.
- Bring Small Toys and Other Diversions – Even the most patient, well-behaved child will experience boredom on a long international flight, and is likely to act out as a result. Packing a favorite small toy or a portable DVD player or taking advantage of in-flight entertainment can help to ease some of this restlessness. Parents who don’t ordinarily allow television or strictly limit it may also want to consider a temporary lift on the screen-time ban, as the novelty of being allowed to watch a movie will boost this diversionary tactics’ effectiveness.
- Think Twice About Medication – It can be tempting to give children allergy medication like diphenhydramine to encourage drowsiness on long flights, but parents are advised to exercise this method of control with caution. In addition to the risk of overdose and the questionable wisdom of treating a condition that is not present, diphenhydramine can also have a paradoxical effect on some children, rendering them more active and restless than they would have been without the substance.
- Talk to Older Kids About Security Measures – Older kids, tweens and teens who fiercely guard their privacy may benefit from a conversation prior to the trip about airport safety and security regulations, in order to prepare them for what’s to come. Young, first-time fliers are likely to be anxious enough; being surprised by invasive searches can exacerbate that anxiety.
- Get to Know One Another – If your first international flight with a child is with one you’ve just adopted from a foreign country, it’s a good idea to stay in her home country for a few days in order to get acquainted; international travel is already nerve-wracking, and even more so for a small child in the presence of utterly unfamiliar adults.
- Talk About What to Expect After Deplaning – During the flight, have a discussion about what kids should expect after deplaning in an unfamiliar airport. Instructions for conduct, and plans in the event of separation or unforeseen complications can ease some of the confusion and worry that kids feel just before landing in an unknown place.
Depending on the ages of your children, there may be other preparations and discussions you should have prior to embarking upon your journey. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary kids and teenagers all have their own set of demands and needs that must be met; tailoring your preparatory approach to the age level and temperament of your children is key for successful international travel.