My wife and I love traveling abroad, discovering new places, people, cultures, and foods. Before we had kids, our idea of pre-trip planning for international travel was purchasing plane tickets and Eurail passes. Figuring out where to go and what to see was something we left for our flight when we could pore through Frommer’s and Rick Steve’s guidebooks.
Now that we have kids, our casual approach to international adventures has been thrown out the window. Here’s what we have learned from traveling with a toddler in tow.
Traveling internationally with kids is challenging—you need to pick a destination that appeals to both adults and children. Dragging the kids along on a wine-tasting tour in Tuscany will not be fun for anyone. When choosing your destination, here are a few factors to consider.
Are there kid-specific attractions?
This doesn’t mean you need to travel somewhere with a theme park, but having a kid-specific attraction can be a godsend if the kids are cranky or need some play time. When our oldest daughter needed some play time in Paris, we visited Montmartre where she rode the carousel, watched the street performers, and made friends on the playground.
Are there kid-friendly museums/historic sites?
Research the local museums and historic sites to make sure they can accommodate children. You don’t necessarily need a museum that caters to kids, but you want to make sure there are kids play or discovery spaces and family restrooms (or at least restrooms with changing tables).
Also, try to get a feel for the expectations of places you want to visit. We were rather horrified when we had to ask a guard to show us the fastest way out of Windsor Castle in England because our daughter (then 18 months old) picked that moment to wail. The sounds of her tantrum echoed through the halls as we scurried under velvet ropes of several exhibits. If you know anything about the British, wailing in a royal castle (or anywhere, really) is generally frowned upon.
Is the destination safe for LGBT families?
LGBT families must do a bit of extra research when choosing a destination. The sad reality is that we aren’t welcome everywhere—there are many countries in the world that foster anti-gay sentiments, whether through religious beliefs or law.
When choosing your destination, make sure you thoroughly research the social climate of the country. If there are laws against homosexual conduct, then don’t go there. Prior to having children, this wasn’t something we considered as seriously. People generally don’t think much of two women traveling together.
But things are different now that we have children who don’t understand that in some places of the world calling us “Mama” and “Mommy” in public can put us in a precarious situation. Though it’s important to educate your children about the discrimination faced by the LGBT community, it’s not necessary or worth putting them in a potentially dangerous environment.
Plan! Plan! Plan!
No longer can my wife and I plan our trip during our plane ride—we actually have to think about what we’re going to do each and every day we’re traveling. This doesn’t mean we pack a full itinerary, it just means that we gather our research and plot out when tourist attractions, museums, and historical sites are open.
Using that information, we make a rough daily itinerary, whereas before we could cram a lot into each day, picking up food at a street stall traveling from one site to another. Of course, now we need to leave ample time for eating and napping (and I’m not just talking about the kids!)
One of the things we’ve learned to let go of is expecting to see everything on our list. You may have great plans to visit the Tate Modern, but if a local market fascinates the kids, then go with that. In some ways, letting the kids lead reintroduces spontaneity into your traveling adventures!
Don’t Forget to Pack the Paperwork
This seems obvious. Make sure you have your tickets, itinerary, and passports when heading out of the country. For LGBT parents, there is a lot more to think about when packing for a trip, even ones in the United States. Our marriages (for those of us who are married) are not recognized everywhere, nor are our relationships to our non-biological children. To reduce the chances of uncomfortable situations or worse, it’s important you bring legal documentation and information on every trip, even the short ones.
We bring a copy on all of our trips out of state. Even if your marriage isn’t recognized where you’re traveling, it’s good to have on hand to help establish your relationship to your spouse and children should an emergency arise.
Bring copies of everyone’s birth certificates: children and adults. We live in Massachusetts, so both my wife and I are listed on our children’s birth certificates. Again, this helps us establish relationships to each other.
If your kids are adopted, bring copies of these as well. In our case, we bring our kids’ birth certificates and adoption certificates. Even though as the non-biological mom I am listed on their birth certificates, I chose to do formal second-parent adoptions of our kids as well. This provides extra security when we’re traveling in areas where gay marriage is not legal or recognized, as it clearly and legally establishes my relationship to our kids.
Social Security Cards
This one applies to all families. We learned this the hard way when we traveled cross-country with our daughter, Addison. She fell ill in Colorado and needed to be seen by a doctor, but the clinic wouldn’t see her without her social security number. Luckily we were able to call our friend Janet who walked down to our house and dug Addie’s social security card from our files. Now we know to bring a photocopy of our kids’ cards on every trip out of state, just in case.
Health Care Proxies
Take the time to have a lawyer draw up health care proxies for you and your spouse that will allow you to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. This is especially important for spouses who are not married, or for when you’re traveling in a place where your marriage is not recognized.
If you’re not the biological parent of your child, or you haven’t completed a formal adoption, you should have proxies drawn up for your children as well.
Contact Info for US Embassy/Consulate
If you’re traveling outside of the United States, make sure you find the contact info for the US Embassy or Consulate for each country you will visit. Should an issue arise, they can provide assistance. Write this information down, and put it in your mobile phone as well.
Getting Through Customs
This is usually a relatively easy process for families, but for LGBT families, it can be difficult. Not all countries recognize our relationships, so you may not be able to file a single customs form, or be processed together.
In this case, it might be easier to keep the kids together with one parent, especially if they don’t have the same last name as both parents. (I took my wife’s last name when we were married to make it easier for our future kids. If I am alone with them, no one questions me as their mother.)
Fortunately, the United States changed its policy in 2012, so at least on the return trip customs should be a breeze. Families that reside together, even if the parents are not legally married, can declare and travel through customs together.
Though the experience is different than traveling sans kids, getting to see the world through the eyes of your little ones is awesome. They see things you miss, lead you into unexpected adventures, and make traveling more memorable.
Jen is a contributing writer for GayFamilyTrips.com. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her wife and three children. Her own blog is Adventurous Moms.
Have you traveled internationally with your kids? Share your tips with our readers in the Comments area below!