How to Plan a Trip Abroad With Your Family

Travel can be one of the most exciting things that you do with your family, but if you’ve never traveled out of the country it can also be one of the most intimidating and stressful. Fortunately we live in an age of increased access to information. This makes things so much easier to learn how to plan a trip abroad with your family.

The trips that we’ve taken, we’ve researched ourselves and pieced together the logistics and accommodations to create some pretty memorable adventures. For those who have yet to take the leap, we’re here to share what we’ve learned and hopefully it can help you plan a trip. If you follow these steps it’ll take some of the intimidation and stress out of travel and you’ll be international in no time!

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FIGURE OUT WHEN YOU’RE ABLE TO TRAVEL

Weather

Some places are simply not enjoyable during certain times of the year. For instance, in some parts of Italy, Spain and Greece the temperatures can soar into the 90s f (30s c) in July and August. That would understandably make your trip uncomfortable in the least and unbearable at worst. This is especially the case if you’re bringing little ones with you.

In Southeast Asia for instance, you have to be wary of monsoon and typhoon season where it will horribly hot and or wet.  It’s important to find the optimal time to go when you plan a family vacation, but you can easily find the information online.

If you want to get a bit more detailed info you could use Accuweather. I’ve used it to find average temperatures and even check back to the previous year or two and see what the actual temperatures were. This can give you a better idea of what you’ll be facing when you plan to visit.

Overcrowding also has to be considered since it can make it insufferable and irritating instead of being an enjoyable experience.

Long lines in certain popular attractions can go from being simply long to “no thanks I’ll pass”, “why did I think to get in line”, “why am I even here”, or even “is it worth it?” With adults, you may be able to work your way through it, but with kids it may simply not work.

Which months to go?

The paradox with families is you’re often limited to the busiest times because that’s when kids are out of school. Of course everyone else has the same idea.

For us what has worked when traveling to Europe is traveling in June. We usually go right after the kids are out of school, which is usually end of May, first week of June. Since many schools go through at least the middle of June, the crowds haven’t fully formed yet. So we’ve gone on several trips to Europe in June without facing daunting crowds and still getting a pretty good deal. 

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, Italy

The more flexible your calendar is, the more options, the better chance at deals.  If you don’t have to factor in children’s school schedules you have much more flexibility, so use it!

Find out shoulder season and visit then. A month or even a couple weeks off of the main travel season can make a big difference in price and experience.

You often retain the benefits of the main busy season. This usually includes good weather, but you also get better availability, pricing and avoid the hassles of large crowds.

Which days of the week to go?

Flexibility can also be used on a micro level as well. Be flexible with dates, for example, leaving on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or changing the date by a day or two can save hundreds. That’s where I love to use Kayak to help me plan a trip. I can get an idea of when and how to travel to get a good deal.

Their matrix grid is invaluable in giving you a bigger picture and more combinations of departure and return dates. In the field to select dates place your cursor over the “date” field and right click.

You’ll then see the option next to departure and return for “exact” along with an arrow for a drop down option. I usually pick the +/- 3 days option to give me a bigger matrix to work with and I have more options.

PICK A PLACE THAT YOU WANT TO VISIT

Eiffel Tower in the distance

Where to go?

Before you begin to really plan a trip, make a list of five to seven places. You may have some in mind or you could get inspiration from lists posted online.

Research best times to visit (see #1) to see which locations line up with your calendar.

Use Kayak, Skyscanner, Google Flights to check flight costs to see what’s affordable.

There’s two approaches to picking where you want to visit. How you go about purchasing your flight and accommodations will vary depending on how you approach it.  

If you’re very specific about where you’re going, you might have to move quicker if you see a good price. It’s probably not such a good idea to keep waiting and waiting for the price to drop or to try to grab the most spectacular deal.

If the price is where you’re comfortable with and happy paying, you should just purchase and forget it. For instance if you just absolutely have to visit Paris, and you have your mind made up, you probably should start as early as possible.

Starting early also allows you build up your travel fund so that you can comfortably afford the trip that you want.

Flights

Wing of a plane

Track flight prices first since that’s going to be your largest expense when you plan a trip. I’ve used Kayak, Skyscanner, Google Flight and Airfarewatchdog for tracking purposes. You can set alerts and have them sent to your email daily if you want or have them sent via text to update you on price movements.

Depending on the site you use, you can get even more specific and have alerts sent if the price drops or rises beyond a certain point.  You could also check manually like I often do, since I actually enjoy the hunt for the deal. I still use the alerts and will manually check as well. I’ve gotten great deals doing both.

Our first trip to Rome was courtesy of my Airfairewatchdog alert. Paris was from me manually checking. Our London/Rome/Naples deal was from a Kayak alert and our trip to Portugal and Spain was from a Google Flight alert. So as you can see, I’ve benefitted from several options and they all work well.

If you’re more flexible in dates, calendar, and/or location to visit, you can afford to wait it out and wait for best deal. The previously mentioned methods would still be very useful.

Skyscanner is especially good for this approach because they have a really cool feature called “still undecided explore our map”. This allows you to scan a large area and they’ll give you the prices for each destination.

Another approach on Skyscanner is to fill in the “from” field. Leave “to” open and fill in the dates. They’ll then give you a list of countries/destinations starting with the least expensive.

This gives you ideas of places that you could visit. You could then click and get further details. If you’re like me and looking to explore any and everywhere, this could really work.

People walking the streets of a European city

Google flights is another great resource. To ensure you snag the best deals, consider setting up price alerts through Google Flights.

This feature allows you to stay updated on fluctuating flight prices, which is particularly handy if you have specific travel dates and destinations in mind. Simply search for your desired flight, opt for email alerts, and you’ll be notified of any price changes.

You can even compare prices for different dates or destinations, making it ideal for those with flexible travel plans who prioritize finding the most budget-friendly option.

While price alerts are helpful, keep in mind that they might not always catch the absolute best deals in time. Nonetheless, they’re a valuable tool to complement your search for affordable flights.

For more practical tips when booking flights check out our handy guide.

CHECK PASSPORT AND VISA REQUIRMENTS

Passport, sunglass laid on a map

Some countries require passports to be good 6+ months after arrival. We found out that Italy was one of those countries. Fortunately we found that out before we left for our trip and got my wife’s passport renewed since it would’ve expired in four months. For U.S. citizens you only need a passport to travel to Europe but starting 2025 you’re going to need a visa.

You can check out detailed travel requirements for U.S. travelers to Europe here.

These things are constantly changing. So no matter where you’re going, when you plan your trip, make sure you research what the documentation requirements are.

Be sure that you understand what is needed. It would put a serious damper on your travel plans if you get hit with an unexpected surprise. If you’re traveling with children they also need a passport for all air travel.

If you’re crossing by land, the requirements may change, so again make sure you check what is needed for each country you plan to visit.

Make physical copies of your passports, leave them with family at home, have a copy on your phone and maybe even a printed copy on you. That is what we have done.

Some sites that you visit will require you or your child’s identification especially if you purchase discounted tickets for young ones. Since you may have to carry your passport around, if the worst happens and you lose it, it would be helpful to have a paper copy and/or a copy on your phone.

Start early if you need a new or renewed passport, because delays around summer travel season can slow things down.

Go here for detailed information about processing your passport application.

CREATE YOUR ITINERARY AND RESEARCH

Build your itinerary

We usually create a basic list of sites to visit and things that we want to do for the locations that we have on our short list to consider where to visit. This just gives us an idea of what will interest us and helps us to rank the locations. It also allows us to see how long we could possibly want to stay.

We can then decide if we would want or be able to include another city or location and if we’ll have enough to do in the one location. Once our location is picked we get to work on the real itinerary.

Cafe outdoors in Paris

Crafting the perfect itinerary varies based on factors like your destination, the nature of your vacation, prevailing weather conditions, and the composition of your travel group.

For beach vacations or leisurely getaways, planning activities tends to be straightforward since the focus is often on relaxation.

When traveling with family, a practical approach is to schedule one primary activity in the morning and another in the afternoon. These activities should be distinct from easily accessible sights or quick visits.

Strategic planning can allow you to incorporate certain landmarks into your route to the next destination. Take the Spanish Steps in Rome, for instance.

While they’re a must-see, they don’t demand much time. By organizing your day effectively, you can easily include them en route to your main attraction without disrupting your schedule.

I’ve found that using Google Maps helps to visualize an area and plan my day. I’m able to visit sites that are close together and which makes for an efficient use of energy and time.

When crafting your itinerary, make optimal use of public transportation. Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber can also be advantageous, especially for longer distances.

The tube in London

For families with young children, relying on public transit whenever possible is best. Even short walks of ten or fifteen minutes can be challenging over the course of a day. While it may not seem significant, minimizing these walks can make a considerable difference in energy levels.

Additionally, seek out playgrounds wherever your travels take you. Many major cities like New York, London, Paris, Madrid, and Rome boast fantastic playgrounds conveniently located near popular tourist areas. Incorporating these stops into your day not only provides a welcome break but also kids will love them.

When you want to see everything

Our first option is to walk, so planning out the day is especially important so that the kids aren’t tired out before lunch and ready to call it a day.  This calls for simplifying the schedule.  For kids our basic plan is one major planned activity in the morning, one in the afternoon.  This usually works best for us.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France

The key for us as parents is to realize that we’re simply not going to see everything not matter how well we plan our trip. It’s not going to happen so why try? You’ll end up frustrated, your kids will end up frustrated and what’s the point? I feel this also applies to families without kids or even solo travelers.

Everyone has their own travel style but do you really want to spend your vacation racing from one spot to another without really stopping to enjoy the location and the atmosphere? If you have the opportunity to visit somewhere like Paris, don’t you want to spend time lingering near the Eiffel Tower, just taking it all in and appreciating it?

If you go to Rome there’s nothing better than aimlessly wandering down the back alleys, gelato in hand and discovering some magnificent building and happening onto an unassuming but gorgeous piazza. I’m sure you can have similar experiences in other cities and locations. So enjoy them.

Include kids in the plans

I’ve found that the more we scaled back our itinerary the more we enjoyed our vacation. This includes restaurants as well. For as many restaurants that I researched, I think we went to maybe five that I had scheduled to go to. It just so happened that when we were hungry, we were hungry.

Keep the kids happy

Include parks and playgrounds for the little ones when you plan your trip. This is especially needed if you go culture heavy with the vacation location like a London, Paris, Rome or New York City. All of those cities have spectacular playgrounds and parks that little ones will love and you’ll love just as much.

We got to visit London’s Hyde Park, Jardins des Tuilieries in Paris, Borghese Gardens and the playground in Piazza di San Cosimato in Rome, Central Park in New York City and a playground in Brooklyn.

The kids loved them all. It allows them to run free and enjoy the space. You don’t have to worry about them destroying some priceless work of art, getting lost, running over fellow travelers or angering the locals.

Playground in Madrid, Spain

We also like to include something familiar. That means even in a city like Paris, take them to (gasp!!!) McDonalds if they want to. We try to get them to try new things but they’re just not going to go foreign for the entire trip and that’s understandable.

So just cover your face in shame and be the American going in to McDonald’s/Burger King in Paris and even in (double gasp!!!!!) Rome.

Don’t worry we’re guilty as charged, it’s okay. Kind of. Bring a couple of extra dollars if you can and take them to the Disney store and they’ll let you get to some of the stores that you want, no problem.

We have found several things that our kids enjoy in cities such as London, Rome and Naples. A little research can produce similar great finds wherever you decide to vacation.

PURCHASE YOUR FLIGHT

If you use Kayak or Skyscanner to help plan your trip, they’ll often list 3rd party vendors for possible purchases. Be careful. Outside of the well known ones such as Booking, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. it can get dicey. If you have to google the name of the vendor you should probably just skip and avoid the headache. Even if the prices are really, really low.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. You get what you pay for. If you’re feeling like rolling the dice and going for it, at the very least do extensive research. There’s no shortage of reviews and information out there (yay internet).

Once you’ve selected the flight that works for you it’s always best to book using a credit card. There’s usually more protection as opposed to using a debit card especially if something unfortunate happens and there is a dispute and/or cancellation.

PURCHASE YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS

The same principles apply as with purchasing a flight. Be careful if you’ve never heard of the company before. Up until this year, we’ve used hotels exclusively. We’ve used VRBO and AirBnb for our trips and that’s our preference from now on.

Not only because of the price but for a family it’s hard to beat the set up of being in an actual apartment.

This is especially the case for larger families. We’re a family of four, but add one or two more kids and now you need two rooms. Then you’ve doubled your accommodation expense.

With VRBO or AirBnb that problem is eliminated because there are plenty of options for larger groups.

There’s just something so different about staying in an apartment in a place like Rome or Naples. It gives your stay such an authentic feel that really can’t be replicated in a hotel.

There are tradeoffs since in a hotel you pretty much know what you’re going to get. I suppose with VRBO there would be a bit more variance in experience.

If you try this route it would seem that more research would be needed. Overall, though it worked out well for us, we’ve had wonderful experience using these services.

MAKE A LIST

Using lists to help plan your trip

When you plan a family trip, especially one out of the country, it requires that you be organized. There’s a lot to get done before you even get to enjoy your trip.

It’s easy to forget what needs to be completed and when. As well as the details of what needs to be done. To do that you need to makes lists. Actually you may even need lists of lists.

I’m sure that there are many apps that can help you stay organized. The one that I’ve used is Any.do. It’s a cloud based service that allows you to access your information on numerous devices and even share access with someone else. 

I set up a list and have several tasks for each vacation. You then can set up subtasks under each task. There’s functions to set due dates, reminders, add notes and add files.

For instance I have a list for accommodations info, flight info, info, tickets to buy, things to do, cell phone options, contact info, itinerary, things to buy, things to pack.

I then can organize any information that I need under each list. I can also provide a checklist with subtasks that I can check off as they’re completed. It helps to have all the info that I need for our trip in one place. I include boarding passes as well as our itinerary. It has helped tremendously with making sure everything is done and helps me stay organized.

Here is a fantastic checklist to help keep you organized.

PACK FOR YOUR VACATION

Our motto as a family is “Carryon Only”. Since we flew on WOW air, which was very restrictive in order to receive the discounted rate, we’ve learned to pack light.

For our two week trip through London, Rome and Naples, we all had one carry on and then we also brought two backpacks and that worked out perfectly for us. There’s no way we’re going back now. It was very easy to move around especially when you’re trying to keep up with two kids.

There’s less to worry about and it’s just not as difficult trying to maneuver around. You don’t realize what you don’t really need to bring until you force yourself to only bring a good dependable carry on.

Open suitcase with items to pack all around

However you decide to pack, you want to start early so that you know how much space you need. You also want to consider the weather of the location you’ll be traveling to. For instance, packing for London was a bit different than packing for Rome.

Trying to remember everything that you need can be a handful. This is another instance where Wunderlist comes in handy in helping you plan for your trip.

It’s easy to just add to your list as you think of things. You can save a lot of space by going with neutral bottoms and mix and match your tops. Also sticking to a loose color scheme will allow you to mix and match easier and to pack less.

Use your itinerary to figure out what you need to wear to which places. I’ve found that the best way to save space is to only pack one pair of shoes. Since you’re already wearing one pair (I hope) that’ll give you 2 pair for a week which is more than enough. So invest in some good, fashionable, comfortable shoes and you’ll be happy.

Here is the perfect packing list to use:

No matter where you are going on your trip, you’ll want to have a good packing list. A good packing list will include the following items:

Luggage – Whether it’s full-sized luggage or a carry-on, this is a crucial part of your packing.

Backpack/Personal Item – Make the most of your allotted space with a versatile, practical backpack.

Versatile Clothing for mom, dad, kids – The time of year that you visit will dictate the type of clothing that you pack, but plan on layers and clothes that can easily be worn twice. Shop here for clothing for the whole family.

Packing cubes – Save a tremendous amount of space by using packing cubes. They’re also great for staying organized.

Comfy shoes – For city vacations or plans that take you hiking this is critical. Sore feet are no fun.

Swimming gear – Bring your swimsuits, but also sunscreen like this one.

Water bottle – Stay hydrated while you’re on the go. This bottle is spill-proof and comes with a built-in straw.

Adapter – Going to a different country? You’ll likely need an adapter like this.

Electronic Devices – Cell phones, tablets, and laptops all make travel much easier. Be sure you have a good one.

Electronics Chargers, Power Banks – The more devices, the more they need to be charged, especially if you’ll be on the go.

Headphones – Either earbuds or traditional headphones are necessary to enjoy your media. 

Hats – For fashion or protection from the sun, hats are a good thing to have.

Sunglasses – Mostly for fashion, but also for protection from the sun, you’ll be happy that you brought these sunglasses.

Toiletries – You can’t travel without the necessities. Find travel-sized items to save space.

Toiletry bag – Keep everything organized, dry, and easy to find.

Disposable paper soap sheets – Ideal for keeping little hands clean on the go.

Medication – Bring prescription medication, but also some basics such as allergy and pain medication. Keep them all organized with this compact case.

First Aid Kit – For minor scrapes a small first aid kit is quite practical.

Detergent sheets – These are especially useful when staying in an apartment. Wash clothing easily without having to bring a liquid.

YOU’RE READY TO GO!

There you have it! The definitive guide on how to plan a trip for your family. Hopefully you feel a bit more prepared to go explore the world. All that’s left is to do it! If you have any questions or want more info about preparing and the processes that we used and what we experienced as new travelers you can always leave a comment below. Safe travels!

Author

  • Jeremiah Pittmon

    Jeremiah Pittmon is a published travel writer and photographer from Cleveland, Ohio. Passionate about exploring the world with his family, he finds inspiration in all types of travel. Through his blog, smilesonarrival.com, and social media channels, he shares captivating experiences and valuable tips for families who love to travel.

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How to Plan a Trip Abroad With Your Family
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