A checklist for worldtrips with kids. When will you need this...? Well, I think that when you are reading this article you have decided to go on a (world) trip with your family! The best choice you will ever make, let me assure you! It's so much fun, so very valuable to have this much time together as a family. And an unforgettable experience for yourself and your kids. They will learn more from the trip than they will ever learn in school. And it will create an even stronger bond between the family members. At least, that's what it did for us.
But before you leave there are multiple things to take care of and do. Sometimes it can be hard to see through all the things that have to be handled. So I have created a top 5 -checklist for worldtrips with kids - of things to do when going on a world trip. However, many things in the top 5 are very usable for any trip you might be taking in the future. So even if you're not planning on making a journey around the world, it might help you for just a great family vacation!
Here are our most important tips:
1. Plan your route and involve the kids in the planning of your itinerary
If you don't have kids you might get away with just booking a ticket and leave. See where the wind takes you and that kind of stuff. But when travelling with children it does make sense to plan your route in advance. You might not have to plan everything in detail. But it does help if you know what you want to see and where you want to go. It makes it even nicer for the kids to get involved in the planning of the route. Because hey, let's be honest, it's not like they decided to go on a world trip. It's a decision taken for them. So to make the journey more real and the preparations fun for them too we bought the kids a Lonely Planet "Encyclopedia of all countries", gave each child his own colour page marker and let them mark the things they really wanted to see. We took their "wish list", compared it to ours and then planned a route which was logical and feasible cost and time wise.
I know that planning your trip ahead doesn't sound really romantic and that you might think you are giving up your finally attained freedom to adhere to a fixed planning or schedule. But believe me planning ahead gives you much more freedom to enjoy things while you're on the trip. As you don't have to sit behind your laptop DURING your trip (which is very time consuming because of factors such as slow internet connections or finding a place that has reasonable internet in the first place), thinking of where to go next, where to stay next, comparing prices and time tables, finding availability etc etc. And depending on how many children you have, planning ahead gives you the opportunity to find places to accommodate your entire family. As we are a family of 6 we sometimes had a hard time finding suitable lodging that was also affordable. Some accommodations don't welcome any children at all. Moreover, as you travel different countries you might be facing local school holidays, making accommodation hard to find. For example, December and January are very busy months in Australia and New Zealand, when the local children have their summer break making it pricey and hard to find apartments, hotels or cars if not booked far in advance.
When planning your route it is also very important to build in "relax" time while travelling. As much as you might like, you just can't keep on travelling to a new place every other few days when you have kids with you. Children need to rest to process all the new things they have encountered. They need time to just play, swim or do local day to day things. They also need time for school. Most parents going on a world trip home school. It is very doable and takes much less time than you would expect. But still you have to make time in your travel schedule for this important part of your children's lives and futures.
And remember, even if you have everything planned out, don't be afraid to change your schedule when necessary or when you wish to do so. We booked many things on a flexible basis, making it possible to cancel something or stay somewhere longer or shorter than we had planned. Making a planning doesn't mean it is set in concrete. It's just giving you the freedom to enjoy your trip and family as care free as possible.
2. Make a to do check-list
What are the things you have to do before you leave? We made a check-list for ourselves, it might not be complete for you, but for us these were the most important items on our list. You may find it helpful when making yours.
- Book your airline tickets around the world as soon as you know your itinerary. The most inexpensive option is to book an around the world ticket directly at an airline and not via a travel agency. Ask for quotes at all the alliances such as SkyTeam, OneWorld and StarAlliance. On their websites you will find a special section for booking world tickets. And if you can't figure it out, the airlines also have a special department to help you out that can be reached by phone. Know that in most cases you can still change your itinerary at a price of around 50 USD per person and the difference between the fee at the moment of change and the fee at the moment of booking.
- Inform school about your plans and make a plan with school how to teach your children during your trip. How things are arranged with regards to home education is different per country. In our home country, the Netherlands, home schooling is not allowed. So when you plan to take your children from school and make a world trip you can either choose to teach your children through the "Worldschool" system or make a plan with the teachers of the school your children are currently attending. We chose for the latter as the Worldschool had a completely different pedagogic view than our own school and we didn't want to change systems for just a year. Making it potentially harder for our children to go back to school after our trip. As we had 3 children to teach and our school did not work with digital learning we scheduled with the year planning of the children's teachers what had to be taught when and we sent out DHL boxes with schoolbooks and materials to addresses we received via friends in different countries so we didn't have to carry all school material with us all the time. We took pictures of the tests taken and sent them back to the teachers for grading. It worked perfectly! It was not always easy to motivate the children to do their schoolwork. But we never forced them. We just told them what the consequences could be if they didn't do it and most of the time they realised after a couple of minutes that we had to do school for their own good. We also built in "vacation periods" during our trip. That meant not having to do any schoolwork for a week and sometimes even two, but just having fun!
- Ask for permission to travel with the kids at the "Ministry of Education" (leerplicht ambtenaar). This only applies to the Netherlands as far as I know. There is only a very very slight chance that they'll grant you permission to take your kids out of the educational system to travel around the world, but if you don't get permission and go anyway you can't be thrown in jail or anything like that. You will get a fine. The judge determines the height of the fine. We have always been very honest and open about our plans. Some people make up stories and get away with it. But if you get caught in a lie, your fine will be much higher than you bargained for. When you have to appear in court, it is very important to show the judge that you take and have taken your children's education seriously. Have been homeschooling them on a regular basis during the trip. And that the children are not behind on their classmates, a letter from each of the children's teacher to support that helps. Our children had to write reports to their classmates about their travel for each country. They made wonderful stories with pictures, the teachers presented to their classmates so that they learned from our journey as well. We also went to a school for a day or morning in every country we visited. It could be any school, private, public. Our children learned different things from every school we visited. Both actions, the reports and school visits helped convincing the judge that our trip also involved educational purposes. You can also choose to deregister yourself and your children but this has consequences for things like your health insurance. So we have decided not to take this road, hence, I cannot give any advice on this.
- Check which vaccinations and precautionary medicines are needed for the countries you are planning to visit and start to get the vaccinations in time, as some need a couple of shots before they are effective. In the Netherlands the GGD or the KLM Health Services are good places to get your vaccinations. All vaccinations are compensated by your medical insurance (at least in the Netherlands) so don't forget to claim them.Costs for getting all the necessary vaccinations can get quite high. Also make a good First Aid bag while you're at the medical centre. The staff will be happy to help you out. And don't forget to bring your vaccination passport with you on the trip.
- Download a good medical (first aid) app on your phone so you know what to do in emergency situations.
- What to do with your home, car and pets? Whether you own a home or are renting one, you will have to decide what to do with your home and belongings. You can rent storage space to store your personal belongings for the duration of your trip. And with regards to your home you can either rent it out or ask people to house sit while you're away. We asked people to house sit as we have two dogs that had te be taken care of as well. We did agree on them paying certain day to day operational costs of the house such as electricity, water, gas, cable, phone, cleaning etc. They were building a new home and were very happy with this agreement. It was a win-win situation for the both of us. Figure out what option suits your situation best.
- Stop any running subscriptions on newspapers, magazines etc. Or at least pause them for the period of your absence.
- Arrange for someone to take care of your mail and open important letters or bills so that you don't get home to find some nasty surprises.
- Stop or pause memberships of (sports) clubs before you leave.
- Check out your travel insurance. Most continuous travel insurances only cover trips for 90 to a maximum of 180 consecutive days. So if you leave for more than 180 days you'll have to arrange another travel insurance. Ask for different quotes. Prices vary a lot and see that you compare apples to apples. Some insurance companies don't insure special sports such as diving, skiing or sailing. While others do, find the insurance that suits you and your family best.
- Have a (digital) copy of all your travel and official documents with you in case you loose them. Think of passports, identity cards, drivers license, insurance papers, credit cards, important phone numbers, (accommodation) reservations, etc. I scanned everything and send it to my email. It helped us a lot when we were the victim of a burglary. Fortunately the only bad experience we had during our time away.
- Check for which countries you need a visa to enter. And request them in advance. For some countries it takes a long time to get a visa. There are many agencies to help you out with requesting visa's. However they can be very expensive and some are not so trust worthy. We used CIBT. It is a the worldwide market leader for visa services. They are very reliable and as we only had a very short preparation period, it was the best choice for us. If you decide to let an agency arrange the visa's for you ALWAYS check out it's reliability first. If you want to save money do it yourself, but do plan far in advance as some visa requests may take several days or even weeks.
- Buy an international drivers license. Some countries require this for renting a car. International drivers licenses can be bought in the Netherlands via the ANWB.
- Take an extra mobile phone with you so you can buy local SIM cards to save a lot on communication costs. Most of the time local SIM cards can be bought at the airport. We always kept our own phone with us for our email and other digital communcaion when WIFI was available but had a spare phone for local calls, gps navigation or other internet related affairs when no WiFi was available.
- Make a packing list so you know what you have with you and don't take too much stuff with you!! Everything can be bought anywhere in the world. And you really don't need that much. We were just overwhelmed when we got home by all the possessions we had and didn't even miss while we were away. Keep in mind the seasons of the countries you're visiting and take some basic stuff with you to suit the season. Everything else can be bought locally. What is important is to always pack spare clothes for the kids in your carry-on luggage. We've needed it many times during our trip. Accidents happened, kids get sick, spill their food or drinks on the plane. It's always good to have something clean and easy to put on.
- Invest in good travelling gear. Whether it be back packs or trolleys. Make sure it's easy to handle and not too heavy.
- Download all your travel guides on your phone or tablet. As you don't want to carry too much stuff, let alone heavy books, I download all Lonely Planets of the countries we are visiting (I still do) on my phone and tablet. I highlight or bookmark important stuff and the things I want to see, do and experience and make a bit of a day to day plan as I don't want to miss out the good stuff. And I also read to the kids before we go somewhere about the history or some other information of what they are about to visit. By the way, do keep in mind when making such a long trip you won't be able to see and do everything you would if you were visiting the country on a regular vacation trip. Travelling is also about being part of the day to day life of locals and not only about seeing everything there is to see and do everything there is to do at every stop you make. Of course, the highlights are always worth visiting, but you won't be stopping at every temple and every museum or you'll go mad before you know it.
- Try to get good recommendations on places to eat or things to do from local people via friends and relatives with similar taste or from people who have recently been there. Our secret is that we always try to get these recommendations before we visit a place so we can make arrangements for popular activities and places in advance. It's really a shame when you are somewhere but not able to do the things you wanted because you didn't make prior arrangements. We had this once during our world trip when we were in New Zealand and promised the children to visit Hobbiton (from Lord of the Rings) but when we got there we couldn't do the tour as this had to be booked a couple of days in advance... it was such an immense dissappointment for the kids.
3. Make a good budget!
It sounds kind of lame but making a good budget is essential for the success of your trip! Going on a world trip is definitely not cheap, especially not if your taking your family. Of course everyone has a different taste or liking, some more expensive than others. But even when you like basic travel, day to day life is not free. You need money for lodging, food & beverages, local transportation and activities. Because let's be honest, you aren't taking your family on a trip of a life time to explore nothing new. So PLEASE budget wisely and not too tight or you will get into trouble, stress and disappointment. Google some prices of activities you'd like to do or places you are staying, check out menus of local restaurants to get an indication on what you'll need to be spending per person per day. Life is much cheaper in Asia than in the western countries, but countries in Oceania, like Australia and New Zealand are very expensive. Latin America stands somewhere in between.
4. Keep a travel diary
You'll be seeing and experiencing so many new things during your trip. That you will forget some of it if you don't document it. I received lots of travel journals from friends before we left on our world trip, but I preferred using the "TripRider" app. You can add everything in the app, from your budget to your story and pictures. I wrote something every day. Sometimes just a few lines but often extensive stories, not only about what we did and saw, but also how we felt and the kids reacted to certain things. I made a book of it when we got home. It's a real treasure for the entire family. The children read the book very often. They get to relive the trip over and over again and it helps to keep the memories of the trip alive.
5. Enjoy every minute of it! - this is actually the most important of all tips!
The fun started for us when we decided to make the trip around the world. We kept saying to each other, are we really doing this? It's so cool!! It's a dream come true! And we enjoyed everything about it. We enjoyed the nights we stayed up late behind our desktops to find the best deals, cutest accommodations and most fun activities. We enjoyed the farewell parties our friends threw us. We enjoyed our long flights and car rides, doing home work or playing cards while waiting at the airport, watching the newest movies on the plane or singing all the songs we added to our Spotify playlist while driving for twelve hours straight. We took every kind of transportation available, plane, train, bus, boat, helicopter, car, horse. What we enjoyed the most is having all this time together, just the six of us, with no obligations, no social obligations, no school or work. It was just us, in our little bubble. And we loved it!
On the day of our departure we were both excited and really nervous. We had so many questions... Did we plan everything well? Did we take the the right decision taking the kids out of their familiar environment for such a long period? Wasn't the trip too long or too short etc, etc. We agreed to get the most out of the trip and do everything we always wanted to do, of course within our personal budget. And we did. We have only one regret. That is that we changed our original plan when we were in Latin America and didn't go to Bolivia and Peru because one local person dissuaded us from following that route as according to him it was too dangerous for the kids. Retrospectively this was absolutely not the case and we missed out on the Salar Uyuni, Lake Titicaca and Macchu Picchu because we didn't stick to our plan...
For the rest we laughed a lot, made beautiful memories, met many amazing people, tried an enormous amount of new foods, had some family quarrels and irritations, oh yes we had them. We really really got to know each other. Only one of us got sick once and had to visit a doctor. Looking back there was nothing to be nervous about. Everything worked out just fine and we even had more fun than we ever thought we would have. Time went by, so quick... We were on our way home in a blink of an eye. And how we cried on the day we had to go home. Not because we didn't want to go home but because such an intensely happy period had come to an end. An, maybe, once in a lifetime opportunity we were given and blessed with. I hope to do it again some day, who knows what life will bring, but at least we got to do it once. A beautiful memory locked in all of our minds and hearts forever.
P.s. If you have more questions, please feel free to send me an email. I might me able to help you, I'd be happy to. I don't know if I have the answer but you can always give it a try.