The best family holidays are not those that go off without a hitch, but those that have been well planned to cater for emergencies. To save yourself arguments with airport officials or a panic attack when you need to change your return ticket, here is the must-have list of the critical travel documents you should always have when traveling with kids.
· Passports. It sounds obvious, but the first thing you should ask yourself every time you walk out the door from the time you leave home for the airport to every single time you shift accommodation is: “Where are the passports?”. Everything else is replaceable, but passports are one thing you CANNOT travel without. Don’t forget that all passports must have at least 6 months left before the expiry date to travel to most countries. A good rule of thumb is to renew all passports when they are about one year out from their expiry just to be sure. If your child is still travelling with an infant photo in their passport and this is causing you problems at customs, you can request your passport office to update the image. Some passport offices (such as the Australian) offer this service for free.
· Return air tickets. Many countries now request to see a physical copy of your air tickets before you depart and enter into a new country. An email or a receipt on your smart phone will not be enough – you will need to print the physical tickets out even if you booked online. If you are lucky enough to be on an extended trip and don’t know your date of return, it’s worth purchasing full fare, fully refundable tickets and carrying those with you to avoid problems as you move through airports. You can cancel these later when you no longer need them.
· Copies of all the children’s birth certificates. This is especially important if your kids have a different surname to you as it is not uncommon for customs officials to question parents in airports. If you only have one original copy of your kids’ birth certificates, don’t bring that with you as the risk of damage or loss it too high. Instead bring a certified copy (of if you have no other options, a plain photocopy is better than nothing).
· Letter of permission to exit the country from the non-travelling parent. If you are travelling without your kids’ other parent or guardian/s, bring a signed letter from that person stating that they give authority for you to travel with the kids and that they have approved your itinerary. It’s much easier to ask for this ahead of time than trying to explain yourself at the airport when you are rushing for a flight.
· Vaccination certificates, especially for travel vaccinations. Some countries will require evidence that the entire family has undergone the relevant travel medical vaccinations before they allow you into the country. Some of these inoculations (such as yellow fever) come with a specific vaccination certificate so consult your travel doctor before you depart. [For more travel tips on travel vaccinations and other medical FAQs, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Family travel insurance policy and the emergency contact number. Many travel insurance companies now have an emergency “concierge” service to assist travellers in a pickle. This is particularly helpful for unexpected but annoying situations such as when luggage goes missing or your organised transfer has not shown up and you need to find a way to get from point A to point B. [For more travel tips on family travel insurance, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Emergency medical facility contact details for each place that you visit. Hopefully you will never need to use these but, even if it’s just to treat a minor case of food poisoning, when traveling with kids it’s useful to do the research about the Western-standard hospitals and medical facilities around you before you leave home.
· Basic first aid instructions for use in an emergency. When things go awry, it's easy to forget even the most basic things such as everything you learnt in the first aid course you did years ago. Printing out some general first aid for kids could be the critical aid you need in any emergency situation. You can print a suitcases&strollers list of first aid instructions for traveling with kids here.
· Full itinerary with contact numbers and addresses. This might be requested from you at customs but, more importantly, it’s your back up in case you need to contact anyone while you are away. Accommodation and airline phone numbers, in particular, are really useful in situations where you need to get in touch but cannot get Internet access.
· List of allergies. If you or any of your kids has allergies, it’s useful to carry a list of these and the usual treatments you use at home in case you need them in an emergency. [For more travel tips on travelling with allergies, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· If you are pregnant, bring a medical clearance letter from your doctor. For more details about this, read the suitcases&strollers story Flying When Pregnant.
Additional Travel Tips
· Invest in a good quality document or passport holder so you can keep all the originals filed and together in one place for easy access.
· Make copies of all of these documents and carry one copy of each in every piece of luggage. This includes children’s suitcases and all carry on bags. That way if any of your bags and/or your documents goes missing, you still have the copies to help you out.
· Leave a copy of everything at home with a trusted friend or family member. This ensures you will always be contactable in an emergency and they can also provide you any details you need if you don’t have the documents yourself.
· Do no let the kids carry the originals. It might seem cute for your toddler to take his own passport, but it won’t be so much fun when it’s lost/torn/used as a colouring in book. If your little kids really want to carry something, get them to make their own pretend passports that they can carry throughout the trip and buy some a stamp you can use at the airport.
· If you plan to do outdoor activities, put all the documents in a double sealed zip lock plastic bag. This means putting all the documents in one zip lock bag, sealing it, then putting the entire contents into another plastic, sealable bag. This is particularly important if you are doing activities such as taking boats, visiting the beach or hiking in inclement weather.