Preparing for a vacation can be an especially stressful time for parents.
Between managing work commitments, kids' activities and actually trying to prepare for what you hope will be a relaxing time, many moms and dads end up wanting to pull their hair out up until the moment they arrive at the airport!
To alleviate that last-minute stress, I've put together a family-friendly pre-trip vacation checklist so your holiday will feel like one.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles:
Confirm your accommodations and transportation
Double check your flight time, how early you can check-in and whether your seats have already been assigned. If not, I suggest checking-in as early as possible to ensure your family is seated together. While I have never personally been split up from my kids, it has happened. If this worries you, perhaps paying to select your seats in advance is worth the peace of mind.
Re-confirm your hotel dates and make sure you know the address and phone number, should you have issues on arrival. It is handy to have this information printed, just in case you have trouble communicating with local drivers.
Plan your route to the airport. What time do you need to leave the house? (Account for traffic and whether you need to park the car at an airport lot.)
Do you have ground transportation from the airport to your hotel booked in advance? If not, do you have a plan to get to the hotel? Shuttle? Taxi? Rental Car? If you are renting a car, have you considered whether you are renting a car seat, or bringing yours from home?
Vaccines & Prescriptions:
Keeping the family healthy and happy
Which vaccines do you need?
At least a month before we visit a new country, I check the recommended travel vaccinations and whether there are any current outbreaks in the region.
As adults, most of us have not received vaccinations in recent years, but it is important to update certain vaccinations because many start losing their effectiveness after 10 years. We were recently vaccinated against the Enterotoxigenic E. coli bacteria, which is the leading cause of diarrhea during travel in many parts of the world.
Uh oh, do your kids hate needles? No worries. It’s an oral vaccine that may be given to children. It's two doses, taken one week apart, and no later than two weeks before you leave for your trip. Yes, it requires a bit of forethought but trust me, no one wants to spend their vacation stuck in the bathroom! Plus, it does not require a prescription (except in Quebec) and can be purchased at most pharmacies, doctor’s offices and travel clinics. Consult your healthcare professional before you go to see if the vaccine is right for you.
Make a pharmacy pit-stop before flying out:
While you're at the pharmacy, don't forget to stock up on:
- Pain relievers (for adults and children) and/or digestive aids
- Ear plugs, sunscreen, aloe vera, travel-size containers, wet wipes, lip balm with SPF
- Fill any prescriptions you need and keep pills in the original, labeled packaging
Ready, available and backed-up
- Do you need a passport? Which parent will be responsible for them?
- Do you need to get a visa in advance?
- If you are a single parent, do you have a custody agreement or notarized letter from the other parent?
- Email yourself a copy of your passport. In case they are ever lost or stolen during your trip, digital copies will make them much easier to replace.
- Does your employer or credit card provider offer travel insurance? Do you require more comprehensive travel insurance?
Suitcases & Soothers:
Packing for the whole family
Packing strategies vary widely depending on whether you are headed on a ski vacation or to the beach.
7-10 days before departure
- Make a list ahead of time so you are not wandering around the house wondering what to pack the night before you leave.
- Locate your travel items: luggage, money wallets, packing cubes, packets of hand-washing detergent, neck pillows, etc.
- Centralize the items you'll pack. I start a basket of travel items a few weeks before a vacation. Whether it is special carry-on items to occupy the kids or bathing suits, any time I come across something I know I plan to take, it goes into the basket. This is especially helpful when you are travelling to a warm destination in winter. Your summer clothes may be stowed away, or you may need to buy new shorts for your kids if they have outgrown what they wore the previous summer.
- Take stock of the heavy items. Consider whether you need to bring big ticket items like a pack-n-play, stroller, carrier or car seat - and any added fees this might incur.
2-3 days before departure
Prepare your airplane ally: a carry-on bag of tricks
“As a parent, you don’t want to forget anything, especially if it’s your first trip with your child. My vacation planning checklists are actually the two most popular articles on my website, HaveBabyWillTravel.com,” says Corinne McDermott. “We all know that unexpected delays are a big part of travelling, and changes in routine can greatly impact a child’s mood – not always for the better. Make sure that you have the essentials on hand to see you through any unexpected delays. For example, healthy snacks stored in travel-sized plastic bags can be a lifesaver when you sense that your child is getting hungry and impatient. Make sure to stock up on their favourite snacks before you leave, and have a stash in both your suitcase and carry-on bag.”
- Inventory your kitchen for bottles, snack containers - and their lids!
- Shopping list: zip-seal bags, kids' favourite snacks, wipes
- Entertainment: tablet/gaming device, book(s), phone, charger(s), kids' special comfort item
- Travelling with an infant? See Corinne's complete baby packing list here.
Staying on budget
- Do you have a budget to stick to while you are away? Break it down so you can self-assess while you're abroad.
- Which currency - or currencies - are used at destination?
- Ensure you have appropriate funds in your checking account.
- Do you need to tell any of your financial institutions that you will be making out-of-country purchases?
- Pack a spare credit card in case yours is declined or compromised in-destination.
- Are ATMs widely available where you are travelling? If so, there is no need to travel with excess cash.
- Check your daily ATM allowance to ensure you can get cash if you need it.
- Can you find online coupons for discounted airport parking?
- If you will travel frequently by taxi, look online to find approximate rates before you fly out.