Here's a short summary of the top lessons I learned for taking our family abroad. So many parents would love to take their children abroad but haven't yet made it happen, so I thought I'd share the basic tips that I learned during this first stay overseas. I learned one of these tips the hard way, but thankfully you won't have to!
1. Open a separate savings account for the trip. We did this about eighteen months before we left on our trip, and the separate savings account was essential in helping us to be financially savvy and to visualize our progress towards our overseas stay. It was so encouraging to make our planned monthly deposits to this account!
2. Buy airline tickets as early as possible. We waited until we could afford them, of course, but the general trend for prices over time is a steady increase, with just a bit of fluctuation in the interim. International tickets especially should be bought early, according to this CheapAir article. Buy buying tickets as early as we were able, we solidified the dates for our stay. Plus, committing to tickets allowed me to mentally move on to the next step--focusing on housing choices.
3. Live like a local family would by selecting an apartment or home over a hotel. A home-like atmosphere is so much more conducive to family peace--and it often costs less than a hotel. Kid & Coe, Airbnb, local classifieds (such as Leboncoin in France), and OneFineStay can all provide some family-friendly housing choices. Home Exchange is another great choice! Of our eleven-week stay in Europe, we rented an apartment for just six of those weeks, opting for a home exchange and housing with friends for the rest of our stay. We never stayed with friends for more than a week, though, so as not to wear out our welcome.
4. Read lots of honest reviews before planning activities and booking housing. Photos can hide the truth, but reviewers won't be unrealistically flattering. Both TripAdvisor and Yelp have free apps that are well-worth downloading to your phone or tablet, particularly for any last-minute restaurant or activity suggestions.
5. Bring what you need and only what you need. I made the mistake of giving each of my two preschoolers a backpack for his or her fun travel activities in addition to their two duffle bags of clothing. Frankly, it was just too complicated to keep track of additional bags--I should have stored the travel activities in my carry-on, and kept the number of bags minimal. We very nearly left one on a train during a quick destination stop.
But what you need is negotiable, isn't it? We brought my daughter's violin and were glad for the occasions when she could play for friends and maintain her abilities. We also brought carseats because we knew we would have several weeks in different locations when we would be using a borrowed car. For my oldest child, I was happy with the safety ratings of our Bubble Bum inflatable booster seat, though she found it uncomfortable. Before returning to the U.S., I gave our largest car seat to friends before leaving Europe, mainly so I didn't have to lug it home.
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