Taking your kids to a foreign country on a family vacation is often an exciting adventure and thrilling milestone for many families.
We think having as much family vacation "know how" in advance helps parents to make better informed travel decisions, avoid pitfalls and creates savvy travelers.
Before your family goes jet setting off to some fabulously fun destination, here are some important travel tips and helpful information that you need to know....
Health - If your family will be visiting a foreign country, double check the U.S. State Department Website. It offers great travel tips for families. It also lists any warnings and alerts for the places you're planning to visit.
Traveling to a foreign country is a fantastic, life enriching experience, for children as well as adults. Travelers are looking to experience life differently from their every day to day perspectives. That's the whole point of leaving our homes and comfort zones.
When it comes to your family's health, it is important to recognize that medical standards, emergency care and facilities can vary greatly. Even here in the states, the facilities and treatment of patients in one of our large metropolitan, medical centers can differ greatly from an ER visit to a small, local country hospital. In foreign countries these differences can be even more significant.
If anyone in your family has any pre-existing health problems, seek and take the advice of your health care professionals before traveling. This reality check is meant to help you avoid any unnecessary risks.
For guests with mobility issues, we can "request" airport wheelchair assistance or handicap accessible hotel rooms but we can never guarantee this request. If any of your family members do need to bring extra equipment like wheelchairs please know the airlines have specific rules, especially for motorized or battery units. Please bear in mind that standards may vary compared to here in the states...for example doorway and shower sizes.
Be sure to use common sense. Being on vacation does not instantly turn you into an invincible, super hero. Avoid unnecessary risks and physical activities beyond your capabilities. Do not leave your personal responsibility at home. I don't mean to sound like a kill joy here, just please vacation rationally, especially if you're traveling with little ones. I say this because so very often while traveling I see instances of family vacations that are just "accidents waiting to happen". If drinking and driving don't mix, chances are drinking and parasailing, snorkeling or sometimes even walking aren't a very good ideas either. Even though you're on vacation, you still need to take responsibility for your own actions. Bear in mind too, the laws, regulations and cultures in other countries may vary greatly too. You could find yourself in a whole world of trouble.
Most U.S. health insurance plans offer no care coverage outside of the United States. This means if your child suffers an earache or needs emergency appendectomy surgery, you will be responsible for paying for this medical care out of your own pocket. Several countries will take your passport before any medical care is given to insure they receive payment in full for any medical treatment. This is why we whole heartedly recommend travel insurance coverage. This type of policy normally costs 5-8% of the total cost of your trip. A very small price to pay for peace of mind while traveling.
Safety - Family vacations are all about exploring and experiencing exciting new adventures. These are the experiences that we want to share with our kids. Still as parents, our number one priority is to keep our kids safe. Parents need to be aware that foreign safety standard can be VERY different than ours here at home. Extra care and common sense will certainly be necessary. Many countries do not have car safety seat laws. Hotel balcony railings, baby gear and pool safety may not be the same. Motor, marine and athletic equipment safety standards may not be equivalent to those set in the United States. Discuss these differences with your children who are of age and be extra vigilant with younger children. If you are concerned then this may mean you'll need to bring your own portable crib or scuba gear with you. We appreciate that this may be an extra expense and inconvenience. Again we say this to make parents aware and vigilant in order to keep everyone safe and sound.
Travel Documents -IMPORANT - Having the proper travel documents is the responsibility of every traveler. The first thing travelers should do is to check the U.S. State Department website Check the specific entry and exit regulations for the specific countries they wish to visit. If there is any doubt or if your family has unique circumstances or questions, (like foreign adoption issues) then you should contact the Embassy of the country you wish to visit. If you do not have the proper travel documents, your airline can refuse to let you board your aircraft and you will then forfeit the entire cost of your vacation. Improper documentation is NOT covered by travel insurance.
Travelers of ALL ages, traveling by air to any foreign destination, are required to have a valid U.S. Passport. Passports must be in good condition. Passengers can be denied boarding by the airline if their passport is torn, damaged or shows excessive wear.
Your family can go ahead and make their vacation reservations even if you do not yet have passports. It normally takes 6-8 weeks to apply for a passport so be sure to plan ahead. Bear in mind that the first, middle and last names of all passengers must match EXACTLY to the first, middle and last names on their passport. If passport and ticket names do not match exactly then there may be penalty or name change fees.
Double check the expiration date on any existing passports before making your reservations. Many countries require a passport be valid for 6 months beyond the date of your departure back home. Also, if you have been involved in any legal troubles, you may not be able to obtain a passport or you may be denied boarding with an existing passport.
Single parents, or any relatives or lone adult traveling with minor children under the age of 17 will require extra documentation. 1. A notarized letter from the co-parent or parents(s) giving permission to travel. 2.- Original documentation proving full custody or death certificate of the co-parent. Without this documentation, you are at risk for denied boarding by the airlines.
Traveling with Children - Infants under two are allowed to fly for free seated on the lap of their parents and do not receive any baggage allowance. Most hotels will allow children under 2 to stay for free but they usually count towards the maximum number of guests as far as room occupancy rules are concerned. Some airlines, countries or hotels may charge a small fee or taxes for infants. We will always notify parents of these type of additional fees prior to the deposit of their trip. Please know, often our agents cannot inform or calculate these fees until airline seats are put on a courtesy hold.
When there are promotions like "kids stay, play and eat free" parents may still be responsible for airfares and any applicable taxes. Normally there must be one paying adult for every one child that received this benefit. Some hotels have specific rules and restrictions in their fine print. We will make our parents aware of any restrictions prior to booking with us.
Foreign hotels normally check and record passport details on all arriving guests including children. If a hotel discovers a child's birthdate on their reservation does not match the age on their passport the hotel has the right to refuse your reservation, make you pay for additional charges, purchase an additional room or all of the above. In addition, Vacationkids upholds a very truthful and ethical approach to our business practices. We do our very best to help our clients pay the best price for their vacation but....the answer is NO, we will not misrepresent the age of your children or any details of your reservation to save you money.
Luggage - Every airline has different luggage and carry-on baggage rules, fees and regulations. It is the responsibility of every passenger to be informed of these rules and to abide by them. The airlines have to right to deny excess or oversized luggage right at check in. This can include large items like double wide strollers and pack n' plays.
Airport - International travelers must arrive at the airport 2 hours prior to their departure. For families with very early departure times, we do offer airport park & stays which make travel economical as well as convenient. During busy family travel times like the holidays and spring break we recommend arriving at the airport 3 hours prior to departure. It is also prudent during busy travel times to make airport parking reservations in advance to avoid last minute problems and delays.
Most airlines will allow passengers to check in online and print their boarding passes 24 hours prior to their departure. You will need specific airline reservations numbers (PNR) to do so which may not be on your travel documents if you booked thru a tour company. Please ask your Vacationkids agent and they will gladly provide you with your PNR.
Some countries like the Dominican Republic or Turks & Caicos require a tourist card or have an extra government tax for travelers. Travel agents and tour companies are not allowed to collect these monies in advance. Travelers must pay these monies directly at the airport and usually these fees must be paid in cash. Vacationkids will let clients know in advance so that they are prepared upon arrival.
Some countries and airports require the spraying of insecticide as a means on insuring health and agriculture.
To avoid delays and so that your family is prepared for boarding your aircraft, be sure to check out the TSA security rules and regulations for prohibitive items, how to pack liquids, security checks with kids and other very important information.
For Vacationkids guests traveling to Mexico or the Caribbean, we normally include roundtrip airport/hotel transportation as part of your family vacation package. In most cases, your family will need to get your passport stamped, collect your luggage and exit the airport completely. Outside at the curb you will find representatives from your tour or transportation company that will help with your luggage. We HIGHLY suggest that families do not stop or speak to anyone inside the airport terminal offering help with luggage or even free sightseeing tours. In most cases, these are scam artists looking to make you miss the ride to your hotel so that you are at their mercy. Remember deals that sound too good to be true usually are and can end up costing you big time in the long run.
If you plan on purchasing items and souvenirs during your trip, U.S. Customs currently imposes an $800 limit on the value of goods you can bring back home duty free. There are also restrictions on specific items like alcohol as well as restrictions on plants and produce.
Hotels - Hotels want their guests to be happy and to return time and again. That said many guest wishes are considered to be "requests" and not guarantees on the part of the hotel. If you pay for a specific room...say with an ocean view then this is guaranteed. If you "request" a room with a view then this is not guaranteed. Things like adjoining rooms, room views, cribs, cots and restaurant reservations are all request. At Vacationkids, we use our direct contacts to make sure these requests are noted by the appropriate people in charge. This usually helps our guests get what they want but we can never make guarantees.
Normally we ask our clients what special hotel requests we can make on their behalf. The reason for this is if you book with Vacationkids, our travel agents normally use tour companies to make your reservations. Tour companies get volume rate discounts and insure that the hotels remain honest and ethical with their business practices. Our clients will receive a confirmation number from our tour company partners guaranteeing their reservation. Tour companies contract and sell blocks of rooms from hundreds of different hotels. The hotels and tour company keep track of all these reservations simply by the number of rooms sold. Guest names are only given from the tour company to the hotel just a few days prior to the guest's arrival. This is why if a guest calls a resort on their own to make a request and gives a tour company reservations number, the hotel clerk will have no record of their reservation. Our agents know the correct procedures and know how to properly insure their requests get thru to the right person responsible at the hotel. Besides, why do extra work when we're here to help do it for you and make sure it gets done properly.
Hotels each have specific check in and check out times to insure housekeeping has adequate time to prepare the room for your family's arrival. Generally if you arrive at the resort prior to check in, your family will be allowed to use all of the facilities. Concierge will store your luggage for you as a courtesy until your room is ready. This is why it is a good idea to pack a small, carry-on bag of "must have" items for immediate use...like beachwear, sunscreen etc.
Many hotels have dress codes for their restaurants. Although some are very specific, generally you are not allowed to wear beach clothes into the restaurants in the evenings. Men should wear a collared sports shirt, long pants and shoes. Women and kids should wear nicer sportswear.
It is important to check in with resort representatives or concierge 24 hours prior to your return flight home. They will check, inform you of any airline schedule changes and let you know what time to be checked out and ready with your luggage for your return trip to the airport. They can help you print your return boarding passes or direct you to a hotel business center where you can do this yourself. If you have a late flight home and need to vacate your room, the bellman will usually store your luggage for you so you can enjoy the beach or pool for as long as possible. Some hotels offer hospitality lounges or will allow former guests to shower in the spa. Be sure to ask and check to see if there are any extra fees for these services.
Complaints - Our goal is to listen to the needs of our clients and do everything humanly possible to insure that your family's dream vacation goes according to plan. We're not here to take your money and run. If we were, we wouldn't spend the time to write a lengthy article like this to help teach our clients how to become informed travelers. We want nothing more than to make you happy so that you'll come back to us year after year and tell your friends about us.
In a perfect world, family vacations should never come with complaints. Still sometimes, "stuff happens" even to really good people. If you run into an unforeseen glitch, hiccup, detour or problem please call your agent right away. Very often we can intercede, work on your behalf and get things sorted to your satisfaction. We work for you so you can enjoy your vacation. Our service to you does not end when you return home. If you are entitled to a refund or reimbursement, again we will continue to work as your representative until we make it right. If you need to make an insurance claim, we can help navigate you through the process.
Accuracy - Please know we check, double check and triple check the information that we post on Vacationkids. As you can see from most of the reviews on Vacationkids, our staff visits the resorts we recommend (on their own dime) to offer you accurate information and trusted first hand experience. Airlines and hotels are known to change policies, procedures, product and promotions frequently, often without notice. We do our very best to stay abreast of any industry changes that may effect the enjoyment of our client's vacation experience. We are only human and we cannot be everywhere at every minute. This is why we are always excited to hear the returning comments and see the photos of our returning guests. It helps us, in turn, to help other families with their vacation plans. We take your feedback and experiences to heart. We always share compliments as well as suggestions for improvements with our hotel partners. If we receive a serious complaint, we inform any other families considering a stay at that property. Three complaints and we will no longer sell that resort until a Vacationkids staff member visits, inspects and is convinced positive changes have been made.
At Vacationkids, we believe informed travelers are the very best travelers. We want to share our expertise and experience with our clients to insure phenomenal travel experiences they can share with their kids.