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Visiting the UK: a first International family trip

Visiting the UK: a first International family trip

Not everyone grows up traveling the world. I certainly didn’t, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us living in the USA didn’t get to venture from North America until we became adults. That’s rapidly changing with our generation (gens X and Y) and we’re making sure our kids have a viewpoint beyond America.

In this podcast episode we’ve got our friend Kate back with us. She’s been a guest before, including talking about travel anxiety and how to manage that. This time we’re chatting about how her family’s first international trip together went. After spending two weeks in England, Scotland and a quick stop in Amsterdam, it’s already clear that having an adventure across the pond has made an impression on the whole family and has changed the course of their future travels.

Batzel Family Cairngorm National Forest Scotland

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International Family Travel Need-to-Know

Does international family travel seem daunting? Or maybe you traveled internationally with kids once and signed off on it for good. Well, give the podcast a listen and take a look at how Kate managed this for her family. For us, international travel with kids is old hat so to me it’s great to hear a fresh perspective and remember where we once stood as a family heading across the border for the first time.

International Family Travel Tips – by Kate Batzel (admin @ 2traveldads . com)

Getting Passports for the Family

When it comes to Passports there are lots of rules and lots of waiting. My Husband and I only needed our Passports renewed, but my two boys needed to apply for their first passports.  Here is the thing many people don’t know about renewal: Your passport has to be valid for six months past your date of travel in order to be valid and usable. That means if you are traveling in November and your passport expires the following January you will need to renew before your trip. 

The other thing to remember is passports take a LONG time to process.  Give yourself plenty of time.  We were lucky enough that our local passport office was hosting an application day at the DMV in our town at the beginning of the year.  This Is done a few times a year in many places so make sure to check online locally and also with so you can take advantage of this one stop shop. We had done our passport images at Walgreens, but when we arrived the woman helping us said that they would not be accepted so we had to have the passport office take them again and pay again, so I recommend just avoiding the hassle and go this route.

Bazel Family Sligachan Old Bridge

The people there were very helpful and told us how the process works with getting all our documents back, etc.  The other thing I will say is: GO PREPARED!!!!  I thought I was prepared with all the docs I needed and even had typed out applications that I printed and filled in on my computer.  Sadly that was a no go. Had to fill them out in ink while in line… and learn.  I was thankful I brought every official document that had ever had any of our names on it with me because even though I had things I didn’t end up needing many people were turned away in front of us because they did not have the correct docs. Read the directions on the passport site carefully and thoroughly! 

All in all, we applied for new and renewed passports in April and got them at the beginning of September so we were sweating a little since our trip was scheduled for November, but it all worked out in the end! 

Tip: if you go through digital customs (I’m looking at you Heathrow Airport) in which you just scan your book and walk through, the book will not be stamped! What a bummer! I recently found out after we missed out on this that you can go up to a customs officer and ask for a stamp and they will indulge you.

Brian at Lochness - Scotland Highlands

Planning an Itinerary for the Family

Planning for two adults and two teenagers to all have the most amazing trip of a lifetime can be daunting to say the least.  I have found trying to make everyone happy is a waste of time and brain matter since it is just never going to happen. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves as parents and set such high expectations that we will make it the greatest trip of a lifetime, etc. that we are basically setting ourselves up for disappointment. 

I went into this deciding that I was going to take the approach that if years later when my children were grown they looked back on this trip with nostalgia and thinking it was cool that we took them to Europe or tell someone they meet someday “yeah when I was in London as a kid….” then it was worth it. It was about getting to go.  Not about what we did or didn’t get to do. So everyone got to pick one thing that they really wanted to do while we were on our holiday and I made sure to book it.  But the catch was they had to tell me way in advance. 

Batzel Family Amsterdam 9 Streets

If they decided while we were there or the week before they wanted to add or change something I told them there were no guarantees and to deal. Strangely my husband was the only person who was thwarted by this rule as he tends to be a last minute planner and decided the week before we left he wanted to go to Camden in London. We did not get to go. We did get to go to Abbey Road the first place he chose so all was well and as I told him we will just have to go back! 

Once everyone decided I went about booking, creating an itinerary with other key places that were recommended to us and mapping everything out. In the end everyone walked away happy and just being thrilled that they got to go to three different countries in Europe!

Batzel Family Tower of London

Packing Carry-on ONLY for International Travel

Packing tends to be the thing I plan the most, as well as the bain of my existence.  I prepack, repack and do a final pack for almost every trip I take. I check the weather like a meteorology student for weeks leading up to trips and I try my hardest to be prepared for everything and anything. Surprisingly though I do not make lists. Correction. 

I make lists for the kids, however I do not for myself. The kids are told to get all the things on their lists together and then I will go through and make sure all the clothes they picked are appropriate for weather and places we will visit as well as in good repair and unstained (they are teenagers).  For myself I lay everything out. Try everything on. I also layout everything as far as toiletries, cables, electronics, and make sure I have everything I need and make a list of anything I don’t, then I put it all away together as well.

Batzel Family Cromarty Firth Dingwall Scotland

I make adjustments and then try to fit it all in my carry on. If it doesn’t fit, I edit down and try again. Even in winter I have been able to get a week’s worth of clothes into a carry on bag. The key is thin layers (skip the chunky knit wool sweater and opt for the fitted cashmere turtleneck) Jeans/cords take up a lot of space as well so I usually opt to bring 1-2 pair for a week and re-wear them, but also make sure I pack pants that have spandex since they tend to be more pliable and thinner than ones without. I wear whatever is bulky onto the plane and pack the rest.

I also try to bring no more than 2 pairs of shoes that will work for every outfit. I bring things that are mix and match and with one one color scheme (i.e. black/white or Navy/Khaki). Winter packing is way harder than summer and I tend to be an over-packer, but if I can edit so can you! 

Now I know everyone swears by packing cubes, but honestly I find these (even the compression ones) to be more about organization and less about squeezing everything in a bag.  When clothes are loose you have a little more flexibility to stick them in nooks and crannies. I also don’t roll! I know, I know, controversial, but I have found that flat folding my clothing, which I learned working at American Eagle Outfitters in college, is the most space saving. I mean have you ever seen the t-shirts wall in a retail store! Those babies are like stacked paper!

London Phone Booth Batzel Family

Big Take-aways from International Family Travel

Ultimately what I learned from our first trip abroad is that I was putting it off for no good reason.  It was way less daunting and otherworldly than I ever expected.  I don’t know why I expected world travel to be like taking a trip to Mars, but now I feel like going to Mars would probably be a slice of cake too. For me it was all about feeling prepared leading up to the trip.  I clearly was borderline psychotically planning and preparing. But ultimately that was more about my personality than travel itself. 

The thing each one of us realized on this trip is that we CAN do this. We can plan and save and book and go. WE CAN! All that fear of trying something new was for naught! And there is nothing more empowering than knowing that something you thought you could not do or something you could not achieve is actually doable.

Everything seems scary from the start, becoming a parent, getting married, buying a house, etc, but each one of those ends up being second nature to us as we trek through this thing called life. So if you have been putting off travel saying it’s not the right time, and making the same excuses we all make for these big life goals, then my advice would be stop and just take the leap, because like buying a home, becoming a parent, or starting a new job once you have done it you will realize that it wasn’t that scary after all.

Batzel Family China Town London

Stay tuned, as even more helpful international family travel info and more comes to the blog! We’ve got Peru and Europe in 2024, so you know there’s going to be a lot to share. In the meantime, please check out our guides to traveling in Canada, Mexico, Croatia and more!

If you have any questions or would like to share your own tips about international family travel, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to answer more questions and include helpful information from other traveling families.

If you’d like to visit our podcast host page, feel free! There are lots of options to subscribe to the 2TravelDads Podcast.