Unlike business travel or backpacking, travel with kids requires quite a bit of pre-planning and paperwork. Sadly, you cannot just arrive at the airport with your passport and an e-ticket on your phone. Nor are unnecessary delays something you can easily take in your stride - dealing with tired toddlers while you argue with immigration is a situation best avoided. So here is a checklist of all the documents you need to help make your family holiday adventure as smooth as possible.
1. Passports. Sounds simple, but they are so critical. Almost everything else in your travel wallet is easily replaceable but passports are the one item you cannot be without. Make sure everyone's passport has at least 6 months before the expiry date when you travel and ensure you carry all relevant visa documentation with your passports as well. If your child's photograph is so old that it no longer resembles their current appearance (for instance, a four-year-old traveling on an infant picture), it's worth checking with the passport office to see if you can get this updated. In some countries this can be done free of charge.
2. Print outs of return air tickets. Immigration officers will often ask to see these, sometimes even before you leave the country. While an e-ticket may be good enough for the airlines, it will not be good enough for immigration so print at least one copy of everyone's tickets and hand carry them with you.
3. Copies of all the kids' birth certificates. You will be surprised the problems and delays that can be caused if you are not carrying these, especially if your children have surnames that are different from yours. Certified copies are best (don't carry the originals unless you have multiple copies as it is too easy for them to get lost) but failing that, even a plain old black and white photocopy is better than nothing.
4. A signed letter of permission to exit the country from any non-traveling parent. If you are divorced or your spouse has simply chosen not to travel, it's best to prepare for the worst by organizing a signed letter from that person stating they give permission for you to travel with the kids. As an extra precaution some families will even ask a lawyer or justice of the peace to witness the signature. Authorities may not request to see these often but when they do, failure to produce this kind of document can create a lot of unnecessary hassle and delay.
5. Vaccination certificates. Some travel vaccinations (such as yellow fever) are compulsory for all tourists who are visiting particular countries to enter or return home. Plan to consult a travel doctor at least 3 months before your departure so you can obtain the relevant vaccinations for kids as some of these require multiple visits and time to take effect (such as rabies).
6. Copy of your family travel insurance policy and emergency contact number. Find out before you leave home if your family travel insurance provider has a concierge service that you can call in emergency situations. Then print this out so you have it on hand. Often this can be the quickest and easiest way to solve problems such as missing luggage or stolen wallets when you are overseas.
7. Telephone numbers and addresses for emergency medical facilities at your destination. Again, doing the research before you leave home will save a lot of time and stress if you do unfortunately need to rush to a hospital while in a foreign country. This way you can also ensure you are attending the facility of your choice with adequate care and hygiene standards, especially if you are in a developing country.
8. Emergency first aid instructions. These should include CPR for kids, how to identify concussion and what to do for severe food poisoning. This will be extremely helpful when you don't have Dr Google conveniently at your fingertips to remind you of the basics that you normally know but have forgotten in a panic.
9. A list of your kids' allergies and how they should be treated. Not only is this useful for you in an emergency, it can also be helpful to present something in writing when you are seeking medical treatment so there are no misunderstandings.
10. Your full itinerary with list of addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes immigration may request to see this along with your return flight details. But creating this document is also extremely useful when you just need information quickly to show to taxi drivers, cross reference or call the hotel or airline.
Hot travel tip: print everything. It might seem old fashioned to be carrying around a small document holder but this really is essential if you want to avoid huge international roaming costs. It also just makes things easier when you are traveling with kids if you have all the critical information in one place - then you aren't trying to scroll through your emails to find that accommodation booking number while the toddler sprints across the road or the baby is crying. It's worth making multiple copies too and placing them strategically inside each piece of luggage so you have a spare if one gets lost.