International Family Travel (Part 1): Passports, Jetlag and New Food, Oh My!

In light of the Olympics, I thought it’d be a fun idea to do a series of posts about traveling abroad with your family... 

International travel with a young family can be a bit nerve-wracking, particularly the first time you do it. However, as a mom who’s been to Europe and back more than once with both of my girls (reminder: my oldest is 3 years old), I can say it was absolutely worth it.

We love the idea of exposing our children to new countries and cultures early on. Plus, for us, traveling abroad means spending time with Hubs’ parents, which is a total bonus!

As with all family travel, a smooth international vacation just comes down to doing your homework and having a game plan.

Passports rules for children (16 and under) are different than the rules for adults:

Despite what you might think, all children, including babies, are required to have a passport when traveling internationally.

Also, both parents/guardians must be with the child at the passport agency to get the process started. If both can not be present, then the one who is absent must have signed the proper form (DS-3053) and have it notarized giving permission for the child to receive a passport. You can find a link to download Form DS-3053 on

Creative Commons Photo courtesy of timsackton

Creative Commons Photo courtesy of timsackton

Check the rules for parents with sole custody or a third parties applying with the child for their passport.

Parents/guardians also need to submit sufficient documentation of custody or a ‘permission to travel letter’ at the airport if only one parent intends to travel with their child without the second parent or if grandparents, etc. are traveling abroad with a child without his/her parents.

This can get confusing, but it’s very important. No one wants to get to the airport for a major trip just to be turned away by officials for improper documentation.

Family Travel Forum has a great article entitled, “Required Documents for Travel with Minors.” This is a great place to start for more information. Regardless of your plans, when crossing borders with minors always check the Department of Homeland Security site to ensure you have the proper documents with you before you leave home.

The happily-sleeping jetsetter child:

Traveling through time zones and managing jetlag requires counterintuitive thinking because your body will be tired and telling you to sleep; however there are definitely ways to get your family through it with ease. 


First, if you're traveling to Europe and other countries east of the US, it's best to do so at night so you wake up at your destination during the day.

Also, I recommend switching your clocks to the new time zone as early as possible to help you stay on schedule and force your body to accept what time it is where you are/are going versus where you're coming from.

If you have an iPhone, a helpful tool is the “Clock” application (note: it's the same app you use for the alarm or stopwatch). At the bottom of the screen, tap on “World Clock” to easily see and compare time zones. The best part is there’s no need to search for or buy a new app – this one’s part of the phone. Love that!

Maintaining your at-home schedule while traveling will also help ease jet-lag (e.g., eat breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, dinner at 7 p.m., etc.). Believe it or not, eating your regular meals on the new time schedule will help you sleep better.

Luckily, in my experience, young kids and infants are generally sensitive to light and dark and and often don't need as much coercing as adults when it comes to adjusting to new time zones. Parents with older kids might want to encourage them to go to bed slightly earlier than usual the first few nights to try and wake up on schedule. It’s tempting to go to bed late and wake up late the first few days of an international trip, but the sooner your body gets acclimated to the new schedule, the better.

When traveling home (westward), reverse the process. Travel in the morning so that you arrive home in time to go to bed at home at a regular time. Again, force your body to wake up and eat at regular times.

International travel and family meals:

My experience has taught me to take advantage of the opportunity to try new food ideas offered up by friends and family at destinations abroad, especially when it comes to the kids. People tend to think differently about baby and toddler foods due to cultural differences and experiences. This is actually a good thing. We took their advice and came away with great new options for my kids.

My girls tried foods I would never have dreamed of for them (like salmon and parsnips when they weren't even a year old) and they loved them. My British sister-in-law even convinced me it was ok to give them small portions of pureed casseroles with a little milk and cheese in them. It worked out great! 

The world is a large and wonderful place.  Instead of being afraid to explore it because you have kids, think of it as another opportunity to grow closer with your family through each new adventure.    

What was your first international travel experience like and what was the thing you were most nervous about? How did that turn out?

Diana Heather writes at She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip.