International travel with a family has never been for the faint of heart. Two years into this global pandemic, country hopping now seems like it’s an exercise for suckers. Ok, maybe not suckers exactly, but definitely for people who are exceptional planners, highly adaptable, winning in the sense of humor department, and cool under pressure. Anyone hiring for a job that requires these qualifications?
In a word? International travel sucks right now and doesn’t appear to be getting better in the short term. For the vaccinated traveler, while the difficulties depend on the destination, hopping a plane feels like a Vegas-style game where the house ALWAYS WINS. It wasn’t long ago that I was pining for foreign airports, unfamiliar faces, and the thrill of a new destination (see here). I was definitely young and dumb back then.
Our first collective trip back to the US to see family and friends since COVID began tested our wills and broke our budget. I felt rage that I didn’t know I was capable of and managed some epic meltdowns from the kids. We also saw some of the people who are dearest to us and the kids got to play in snow, so it wasn’t all bad. If you are willing to brave COVID and make some plans that may have to be cancelled, then maybe international travel won’t be so bad. Regardless, when you travel avoid these three pitfalls.
Pitfall 1: The International Travel Money Pit
The travel industry might be facing dire circumstances with this pandemic but that burden has not generally been reflected in its treatment of customers. Don’t get me wrong, there are kind-hearted professionals to be found who give family travelers the benefit of the doubt. The challenge is finding them. Nonrefundable, non amendable flight and hotel terms are a cruel joke when entry requirements for each country change by the day. We learned that making plans in advance isn’t the sign of organization that you might think. The situation everywhere is changing so quickly that planning in advance is pointless.
When you reach your destination create a protocol for how to avoid COVID. Make sure the people you will be seeing are on the same page about keeping it at bay. Some hotels and resorts may have insurance policies that cover you if you test positive, but don’t count on it. Test positive for COVID? Kiss your plans and money goodbye. Outside of the United States, COVID tests are not always free either. Bring some along to test yourself if you can.
Pitfall 2: Inconvenient Travel Itineraries
A long layover between flights can be a good thing. Racing between gates or terminals to catch a connecting flight with children is not something I would wish on anyone. With COVID, you have to take the flights you can get. That could mean a layover for several hours in an airport. The shops in airport terminals are mostly closed. Depending on the country, you also can’t leave the airport without taking a PCR test. That wasn’t worth the effort for my family. Make sure that if you have lounge access you have the information handy and are apprised of what you are entitled to. All lounges are not open, so you may have to find somewhere else to settle on the fly. Keep devices charged and coloring activities handy. Little ones may also appreciate a few little toys that can offer a little variety. Also, don’t underestimate the value of walking the terminal for exercise and to burn tiny energy.
Pitfall 3: Trip Complexity
Book the flights. Secure visas. Get COVID test results in the required timeframe. Rinse and repeat. Are you ready to pull your hair out yet? If not, then maybe international travel during a pandemic is for you! I found it helpful to have printouts of every required piece of information in addition to the digital versions. Even though we are living in a highly advanced world, most of the time officials in airports looked at my paperwork. It saved me a lot of frustration. It also helps to tap into every bit of patience you have. You will need it. Hopping a plane to visit another country is harder than ever but it isn’t impossible. Just be prepared for headaches and hiccups with your in-flight meal.