Parenting: Traveling With Kids - Overseas

The Murphy kids inside the London Eye, looking down on Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
October 27, 2010 6:08:09 AM PDT
For those who can manage it, overseas travel presents a unique opportunity to educate your children, build their confidence and have a great time as a family.

The airfare can be prohibitive unless you fly at less popular times or to less popular foreign airports. For example, a flight to Milan, Italy, is sometimes cheaper than Rome, and flying into Gatwick Airport in England can be a few dollars cheaper than the more convenient Heathrow. But assuming you can square that part of the budget, there are ways to control additional costs.

Pay attention to the European exchange rate, which for years has been unfavorable to Americans. But it's getting better. When I took my family to London and Paris in 2004, the rate was something like 1.8. In other words, 1.8 of my American dollars only went toward buying 1 dollar worth of goods and services overseas. A $200 hotel room cost more like $360. Recently, a co-worker went to the same two cities and got a rate of 1.4 which was much easier to stomach. Keep in mind that while most of Europe has now switched to the uniform Euro for its currency, England still uses the British pound, which can have a slightly different exchange rate. The rate, by the way, works in reverse for Europeans---everything here is cheaper than at home---which is why you may have noticed more tourists this summer in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the States speaking foreign languages.

Dropping anchor

Overseas websites will often quote hotel and excursion rates in American dollars if so desired, which makes it easier to know what you're getting into. One suggestion I would make is to think about spending most of your time in one place for a good portion of the trip. This allows you to book an apartment for a weekly rate, rather than paying higher nightly charges for hotels. You also gain the added advantage of large quarters in which the whole family can crash and chill, which comes in handy when suffering from jet lag or sightseers' fatigue. We had luck with this in London where we were able to rent a flat for six days at 1000 US. Flat rentals are usually handled by real estate offices, many of which have large inventories online in a wide price range. Check out reviews on tripadvisor.com to get a sense of whether a certain outfit's rentals are as they appear on the web. To save money, we stayed in the so-called "hospital" district of London which was a little farther away from the main tourist attractions, but in a great neighborhood will pubs and restaurants. It was an easy ride on the Underground or aboard those famous double-decker buses to get where we needed to go. If you hoof it, though, I have an important word to the wise. Traffic patterns are the reverse of what you're used to seeing. In other words, on most streets, you have to be careful to look to the right for oncoming cars and buses, not to the left. They actually have special signs posted in many tourist areas because of problems this unusual situation has caused.

You should budget for the main sights you want to see and just spend the money. After all, what's the point of traveling all that distance only to pocket the extra it takes to enjoy the things that are particular to that city or country. In London, the most popular sites are often inexpensive or free anyway, like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. But one great London deal is the theater. In New York, It costs over $100 for good seats to a show on Broadway. In London, you can see the same shows with exactly the same quality sets and performers for $75 or less. You can even book discount tickets online before you leave on websites like Playbill.com. In fact, if you don't mind planning a good portion of your itinerary ahead of time, discounts to many tours and sites, as well as Eurorail train tickets, can be bought on the web, often at a discount.

Have an idea about IDs

If you're bringing young children on the trip, take a page out of our book. We attached a lanyard to our kids with an ID tag that listed our name and the hotels where we were staying in both English and the language of the country in which we were staying. Cell phone numbers were also included. This was, of course, just in case we got separated. It didn't happen, but it was a nice added security measure.

We also kept our money and credit cards in similar security pouches stored beneath our clothing, pretty much eliminating the threat of pickpockets.

One other thing: make sure you notify all of your credit card companies of your overseas itinerary. If you don't, the fraud monitors at your bank may see those unexpected overseas charges and cancel your card. I actually had my ATM card swallowed by a cash machine the third time I tried to use it in London. I now take this precaution whenever I travel, even if it's just up the turnpike to New York, let alone Paris.

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