Planning to travel around the world with young children in tow? Let us encourage you. We know what you’re thinking: “This is going to be a disaster – how am I going to survive this trip without going mad?” We know this because we were having the same thoughts no less than a week ago.
In hindsight, however, I realized what an advantage our unique set of traveling circumstances actually was. So, from one globe-trotter to another, I took it upon myself to jot down a few notes, recommendations, and encouragements based on our family’s most recent excursion.
1. First and foremost, ALL your children need to be well trained in the art of mindless television viewing. It works best if your youngest is at least 3 years old due to this requirement. This is essential for the emotional well-being of all members of the family (not to mention those fortunate enough to be assigned seating within earshot) and can be easily achieved now that most major airlines have a movie screen just inches from every traveler’s nose.
2. No doubt you are keeping up with all the latest international travel regulations and requirements. The list of “Anything we can do to make your travel experience more enjoyable and less stressful” that is put together by the good folks in charge of international relations and travel continues to growth in breadth and ingenuity (cough). The most recent addition to this list is that all electronic devices need to be charged sufficiently so that they can be turned on if a customs agent so requests. “If a customs agent so requests” is a big if and one that I’m happy to say is possible to avoid. As we traveled across 3 continents from Nairobi to London to D.C., we were asked a grand total of 0 times to turn on any devices. This leads me to #3, which is really the lynchpin of the whole operation.
3. It’s already assumed that you are traveling with young children so that should go without saying. But if you can add to the mix any number of respiratory infirmities, I promise a significant increase in leniency at nearly every checkpoint. I know, you know, and every customs agent on the planet knows that those set on doing others harm are not dumb enough to carry out their plans for mass destruction alongside their young, sickly offspring. That being said, get in the habit of announcing your arrival; have your 3 year old daughter, 5 year old son, or 32 year old wife (the combination of all three is really effective) start hacking up their lungs. You can be sure this will drastically expedite your screening process. We must admit we stumbled onto this revelation by accident, but oh, how it worked miracles.
In fact, anything you can do to create in others a sense of pity will be to your benefit. This includes but is not limited to the following:
a. Wear a ridiculous fishing hat along with an oh-so-out-of-fashion fanny pack. They’ll just shake their heads and usher you through.
b. Always be shouting things like, “Cover your mouth! Do you want to get all these nice people sick?”
c. This will come without even trying, but be sure to wear it with pride: a harried look of overwhelmed exhaustion. Against a backdrop of coughing and hacking, toddlers running in and out of security lines, and generally mass confusion, this is sure to be effective in garnering sympathy from even the most hardened customs officials.
d. Pack way too many carry-ons. You’re allowed several per ticket holder, so this is well within your rights. The hidden benefit lies in the increased level of chaos that is achieved by trying to keep track of yet one more item on your way through each checkpoint.
e. Every time you approach the front of a line, put on your best “I’m completely clueless right now” face. Act as if you’ve never done this before, don’t understand why you’re doing it now, and have no intention of ever attempting it in the future. You know you waited in this line for some purpose; surely there is some proof of your existence that this person needs to see. Boarding passes? Luggage stickers? Passports? Immunization records? You probably won’t know anyways, so don’t let the eye-rolling bother you. Just politely say something like, “I’m so sorry, but what is it that I’m supposed to show you?” They will more than likely smile courteously and barely glance at your documents while calling “Next, please” and waving your troop along.
f. Mumble. Especially when they ask if you’re bringing anything into the country. Notice I didn’t say lie. Just mumble. Or pretend like you forgot (you probably will anyways). Trust me on this one.
g. DO NOT freshen up in the airport bathroom during your layover. DO NOT bring a change of clothes. DO NOT consider the ill-effects of neglecting to brush your teeth for a period of more than 24 hours.
I don’t mean to sound crude here, but remember the ultimate goal; you want to get through this experience unscathed, quickly, and with as little effort as possible. Soon this will be a distant, foggy memory and you may, one day, be tempted to chuckle a bit at how your family (or your marriage) managed to survive. Uneventful travel is the goal. No good stories to tell others upon your arrival is the goal. “Customs was a cinch!” is what you want to be able to report. These and other ideas like them proved invaluable on our trip – they can help you on yours.
And please, whatever you do, don’t sweat the sideways glances, the turned-up noses, the cold shoulders or the eye-rolling. I promise you’ll never see these people again and you have enough friends as it is. Or think of it this way: How much fuss do you go through on a daily basis to make yourself presentable to the world? Here you have the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to take a day off, an excuse to throw caution and personal hygiene to the wind. No one will judge you (not to your face anyway) and as soon as they see the motley crew your blessed to travel with, I promise the pity will inevitably follow.
** If you enjoyed this shameless tongue-in-cheek humor, you may want to check out the prequel. Comic Relief: Passports for Minors