Taking off for far-flung destinations with kids is fun. Just make sure to consult this list of must-dos before you go.
Passports, Car Seats and Night Flights
__ Get your papers in order. Passports/visas for the whole clan should be applied for 10 to 12 weeks before takeoff. Everyone traveling needs travel documents -- even newborns. It takes time for applications to be processed, so don't leave it until the last minute. If you have a passport, check to make sure it hasn't expired -- and won't expire before the return date of your trip.
Some countries also require passports to be valid six months or longer beyond the dates of your trip, so check entry requirements before you go (see link below). Passports can be rushed for an extra charge, plus overnight shipping costs. If your trip is less than two weeks away, contact your regional passport agency (travel.state.gov/passport/about/agencies/agencies_913.html) and be very polite to expedite the process further. If only one parent is traveling, you'll need one more piece of paper: a letter, preferably notarized, stating that the non-traveling parent gives his permission for the child to leave the country.
Find out the type of identification you need for your destination(s) by checking the U.S. Department of State's foreign entry requirements page: travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html
For passport/visa information and applications:
__Make sure your child's car seat is approved for airplane use. Look for a sticker stating that the seat is plane-appropriate. For a proper fit, the car seat should be no wider than 16 inches. If your child weighs less than 20 pounds, the AAP recommends using a rear-facing seat. If your child weighs between 20 and 40 pounds, the seat should face forward. Children over 40 pounds can use regular seat belts safely.
__ Purchase tickets for an evening flight. This shouldn't be hard since most flights to Europe are overnight anyway. Flying at night may help avoid disrupting your child's -- and your -- sleep schedule. Also, if they're snoozing, you don't have to entertain them! It might be harder to find an overnight flight home, so be sure to have lots of snacks and distractions on hand for the return trip.
Jet Lag, Shots and Emergency Numbers
__ Have a plan for jet leg. If you want to get your kids on local time, start doing it as soon as you get on the plane (this goes for your return flight too), and have them spend lots of time in daylight once they get to your destination. Like you, it will take a day or two for them to get on schedule. Also, be prepared for a longer adjustment period once you get home.
__ Get your shots. Travel to certain locales requires special immunizations, so ask your doctor which shots you and your kids need. You can also check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site (www.cdc.gov/travel/vaccinat.htm), which has information on recommended immunizations.
__ Get a checkup. Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician if your child has recurring health issues. If you're traveling with an infant, your doctor should also make sure she's travel-ready by looking at her ears and throat (try to time this with a well-baby visit so you're not making a special trip). In addition, ask about the generic names of medicines you may need to purchase abroad (familiar brands are often unavailable overseas) and request photocopies of your child's health records if she has a medical condition.
__ Make sure you're covered. Find out what kind of health insurance coverage you have while traveling. If you're not covered, ask your travel agent or local AAA branch to give you names of carriers that can provide temporary coverage.
__ Have a doc's number. For worrywarts: Get a list of recommended English-speaking doctors from the American embassies in the countries you're visiting. This is easiest to do before you travel so you're prepared in case of an emergency. The U.S. Department of State has a Web page (http://usembassy.state.gov/) that provides links to embassy and consulate Web sites, which generally contain a list of doctors. You should also check with your hotel to see if they have doctors on call for guests.