8 Tips for Travelling to the States with KidsBy Olga Lundy | November 9th, 2015
Travelling long journeys with kids can be extra tricky. Find out what to watch out for before setting off on your next journey to USA.
The United States has always been a popular travel destination amongst Australians. The allure of sightseeing, shopping, eating and indulging like only Americans can is definitely something that has to be enjoyed at least once in a lifetime. Currently there are a few non-stop routes between the Australian east coast and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. Also, Honolulu is a coveted destination for most Americans that is conveniently located en route to the mainland. Here is a list of tips and things to consider when planning your first trip to America and how to plan ahead for your kids.
1) Step out of the large cities and visit a smaller American town to get a genuine experience.
New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas are all glitzy popular destinations that without a doubt belong on the top of many travel itineraries. However, they are no more a fair representation of the rest of America than Moscow is of the rest of Russia and London is of the rest of England. When visiting the U.S., do yourself a favour and get off the beaten path to see the giant Walmart superstores, in-your-face patriotic neighbourhoods and blatant advertisement culture. For a great all-around experience, attend a college football or basketball game. Believe it or not, they aren’t only for college students. The whole community comes together to support their favourite teams. You will be able to hire a car with your current driver’s licence, but be mindful of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. And beware of those left turns!
2) Don’t trust the price tag.
Between tax and tips, the seemingly modest price tag will balloon easily by 20%. And that’s not even counting the exchange rate. Tips are something that we don’t worry about as much in Australia, but it’s a huge point of contention amongst people in the U.S. The rule of thumb is 5% for a standard service and 20% for exceptional service. Although many people debate whether this should read more like 20% and 25%. The decision is yours, but whatever it is – waiters, cab drivers, valet – if there is service involved, you are expected to tip.
3) Take your kids to a classic American diner.
Village Inn, Denny’s, or IHOP may not be your first choices when it comes to fine dining, but they are a staple of traditional American breakfasts. They are not glitzy or glamorous, but they are the types of places every American has been to at least once in their lifetimes. They have high chairs galore, won’t raise their eyebrows at even the messiest of eaters and their prices and variety will delight you. For an added cultural bonus, don’t be a snob and order a pot of all-you-can-drink filtered coffee. And most importantly of all, don’t forget to try crispy American streaky bacon that will melt in your mouth and leave you wanting more.
4) Factor in the exchange rate.
Even the most shoestring-budget will get out of control quickly if there is an unfavourable currency exchange rate. Prior to your trip, you can either exchange your money for cash, or use a prepaid cash passport in U.S. dollars or multiple currencies if you feel like you want to lock in the current rate. This way you will know exactly how much you are spending and not worry about international transaction fees or ambiguous “rates of the day”. Alternatively, look up the fees your credit card will charge you for doing foreign exchange conversion and don’t forget to notify them that you are going overseas to avoid interruption of service. Cash is not used as often as it is in Australia, but it’s always handy to have a few single dollar bills to tip at the hotels.
5) Sort out your health coverage.
Getting sick or needing medical attention is never fun. It is especially daunting during a holiday. And when that holiday is to a country like the U.S., where the medical system is infamous for its costs and bureaucracy, that proposition becomes simply terrifying. Uninsured foreigners can be exposed to anything from a few hundred dollars for a simple doctors visit to filing for bankruptcy to cover hospital stays and emergency surgeries. That risk becomes even more acute if you are traveling with kids. For your piece of mind, it may be worth it to check with your current health insurance provider whether your policy covers you overseas, or take out a simple overseas medical insurance policy for the duration of your travel. Let’s hope you won’t need it, but the potential upside of having it is tremendous.
6) Allow yourself a few days to get adjusted to the new time zone.
Jet lag gets worse the more time zones you cross and it is at its worse going east, meaning your adjustment in the states will be much harder than your adjustment coming back home. For example, traveling from Sydney to popular destinations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco will have you crossing six time zones. The route Sydney-Dallas is currently the longest non-stop flight in the world. It is just under 17 hours and will have you crossing seven time zones. To make things easier on yourself, don’t be tempted to watch all those latest releases on the plane and try to get as much sleep as you can. Keep hydrated to avoid headache and light-headedness and consider the use of sleeping aids once you arrive.
7) Prepare your kids for the long journey ahead.
If you are traveling with kids, you may be bracing for a 20+ hour nightmare. There are some things you can do to make the journey a little more bearable. The following tips are helpful to remember:
- You can take milk for the baby on the plane with you, provided the bottle is sealed.
- You can take the pram through security straight to the airplane, which may make your life easier.
- If you’re carrying your baby in the baby carrier, you will need to take it off and put it through the X-ray security machine and carry the baby through the metal detector in your arms.
- Having a baby suck on a breast, bottle or pacifier might help with the pressure in their little ears during take off and landing.
- Make sure you have a change of clothes handy for all kids, big and small, and always take more diapers and wipes than you think you will need. Sometimes your backup will need a backup.
8) Be aware of your airline pricing.
- Infants under the age of two must be on your lap and depending on the airline, are either free or 10% of the adult ticket.
- Kids two years and over must have their own seat. Their ticket will be at a reduced price as well, although not significantly less than the full price ticket.
- Most airlines will charge full fee for kids older than 11-12 years old.
Travelling within the states is pretty cheap, but keep an eye on the check-in baggage fees. Most airlines charge you for checking in luggage, so make sure you budget that into the price of the tickets, or make the most of your carry-on.
Overall, US is a spectacular destination that will feel strangely familiar on one hand, but also different enough to make you feel like you earned that stamp in your passport. Enjoy your trip, and everything America has to offer, but don’t be tempted to say yes to “Would you like to supersize it for a dollar?”