As you know, I am from New York so I have taken several trips back to the USA with the family and have learned from personal experience that preparation well in advance of our trip is the key to everything running smoothly!! Things from having your ESTA documents ready to having sippy cups for the kids, having yourself organized in advance makes all the difference.
We have all seen families struggling to get through the airport and through the flight. With a little preparation, things can run smoothly for you. So in this post, I am going to share five essential things to do in advance of your trip to the USA. These will make everything run nicely and ensure you are fully prepared and ready for fun-filled family travel!!
#1 Flight Documents Ready
I can’t stress the word preparation enough. Having your documents all printed and ready is critical. Most airlines let you print off your boarding cards a few days in advance, so do that from home so you are ready to roll.
I place our passports and boarding passes together into an envelope inside my handbag. I have a second envelope inside my carry on that has details for our return trip home (if it’s a long trip I have to wait to print until closer to the departure date).
These days many airlines have options for priority boarding. If it’s within your budget I definitely recommend it because it gives you a chance to get your bags put away and the kids settled without the plane packed around you.
Also, take note that you have seats booked and that they are together. With so many airlines jumping on affordable prices, getting to choose your seats is often an extra, so be sure you have seats booked together when traveling with kids.
Many airlines let you order a kids meal for the children, if you can do that in advance they might be more likely to eat that than the regular plane food.
When traveling to the USA, an ESTA is required for entry. An ESTA is a form that is filled out online, in advance of the trip. Basically it’s prescreening so the US knows who is going to be traveling and when.
Every individual needs their own ESTA document, including kids of all ages. It’s essential to have your ESTA documents completed before you get to the airport or you will be denied entry into the USA. So make sure you have one for everyone in your group.
The good news is that US ESTA documents are good for two years, so if you are returning to the US in that time frame, you won’t need to reapply. And, it’s quite easy to apply for your ESTA online with a few simple questions to answer.
Also, printing an ESTA is not required. It is electronically linked to your passport through the databases of U.S. customs and the airlines. So if you show your passport at the gate, the airline can automatically tell whether you have a valid ESTA. Less paperwork for everyone involved!
#3 Prepare the kids
Before we travel I always prepare the kids by fully explaining the trip plans and what I expect of them in terms of sitting quietly on the plane and going through security. There are a few good books out there like Peppa Pig goes on Holiday or the Kipper At the Airport book that helps kids understand about going through security checks and about being on an airplane. When kids really understand what is going to happen it is easier for them to behave and easier to manage them once you get to the airport.
It’s critical to have some supplies to keep the kids happy on the plane. I highly recommend the following:
- Snacks – you can’t have enough of them but be careful about not packing liquids
- Empty sippy cups – you can fill them after security. On the plane you only get cups which spill so easily.
- Change of clothing – for anyone who is under 7 or who might be prone to accidents.
- Plastic bags – I bring them to throw rubbish into which keeps our section of the plane more tidy.
- Mints, chewy sweets, lolly pop or gum (age dependant) for take-off and landing
- Some new things like colouring books or small toys to occupy them – don’t take everything out at once.
- Favourite soft toy to rest with on the plane
I have lots more tips and tricks for you on my Flying with Kids post. But in a nutshell, have supplies with you and be open and upfront with the kids about what will happen in the airport and on the airplane. Kids as little as 2 are able to understand this and that will help them prepare for what’s to come.
#4 Pack wisely
In advance of your trip you can start making piles of what you will need to bring. And make lists so you don’t forget anything.
I recommend having your valuables in carry on that you keep with you at all times. It’s more convenient to keep your jewellery in your hand bag until after security (I wear my wedding rings but that’s it). It’s one less thing to try to take off before going through security and also trying to wrangle the kids through and all the luggage.
We learned the hard way not to pack toys with batteries in the carry on bag. We had to wait 15 minutes for the security team to wipe down Spiderman for bomb materials… which of course he didn’t have. But security has to do their important job, so make life easier and pack any battery items into checked luggage instead.
Check in advance with your airline so you have the right size cases and correct weight so you don’t have to rearrange items in the airport.
You can get a fun packing checklist to help get the kids involved in trip preparations.
#5 Arrival plans
Don’t forget about your arrival plans. This is another good thing to discuss with the kids. There is getting the suitcase and going through customs before you can actually start the holiday. It’s good for kids to know in advance what is coming.
Also, have your rental car, train or transport and hotel booked and anything you might want that first day, in advance so you aren’t scrambling in the airport to figure out where to go next.
I recommend keeping your passport, ESTA and plane ticket somewhere easy to access like your handbag. Don’t pack them away once you get on the plane because you will need them again to go through US customs. Once you have all of that done, all that’s left is to sit back and enjoy your trip!!
Have you ever traveled to the USA before? Tell me your tips in the comments.