Saturday 17 February 2018

Visiting the United States with the family

We have been lucky enough to visit the United States with our family several times, and while it can seem a bit daunting to plan a trip with very young children, with a bit of forward planning you can make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Plane flying in the sky

The most important thing is to make sure that you have all the travel documents that you need. Everyone will need a passport, and if only one parent is travelling, or a child is travelling with someone that isn't their parent or legal guardian, you will need to check carefully if additional documents or letters are required. 

You will also need to apply for an ESTA for each member of your family. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) has been put in place to replace the Visa system for travellers from certain countries. It allows you to arrange your entry easily online before you make your trip to the United States. Although most applications are approved online in minutes, you should allow at least 72 hours for your application to be processed, as if it is refused you will need to arrange a separate Visa through the US embassy.

Application for an ESTA costs $14 and allows you to enter the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days over a period of two years, or until your passport expires, whichever happens first. An ESTA does not completely guarantee your entry into the United States, as the U.S. Border Authority still have the final say on who can or cannot enter the country. 

You will also need to make sure that you have valid travel insurance for every member of the family. Our children have been taken ill a couple of times on holiday, nothing serious thankfully, but it was such a relief to be able to call a doctor out in the middle of the night with only the excess to pay - having seen the bill it would have cost us several hundreds just for a simple visit.

Also on the medical front, make sure that you pack any medication that you or your children need. Check carefully, as you may need additional documentation if you are taking prescription medicines - take them in their original packaging, and only take what you will need. Make sure to pack them in your carry on luggage in case of any delay in retrieving your suitcase.

One particularly daunting prospect about a holiday to the US for many parents in Europe is the thought of a long haul flight. We've survived several long haul flights with our children now, and while it hasn't always been easy, it can be done. I've shared a few tips for a long haul flight with young children here, along with my packing must-haves!

Departure board at the airport

Once you have landed you may still need to negotiate a long queue at immigration, a challenge with over tired and jet-lagged children. Make sure that you keep plenty of snacks and drinks in reserve from the flight, and visit the toilets before you join the queue. You won't get your pushchair back until baggage reclaim, so be prepared to carry your child if they are too tired or grumpy to stand. This is where a ride on suitcase or similar works brilliantly for the toddler to sit on while you are waiting!

Depending on when and where you have flown, jet lag can be a problem, although we usually find that it's the adults that suffer more, and children generally adapt remarkably quickly! I've found that it is best to adjust to the new time zone as soon as you can, so if you land during the afternoon try and keep children up and awake until as close to their usual bedtime as possible. Keeping to meal times in the new time zone really helps too.

I hope that these tips were helpful if you are considering a family trip to the United States!

Photo credits - Plane Deniz Altindas, Departure Board Matthew Smith, both via Unsplash.


  1. When we went to the states, Max was only 2.5. It was late when we arrived and he had the mother of meltdowns at immigration, and the queue is 2 years long! This big scary guard with a massive gun just pointed at us and pointed at the front of the desk. I don't think she even spoke.

    So, we were fast-tracked. I can laugh about it now, but at the time.....

    1. Oh no, although that was lucky to be fast-tracked! I remember one time when my daughter was very young and going through a 'Daddy' phase, he had to pass her to me while he had his fingerprints done and she screamed the place down, the officer looked so suspicious, I'm sure he thought I wasn't her Mum!

  2. I remember being with you at Immigration and little one was having a scream. I seem to remember you were sent through fast track. The trick therefore is to take a screaming baby with you!


I love reading your comments!