Arriving at your destination can be a relief and full of excitement. New places to explore, people to meet and lots of adventure and the long journey almost behind you – however still be prepared for some of the following:
- If it has been a long flight, you are ALL probably pretty tired by now – just be mentally prepared to operate in an exhausted or semi-exhausted state!
- Your children may be asleep when you arrive which can make it very difficult getting off the plane and around the airport – carrying children and bags over significant distances can be hard work. Look for a stroller and or hand luggage trolley if they are around. Make use the aircrew or ground-staff to assist if possible.
- Check the plane thoroughly for your gear before disembarking – count your bags and try not too leave anything in the locker or under a seat.
- Ensure you have some water and snacks with you for the queues ahead.
- Have your documents handy so you can access them easily access for immigration processing.
- Be aware that there are limited relaxation / eating / shopping facilities on arrival, compared with departure areas.
- The airport may be completely foreign to you – take your time to make sure you are going the right way and completing the correct processes. Back-tracking with a family can be a lot of work. Remember also, you may be in a country that speaks a different language that can certainly make things more interesting.
Arrival Airport – Immigration
Arriving in a foreign country can be very exciting but the process can also be frustrating and almost overwhelming at times – especially at the end of a long flight. Countries that are friendly with the country of your passport can make immigration relatively easy. Where there is not much relationship / agreement between your country and the arrival country, it can be a long and at times challenging experience. Arriving in developing countries can be more difficult with a lack of systems and active corruption making your arrival a tense experience. Here are some tips:
- Pre-fill in as much paperwork as possible while on the plane or even before departure is possible.
- Look for kid friendly queues if they exist. Sometimes you are able to find officials who will assist you in processing more quickly. Other times you just have to wait with everyone else, even with very tired kids.
- Be prepared for some long waits, so have some strategies for keeping your children occupied during this time – not easy if they are tired – but you have no option so be prepared! Think of some games like ‘eye spy’ or ‘finding colours or numbers’ or similar. Maybe having a book out might work – or again – a sticker page.
- Understand what is required for entry to the country – do you need to fill in additional paperwork? If so, we found it is best for one parent to write as quick as possible and the other to entertain the children.
- Process immigration as a family – you do not want a situation where one parent and some children get through easily and then there are issues with others and you are left separated.
- It can be good to just check that you have actually received the documents / stamps you should have – watch each passport being stamped. We once had a situation in Africa where one of us did not actually get their entry stamp in the passport and it caused problems when we went to leave – it was sorted but got a bit tense!
A note for arriving in Developing Countries:
- Know your requirements well before arrival
- Have exact change for visa’s or any other fees
- Ensure you have US Dollars with you. Many countries will ONLY accept USD for entry visa’s.
- Have plenty of small USD notes ($1 – $5) with you as you may need these for help on the way – porters, getting advice or even to assist with getting what you need. You do not want to be stuck with someone demanding money and you only have a $50 or $100 bill.
- Be prepared for the onslaught of people wanting to ‘assist’ you when you exit the arrival process. This can be very intimidating if it is your first time. They will almost grab your gear and insist on you coming with them. Be strong and don’t do anything until you understand what is going on.
We sometimes would disappear to the toilets just to get away from all the people and think – get our bearings, discuss our needs and strategy and then re-emerge for action.
Arrival – Getting your bags
After successfully negotiating immigration and getting legally into the country, you now have to locate your luggage. Some Tips:
- Find the luggage arrival carrousel allocated for your flight
- Get enough trollies for your luggage.
- Locate your luggage and remove from the carrousel, ensuring your children are not too close as you don’t want them to be injured as you unload heavy cases.
- Find the over-sized luggage to collect your buggy / stroller, car seats and any other odd sized / large items
- When packing your trolley, build a nice solid base with your suitcases and then add other items on top
- If you have a lot of luggage for a larger family, you may need more trollies than you can comfortably handle – in some countries you can get porter’s to assist (for a fee), in others we have just leap-frogged with 3 trollies – it just takes time and patience.
Arrival – Customs
On arriving in another country, you will need to pass through customs. In many countries this can be fairly straight-forward, while others it can involve searches and more indepth scrutiny.
- Your bags will generally be scanned by a large scanning machine
- Some countries will physically search your bags – just relax and cooperate as much as possible. This can be very frustrating when you are tired and have a lot of luggage and have to repack again.
- Know your allowances for the country you are arriving in, especially for alcohol, cigarettes, luxuries and foreign currency so you do not get unexpected duties or items confiscated.
- Be aware that countries like Australia and New Zealand have very strict bio-security regulations – you will face instant penalties if you have any undeclared animal, plant or food items with you. We always declared that we had food with us as among all our luggage it was quite possible we had something we forgot about on our journey – at least if you declared and they find something, they will just throw it and you won’t get a fine.
- Some countries want to check items such as shoes, camping gear, bicycles, buggies / strollers or anything else that may have been in the outdoors to ensure they are clean. We ALWAYS cleaned our shoes and buggy prior to traveling. Again, New Zealand and Australia are very strict and yo can find yourself cleaning shoes / buggy tyres on arrival if officials are not satisfied with your cleanliness.
Arrival – Exiting the airport
Arriving in a foreign place for the first time can be very exciting but also intimidating at times. There is transport to find, locating your accommodation and changing money. Take time to get your paperwork together and find your bearings, then act. If you are arriving into a very different culture, there can be a lot of other challenges also.
When arriving in many countries, as you seek to leave the airport to find transport or make use of other services, you may be hounded by people wanting to ‘help’ you. They may be tour guides, taxi drivers, porters and others. Some can be quite aggressive. This can be very intimidating and unsettling if you are not familiar with this type of approach to offering you services. Here are some suggestions on handling these situations:
- Don’t let this rush you – take the time you need to assess the situation. Head to the toilets or similar if you need some space to just think and work out the best option.
- Be sure you are being approached by legitimate people, not people posing at legitimate and then wanting to rob you or similar.
- Ensure you are aware of the exchange rate in the local currency so you can give appropriate amounts for tips for service. I once had a friend who gave an Airport Porter in India the equivalent of a months wages as a tip as he still had a different countries exchange rate in his head. Of course – he was the happiest Porter in India and we all had a great giggle at our friends expense lol!
- Have contact details for your accommodation with you for the taxi driver or the person with whom you are being transported. Having the phone number can assist just in case they are not sure where they should be going.
This is just a collection of useful tips about handling the airport:
- Some airports provide strollers, so look for these if it is useful
- If your child has a special ‘teddy, toy, rag etc’ that they take everywhere, work out a way of tying it on to them or their bag. Our almost 2 year old daughter lost her ‘pink teddy’ in Dubai Airport. She always slept with here ‘Pink Teddy’ and it was everything to her. This was very traumatic for all of us. We searched and searched but to no avail. Of course we survived – but it really made for a difficult time. Her replacement was always tied on to something from then on and our travel rules for it were strictly enforced.
- Escalators and elevators can be a great distraction tool in airports
- Observation Decks / Lounges can entertain kids
- The Parents and Babies Room can be a nice retreat to just have some time out and take a breath. It can also be a great place to re-pack after security if this is needed.
- WATER – generally you have had to dispose of your water prior to security but it can still be a long time before you are on the plane and served some drink. We always refilled our bottles as soon as possible after security. It can be very tough sitting on a delayed plane with no water and thirsty young children.