These days, some paper documents can be replaced by online documents: for example you often don't need a paper ticket for air travel, but an e-ticket number.
However, carrying "hard copies" of certain papers can be a very good idea, and there are still many documents and pieces of ID that you have to actually carry with you. (One day we'll all be able to travel with a retina scan and a thumb print, right?)
Here is a list of some important papers and documents that you should bring for yourself and your kids:
Depending on your country of origin and where you're going to, you will probably need a passport for most international travel. In some instances, birth certificates and other forms of ID will do the trick, but often passports are what is required if you leave your home country.
Remember to check the expiry dates on your own passport and the passports of your children a few months before travel: getting a passport in a rush is often possible, but usually it's not cheap and it can be extremely stressful.
Again, depending on your country of origin and where you're headed to, you and your children might require special visas or travel permits that you have to apply for ahead of time. A good place to find out about this is the website of your own country's foreign affairs department, or other government agency in charge of issues related to international travel. For example:
- if you're a US citizen, you can check out travel.state.gov
- Canadian citizens heading to the US can check out Canada Border Services Agency or, for international travel to other countries than the US, check travel.gc.ca
3. Consent letter & custody documents
If you're traveling with your children without the other parent present, it is a very good idea to have a consent letter from the other parent, stating that you are allowed to travel with them on your own. You can read more about consent letters in this old blog post. You can also find more information at travel.gc.ca and myfamilytravels.com.
If you are a divorced parent, or if you have custody of a child that you are not the biological parent of, it can also be a good idea to bring custody documents with you on your trip. Adoptive parents are also sometimes advised to bring adoption documents. Usually, you will probably not be asked to show your consent letter or custody documents, but these papers can sure simplify your life if you are asked for them at a border crossing.
4. Tickets or e-tickets
Paper tickets are becoming a thing of the past for air travel (I haven't seen one of those old, multi-page, airplane ticket booklets for ages myself), but a printed copy of your itinerary with your family's e-ticket numbers on it is advisable to bring along. Also, email a copy of that e-ticket to yourself so you can access it that way if you need to. Bring along (and email yourself) reservation numbers for accommodation and rental cars as well.
Don't rely on having everything on your cell-phone: it's handy, but if you lose that phone or if the battery dies and you can't charge it (maybe because you forgot your charger, or because the electrical outlets don't fit your charger), it's nice to have a backup plan.
5. Travel insurance documents
Bring the documents with you and also email yourself the policy numbers. I carry the policy numbers in my wallet: I figure I want to have them very handy if I ever need to use them (hoping I don't!).
6. Prescriptions or names of medications
If you or your kids are on prescription medications, you will probably bring those medications along. However, it is also a good idea to bring along the prescription itself, or at least write down the name of the medication you are taking. Just in case you lose the medication, or you end up needing a refill.
It's a lot easier to explain to a foreign doctor what you need if you have the actual medical name of a drug: sometimes the names and formulations will be different, but the more information you can give, the better.
7. Contact numbers & credit card information
I always bring my tiny little address book with phone numbers and addresses along on our trips. I also have our family doctor's business card tucked away in my wallet, should I ever need it. Other good numbers to have written down somewhere, are your credit card numbers and the phone numbers for contacting your credit card company if your credit card is lost or stolen.
These days, a lot of this information can be easily found on the internet as well, as long as you have access to an internet connection when you need it!