Where We Go When We Can’t Leave the USA

Where We Go When We Can’t Leave the USA

One of the many complexities of being foster parents is that we have to get written permission from the Department of Child Services to leave our state with our foster kids, and we have to get written permission from a judge to leave the country.

For a couple that once considered themselves to be travel-savvy globe-trotters, this restriction has been a bit of a challenge. In the years between when we started dating and when we started fostering infants, our airplane adventures looked something like this:

Air routes all over the world
Image generated by Great Circle Mapper

Traveling as a Foster Family

We’ve been foster parents to 4 kids so far, but we’ve really only traveled with C and Baby J (both now adopted).

When C came to live us we knew it was probably long-term, and we let his judge know immediately that we would need a passport for him. The judge was very enthusiastic and supportive of our travel plans for C, but it still took over 6 months until we had his passport in hand.

C has been able to travel with us to Mexico, Canada, South America, Europe, and Africa, in addition to all over the States. It’s been awesome.

You can read more about our experiences and our advice on traveling with foster kids here.

Baby J came home  as a “Baby Boy” – the newborn version of a John Doe – with no name and no birth certificate. This depressing status persisted for over a year, during which time we were also told he was likely going to be staying with us forever.

But with no name and no birth certificate, he sure wasn’t getting a passport.

baby next to window at airport with planes
Watching the planes from a coffee shop at Sky Harbor

“Wait,” you say, “You can totally cross the borders of Mexico and Canada without a passport for a minor!”

Well…. sort of. You can drive your kid to Mexico with no documentation. You can be required to show a passport or birth certificate on your way back in to the US. We had neither for J. You can maybe get into Canada via car or ferry with a certified birth certificate or hospital records alone. But, as a gentleman at the US State Department reminded me: “You might be able to leave the US without a passport. No one has to let you back in.”

So despite the fun memories that come from being held at a border crossing, we decided to forgo leaving the country until Baby J’s situation shook out. As of today, we have finally been allowed to request a new certified birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records that actually has a real name on it. Once we have that, we can apply for his passport.

In the meantime, we learned we can travel with Baby J’s original immunization record as documentation for domestic flights. Unfortunately for us that record had “Baby Boy” as his name, so we often end up awkwardly trying to explain our situation to haggard airline employees.

Despite the above obstacles, we are proud to say that Baby J (who just turned 1) has now been on 14 flights, and has slept through most of them, which is everyone’s preference for a baby on a plane.

You can read our tips for air travel with infants here.

Where to Go?

So where does a travel-obsessed couple drag their kids when destinations outside of the USA are off the table?

With our international travel plans indefinitely on hold, we became besties with Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines, and we bounced around the country as much as we could – to new destinations and old favorites. Our furthest-reaching trips were to Islesboro, Maine and Honolulu, Hawaii – a respectable 5,149 mile spread.

Here is a map of our airplane adventures from summer of 2017 to summer of 2018:

Flight map showing flights to Hawaii, Seattle, Maine, Atlanta, and other desitnations
Image generated by Great Circle Mapper

And this map only includes our air travel during our US-bound year. We’ve driven (and hiked and biked and ferried) to a whole mess of other places as well.

Even with no new stamps in our passports, I have to say we’ve had some pretty awesome adventures this year. And we’ve come to the stark realization that if for some odd reason we never left our home country again, there’s more here to see and experience than we will ever be able to get through in a lifetime.

Rocky coast - hills trees and bridge in background
Deception Pass, Washington

Please note: Information in this post may not apply to your situation or your travel needs. Documentation requirements can be different for different airlines and different border crossings. Confirm and double-check the documentation requirements of any travel you plan for yourself and your family. 

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