One of the best experiences you can give your children is travelling to new, different places. They will grow as people while creating lasting memories with you. Here's how you can level up your next family trip.
Involve Them in the Planning Process
Kids of any age will be more invested in the trip if you get them involved in the planning process. For younger kids, ask them for one or two things they want to do and have some realistic options ready from which they can pick. Use Minitime, Best Kid Friendly Travel, and recommendations from friends and family to find kid-friendly spots. If you have older kids, they can help with the details of planning, such as reserving tickets, finding out the hours of your destination, and helping you plan what you want to do on what day. Involving your kids in the planning, or at the very least explaining details of the trip before you leave, gives them an idea of what will happen as well as outlines your expectations.
Depending on your kids' ages, you can use trip planning as a chance to teach them skills like budgeting, how to account for travel time, and how to stay healthy when away from your routine. You should also set a souvenir expense limit at the start of your trip. This will help curb pleas for toys or gifts everywhere you go. For a cheap souvenir, have them pick out a postcard at different spots during your holiday, then frame them all when you get home. You can also talk to them about the importance of social skills such as compromising to make sure everyone on the trip is happy.
If you have one kid who still needs naps and others who are older, take turns watching them with your partner. One of you can stay with the napping child and the other can take the older kids for a special activity that they picked. You get a chance to spend one on one time with each of your kids and a break from each other.
If your family is travelling during the school year, you may also need to work with your students and their teachers to figure out how they can stay up to date on their schoolwork -- like doing a special project about their trip and then presenting it to the class upon their return. I once did a report on how cruise ships work while on a cruise and it resulted in tours of the galley and bridge from the crew, which was loads of fun.
Prepare for the Journey
When preparing to travel with your children, here are the main things you should consider:
- Pack snacks and a variety of entertainment to keep them occupied both on the plane/train/car ride and when you need some time to rest. By paying attention to both of these you cut down on the main sources of misbehaviour during transport: low blood sugar and boredom.
- If you can, plan your travel to and from your destination around times when you know your kids will likely be sleepy and avoid times when they tend to be energetic.
- Take the time to do some research beforehand on the culture and history of the places you'll visit. This will give you a chance to make the information digestible for your kids so they can have context for what they're experiencing. Rick Steves recommends having kids read books (both fiction and nonfiction) that are set in your destination.
- Remember that travel (especially long plane rides) makes everyone feel uncomfortable -- bring supplies to help yourself stay refreshed (like wipes or sprays to keep your skin hydrated) and ready to help your kids enjoy the ride.
You can use travel time as an opportunity for your kids to learn more about your destination. If they helped with the planning process, focus in on what they suggested and teach them more about the place or activity.
Keep Them Engaged When You Get There
Your key to having a memorable and fun trip with your kids is to keep them interested. For example, when I went on trips as a kid, my mum always asked me to tell her three things that were different between the place we were and our hometown. This made me actually look outside and away from my phone and engaged me in a way that made me critically think about my life as compared to where we were visiting.
Help your child document their point of view and keep a journal during your vacations. You may want to ask them a question every day to help spark their reflections and entries -- this isn't a trip log, it is a chance for them to draw or write about what they're feeling, hearing, and seeing. Rough Guides suggests on giving your younger kids a robust or disposable camera for photos.
Our own Melanie Pinola suggests using this new experience as a time to introduce new habits to your child as well. If they're a picky eater, explain that part of the adventure is trying new foods. If you want them to walk more (instead of you pushing them in a stroller), try having them walk between activities.
Keeping your kids (and yourself) engaged can be difficult when everyone is tired, hungry or otherwise stressed. In tense moments, take a step back and see if any of those could be the cause. If so, you've got an easy fix for improving everyone's moods since you know what the source is. If they're acting out for another reason, be prepared to discipline them using similar consequences as what you'd use at home. For example, if they have a tantrum in a restaurant or museum, take them outside.
Remember the Benefits (for You and Them)
While travelling with your kids can be tiring and expensive, in the end you're giving them an amazing life experience. You're offering them the opportunity to develop empathy for other people by educating them about other cultures and lifestyles. These are experiences that they can use later in life. For me, sharing travel stories with other people is one of the most common ways that small talk turned into memorable conversations that sparked deeper friendships. You'll potentially spark a lifelong love of exploration, experiencing things that are different because they're different (like other cultural practices), and appreciation of those whose lifestyles vary greatly from your own.
As YTravel points out, kids force you to have a completely different travel experiences (slower travel, seeing sites you otherwise wouldn't, making you experience things from a kid's POV). Plus, you share a life experience with locals and other travellers. My Little Nomads sums it up well:
You share something with the locals that other travellers don't. Even the most jaded and shady taxi driver or tout will let his guard down when he sees your kids. He'll talk about his own children and where he lives and how last year his whole family took the train up North, into the mountains, to a little village where his mum still lives.
Children learn so much from the world around them and you can provide an unforgettable educational experience by exposing them to life beyond their own backyard.