There’s no doubt that travel is good for adults and children alike. It fosters compassion, perspective, and a sense of wonder, among other benefits. Many travelers fear the logistical challenges of venturing forth with kids in tow. With a little planning, an adventurous spirit, and the right mindset, traveling with kids can be a rewarding and impactful undertaking. Here are 10 tips for making the most of family travel.
1. Equip Yourself for a Long Flight.
International flights are often easier than shorter, domestic flights. A longer flight typically means more legroom and more services. The individual television screens with hundreds of movies at the ready go a long way to keeping kids occupied. Sure, you might frown on your child watching back-to-back movies at home, but on a flight, you should take advantage of this. Make sure your child has comfortable, snug headphones that are designed for children. Don’t rely on the freebies from the airline. Depending on the age of the child, you’ll have all the usual suspects as well: snacks, change of clothes, and wipes. I find it helpful to not only bring books but to bring at least two new books that the children have never seen. If your child is into comics like Garfield or Calvin & Hobbes, consider checking a few of those books from the library. They work great on flights and long car trips alike.
2. Recognize Their Adaptability.
We tend to think that children must have routine and will crumble without it. In truth, children are often far more adaptable than their parents. After hiking through a mile of mud to sleep in hammocks in the Amazon, my husband and I were ready to throw in the towel. Except we couldn’t because it turned out that there were no towels. Nor was there running water. Then the power went out. While we fretted at the loss of these comforts, our children viewed the experience as the grand adventure that it truly was.
3. Engage them in the Culture.
Just like adults, children have the capacity to understand and appreciate other cultures. Limiting their cultural exposure only limits their ability for cultural appreciation.
4. Make It Educational.
If you have exposure to other countries and cultures, you might as well take time to learn about them while you’re there. One of our favorite activities is to study a country’s flag and how it came to be. We also like to interview locals to find out what they most love about their area along with their biggest challenges.
5. But Not Too Educational.
Not everything need be a school lesson. Sometimes you just need to go to Australia Zoo and pet an echidna.
6. Permit Pushback.
If your child throws a tantrum, don’t automatically assume that it’s due to the stresses of travel. Is their behavior that different from what it is at home? If not, then maybe they’re just being themselves, in which case the tantrum will happen regardless of your location. If the behavior is atypical, maybe that’s okay, too. Everyone reacts differently to new environments. Patience, understanding, and open conversation can go a long way to ease the situation.
7. Document the Highs and Lows.
We always think we’re going to remember the priceless moments, but what is clear in our minds today is soon lost. Pictures are great, but take it a step further and write down some of the memories you don’t want to lose. The funny, endearing, euphoric, and surprising aspects of travel that make it all worthwhile are worth keeping for a long while.
8. Tag-Team Parenting.
If you don’t have to go it alone, then don’t go it alone. Take shifts with the kids. If you have more than one child, pick a time each week when a child gets one-on-one time with a parent. Sharing the responsibilities benefits everyone. When we’re abroad, my husband wakes at 5am to begin work. From 7am to 9am, I’m in charge of the children. By then he’s accomplished a lot and ready to take over so that I can get my own work done. By early afternoon, we can put the workday behind us and venture out to explore our surroundings.
9. Value Their Input.
Children are excellent, engaged travelers when they feel they have some ownership in the trip. Instead of having the adults make all the decisions, let the children offer up suggestions of how and where to spend your travel time. That doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce to expensive theme parks and a cotton candy diet. Your kids may even express interests in line with your own, and including them in that conversation allows everyone to feel equally invested in the journey.
10. Stay Connected.
If you want your children to get the most out of family travel, it’s important that they don’t see the experience as robbing them of something near and dear. This most often manifests itself in the feeling of missing out on friends and activities back home. Give them the opportunities to send postcards and gather souvenirs for friends they’ve left behind.
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