Last summer our family took a trip to my favorite place on earth, the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. While we were there we met some super friendly cows (yes, cows). My daughter gleefully yelled, “Look, Mommy, the cow wants to eat our stroller!”
Moments like this remind me why we LOVE traveling with small kids. They are cute and funny, offering up all sorts of creative observations. The look at the world through a different lens and it’s amazing to hear all that they have to say. Thanks to my husband’s job, we’ve gone on several trips with our 2 and 5-year-old back to our native countries of Taiwan, Europe and around North America.
During these trips, I’ve found that involving kids in every stage of the trip, including the planning, packing, and even the picture-taking, adds to the excitement and overall experience for everyone. Our goal is not just dragging our kids along on our adventures, but including them throughout the process.
Below are some tips and advice on what has worked to enrich the travel experience for our family.
BEFORE: Involving Your Kids in Trip Planning
This is probably the most obvious way to involve your child in the trip. Planning creates excitement! My 5-year-old daughter loves talking about the trip ahead of time. We usually make a paper chain to count down the days and put the flag of the country at the end. When travel day comes, it’s as exciting as Christmas! Other ideas include:
- Ask your kids one thing they would like to see or experience on the trip? Or a food they would like to try. If they are older, check out Multicultural Kid Blogs’ Family Travel Guides in dozens of countries and have them point out their top favorite thing to do.
- Books are a great way to prep kids. Look for books about kids in the specific country you are visiting and ask a librarian if you need suggestions.
- TV shows can also be helpful for building up excitement.
- Preschoolers and Elementary Age: Justin Time (Netflix) and Superwings (104 episodes! on Netflix and Amazon Prime) are my kid’s favorite tv shows. Each episode highlights a country from Vietnam to Croatia, Cape Town, and Barcelona.
- For the whole family: Our small kiddos will actually watch a Rick Steve’s episode (especially if it involves trains!). Hundreds of clips and episodes are available on YouTube.
- Eat out at a restaurant from the country you will be visiting and ask the owners what their favorite part of their country is. Great place for insider tips!
DURING: Slow It Down and Savor Memories With Your Kids
This is probably the most important of the 3 stages. Traveling with kids is a game of low expectations and making sure you have enough downtime. I often have to remind myself that “downtime is not lost time.” It’s “memory building” time. For kids especially, hanging out, even in a hotel room or AirBnB living room is “productive” as they need time to recharge, process and bond. A couple other tips beyond expectation setting:
- Take time to savor moments with your kids! An extra ice cream, more time at a park. Following kids’ leads can help us adults live in the moment and truly savor the trip.
- We take time at dinner or the end of the day to do a game of “Highs and Lows” with our daughter. Hearing what she loved or disliked can sometimes be a surprise and many times can help us adjust the next day’s schedule.
- Finally, I love keeping a small travel notebook in our backpack for our kids to pull out at a restaurant and sketch the view or draw something they find interesting at a museum. This can be a great keepsake after the trip, maybe even decorated with ticket stubs!
AFTER: Debrief Dinner to Celebrate!
After you return, (and get caught up on ALL the laundry) you may want to extend the joy of traveling through something our family calls a “Debrief Dinner.” It’s a fun time to celebrate and relive the fun you had on your family trip. Kids can help you make a dish or dessert from the travels and you can watch videos you filmed from the trip. You could even record a new video sharing each person’s overall highs and lows of the trip to add to your memory collection. However, you wish to mark the time, having a “closing ceremony” of some sort. It’s a fun way to wrap up the whole experience!
From my family to yours, happy traveling!
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