Travelling with kids or “en famille” is the perfect opportunity for you to leave behind the routine and responsibilities of work and school and spend some “quality time” together. A great idea in principal, but it is sometimes difficult to meet the expectations of all family members and really make the most of your time together. Here are some pointers which suggest ways of making your trip the best it can be for all the family!
1. Factor in Fascination, Fantasy and Fun
Be a Daydreamer:
When you are in the process of deciding where to go, visualize your family there first: What can you see yourself doing and enjoying most? Would your kids be happy doing the same things, if not, would there still be opportunities for them to have fun?
I was really keen on going to Central America, mainly to find out more about Hispanic language, traditions and culture, but I knew for certain that these weren’t priorities for my 5 and 8 year olds. In the end we decided to volunteer and travel in Costa Rica and Panama. The Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo was lush and tropical, with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” backdrop and plenty of bright and fascinating wildlife on our doorstep- in fact, part of my volunteering role was to organise a “Pirates & Princesses” children’s party at a local school. Bocas de Toro offered boat trips to uninhabited islands and great snorkelling spots. Our imaginations played out scenes from “Robinson Crusoe”. The kids were constantly entertained and amazed, but at the same time I was able to improve my Spanish and learn more about the way people think and live.
Bearing in mind your own child’s interests and hobbies; think of what would most appeal to them about where you are going. Ignite your child’s imagination by finding places which suggest magic, mysteries to be solved and discovery of something new or surprising. Do your research and look out for festivals or events which could coincide with your visit.
One summer I made sure that we were in Florence for the “Festa della Rificolona” where children and adults parade through the streets at night with candle-lit paper lanterns- far more entertaining than traditional sightseeing! Another highlight was discovering the local tradition of Alnmouth, Northumberland. In August a spectacular charity competition where young and old, in teams of up to 10, can compete to build a bonfire on top of a sandcastle on Alnmouth Beach before the incoming tide. The last fire burning is the winner. Both adults and children loved the challenge.
Out and about:
Investigate the options for getting from one place to another. A trip by train may be a little more expensive than the bus, but at least your little one can stretch their legs stumbling up and down the aisles. A ferry trip may be slower than a flight, but having space and the chance to be out at sea is an adventure in itself.
In search of friendship and fun:
What kids love is to have the chance to settle in one place where there were other kids for a few weeks. This gave them scope to feel at home, know their way around and make friends. Most communities have popular places where the kids hang out, it’s just a case of sourcing them. Parks, plazas, playgrounds, beaches and pools (natural or otherwise) as well as local events (research beforehand and also on arrival) are all ideal opportunities for our little social butterflies.
Choice of setting:
Look for places which offer something for everyone. You may be a culture vulture, but unless your kids have an outlet to explore and let off steam you may be in for a hard time. Castles, palaces and forts may have greater appeal to little ones than galleries and some museums. Choose locations which have space to run and play, or animals to see. Perhaps you fancy a walk in the country to appreciate scenery, but if you add to the mix caves to hide in, trees to climb…or a river to bathe in…well now you’re talking!!
2. Whet their appetites
Like many things in life, anticipation and build-up play a big part. Prepare your kids beforehand by making them aware of the differences they might see. Depending on their age and what they are interested in, you could discuss weather, animals, clothes, the currency, food, religion, local festivities and traditions, or whatever captures their interest and attention. Select the best YouTube clips, documentaries or films based on the places that you plan to visit.
If you are heading to a destination which speaks another language- then getting a grasp of basic communication skills could be a challenge for all of you to take on. Learning a few useful phrases shows that you are making an effort to communicate as well as being a gesture of respect for the country that you are visiting. It breaks the ice when you first meet someone and will help kids to interact. The chances are that once they start the ball rolling they’ll pick up expressions in no time. Why not pick up a copy of “10 Minutes a Day” book for that language- they come with pre-printed sticky word labels that your kids will enjoy putting round the house.
You could also try out some of the typical culinary specialties in advance by eating at ethnic restaurants in your home town, or get a cookbook and make meals together at home.
3. Get them involved and engaged
Once you have whetted their appetite with all the possibilities surrounding the place you’ve decided upon, give them a chance to get involved with some of the decision-making of what they’d like to do once they’ve got there. Talk about possible scenarios they might find themselves in. Discuss how they would feel and react, feed their imagination. With a young child you could make them the main character in a series of stories based on possible scenarios they may encounter: going on a long plane journey, sleeping in a different bed, walking through a busy market and holding daddy’s hand etc, or even through role-plays using the local language – why not?
For older kids the BIG question is screen time and communicating with friends back home. It’s a tricky one- perhaps the crux is whether they isolate the child from the family and the here-and-now. It would be a good idea to reach an agreement on this beforehand, to avoid ongoing disputes.
Apps which help them to learn more about the countries or places that you are visiting could be worth considering. Lonely Planet have a selection of books “Let’s Explore” for different landscapes, “City Trail” a selection pop-up for discovering capital cities, as well as fact finding “Everything you wanted to know” books about popular destinations around the world. Alternatively you could research folk tales or books by famous children’s authors from the countries you are visiting and see if you can get e-books or audio downloads of them in your language to listen to together. Some of the classics can be downloaded free as audio books: “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson (if you are heading to an island destination), “Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling (if you are going somewhere tropical) and “Picnic at Hanging Rock” Joan Lindsay (Australian outback). It is also possible to find a free download collection of travel stories from round the world based on the book “Little Lucy’s Wonderful Globe” by Charlotte Mary Yonge (1871).
For their eyes only:
As well as reading and listening, many older kids and adolescents love the idea of writing diaries. Make the most of this. Just as you’ll probably want to keep a record of your trip, encourage your kids to do the same. “My Travel Journal” and “My Family Travel Map” for examples, are great resources to help kids record their trip. There are a selection of reasonably priced kid-friendly cameras with lots of scope to edit images, make videos and the VTech Kidizoom Duo has a voice recording function too. A voice commentary record of the trip is another great medium for all ages!
However much you plan for all eventualities, there will be surprises and unforeseeable events- but hey that is what travel and adventure is all about. Thinking on your feet and making spontaneous decisions often bring benefits that you never would have expected. Being able to overcome hurdles together as a family, you’ll have more memories to share and stories to tell on your return.