25 Jul Family Travel Tips – 11 Ways to (Successfully!) Prepare Your Kids for the Trip
You’ve settled on the idea, chosen the destination, and summoned the courage (and funds) to do it. Great! You’re ready for your big trip abroad! Oh, but wait. You’ve got small kids. How are they going to feel about leaving everything they know behind?
Traveling as a family has plenty of advantages (read my reasons why if you’re still stuck on that point). But if you really want to enjoy both the build-up and the trip itself, the trick is to prepare your children for what’s to come – and that’s where we can help. Through both trial and error (lots of error!), we’ve come up with these essential family travel tips for successfully preparing your kids for your big adventure…
If you’re looking for info about a particular point, you can skip right ahead by clicking on the place names below:
- Get a World Map
- Turn Your Adventure into a Story They’ll Love!
- Do your research!
- Tell Them Why You’re Making the Trip
- Tell Them What to Expect
- Learn a Few Words in the New Language
- Try out New Meals
- Plan a Family Activity
- Listen to Music From that Country
- Prepare for Homesickness
- ALWAYS communicate!
Of all our family travel tips, this is the one to start with. Whatever their age, your kids will love identifying the places you’re going to, and the ones they’ve already visited. Magnets or little flags are a great way to do this. Tell them the name of the capital city and maybe some of the country’s history or cultural traditions. What kind of schools do the children go to? Is it a cold or a warm place? What’s the food like? What language do they speak?
Make a memory game out of it and take every opportunity to play. For example, if your kids aren’t using a knife and fork at dinnertime, you could ask: Do you remember in which country children always eat with their hands? But don’t be too eager. Make sure it feels like a game or your little Sherlocks will suss you out and lose interest! Be playful, not pushy, and accept that some days they’ll respond as you’d like, and others… Well, Playmobil can be hard to compete with.
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If you need some ideas for kids’ world maps, check out the ‘magnetic sticker world map‘ and the ‘magnetic puzzle world map‘ by Janod. This beautiful ‘kids globe‘ is also fun to use, and robust, too (useful when it’s being handled by eager little hands!).
2. Turn Your Adventure into a Story They’ll Love!
There are few things young children love more than snuggling up on your lap while you tell them a story. All you need to do in this instance, is make sure that the story you’re telling relates to the country you’ll be going to. Better still, pick a topic your child is already interested in.
When we went to Australia, for example, I told stories about James Cook, emphasizing the dangers of shipping 250 years ago – such as pirates! Other tales were based on the country’s history as a prison island, and aboriginal myths. I also tapped into my older son’s interest, not just in pirates, but treasure chests full of gold, to teach him about the Australian gold rush of the 19th century.
Sound difficult? It’s not – and it’s totally worthwhile! If you don’t feel confident making up stories, read my guide to storytelling for kids. Before you know it, your kids will have their favorites and be begging you to retell them! And if not, just choose another topic until you hit the sweet spot. Or maybe combine the story with some images you’ve found on the internet, or a YouTube video depicting elements of the story.
3. Do your research!
The more you know, the more you can teach your children. And the more choice you have when it comes to deciding what to tell them about the trip. But careful not to fall into the big Black Hole that is the World Wide Web and completely overwhelm yourself, as I did. Even after reading blogs and information sites for days, I didn’t get anywhere.
So, my recommendation is this: keep it simple and set a limit on how many pages you look at. Choose Wikipedia for general information about the country. Then, for further info on what exactly to do and see once you get to your destination, check the official tourist sites for kid-friendly activities and attraction. Child-friendly blog posts about your destination can be helpful too.
Keep a note of the best resources you find. My lists always include a link to the National Geographic Kids channel on YouTube, and a world atlas for children (my favorite is the classic ‘Maps‘, for the very little ones this book will do fine ‘National Geographic’s First Big Book of the World‘). As for storybooks, there are millions of good ones, both in paperback and e-book form (make sure you check out the Bookworm’s Treasury on each of our blogs for ideas). Or just search for ‘Children’s books about [insert country]’ on Amazon and you’ll get some brilliant suggestions, such as the excellent ‘M. Saseks “This is..”‘ series.
Explain with joy what you think is so great about travelling. Highlight all the differences between traveling and living at home, in a positive way. Maybe it’ll mean skipping a long, cold winter and basking in the warm sunshine instead… Maybe the trip will give your kids the chance to do something cool, such as learn how to surf! Maybe they’ll be able to pick exotic fruits straight from the tree – with monkeys all around them!
Show them pictures of a campervan and talk about what an adventure it’ll be to live in one. Make sure they understand that the trip will allow them to see and do things they’ve never done before – and which you’ve probably not done before either! It’s going to be your family adventure!
Managing expectations is one of the most crucial among our family travel tips. It’s going to be a big adventure, of course – but there will also be things to watch out for. Things your kids probably haven’t experienced before. If you’re going to travel the wet tropics, for instance, it’ll be nice and hot. But there’ll also be heavy rains and very humid weather conditions. Not every child (or adult!) will like that.
Let them know about potentially dangerous animals and how to stay out of their way. If you’re travelling to a developing country, give your children a sense of the things they’ll see, in an age-appropriate manner. Kids wearing dirty clothes, for example, ‘houses’ made of tin and wood, beggars in the streets… If you’re going on a road trip, make them aware of the long travel hours. Consider ways of keeping your kids entertained (travel games, books, drawing materials, movies), too.
There are few places in the world these days, where English isn’t spoken or at least understood. But aren’t you traveling to get to know this other country, to immerse yourselves in their way of life? To fully experience all that the country has to offer? Learning the language – or at least, enough to communicate with the locals on a basic level – is essential. Lead by example – learn a few words, and encourage your kids to join in. It can be a lot of fun getting the pronunciation right, and doing some role play!
Teaching your children even just basic words like ‘hello, ‘thank you’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ will also give them some confidence and a sense of independence and pride, once you’re there. And trust me, the locals will LOVE them for it. With a few key words, your children will open themselves up to a whole new world, and to new friends, too.
For particularly long trips, it’s a good idea to take things further and try out some learning apps for kids. Ours love “Gus on the Go”. Be sure to let them watch TV or movies in the new language too – you’ll be surprised how fast they learn!
If your kids are anything like mine (happy to eat the sweetest food on the menu, while refusing anything ‘unknown’), then start getting them used to eating new things before you set off. And make it a rule that they will at least try all the new foods you introduce them to. Afterwards, they can always say “I don’t like that” and have a piece of bread or something simple instead. The point is, they should try it.
Of course, you won’t have many problems in ‘Fish & Chips countries’ like New Zealand and Australia. But in South East Asia, you can expect a much bigger challenge. At the moment, Julian and Tessa really do try a tiny spoon full of most things, but given that they’ve generally made up their minds before it’s even reached their mouths, it doesn’t really make a difference. Don’t give up, keep working on it! And don’t be afraid to mix a bit of the unknown with something less usual, if it encourages them to experiment (noodles and ketchup, anyone?).
This is a ‘call to action’ for parents and children, and one of my funnier family travel tips. Gather around the table and think of something you can all do together when you reach your chosen country. Maybe something none of you have done before, and something that’s typical of the place you’re going to. For example, try out surfing or snorkeling in Australia, white water rafting in New Zealand, ziplining, scuba diving, hitchhiking, skydiving… The list goes on! This is precious bonding time, it’s when memories are made!
This one is easy, thanks to the likes of Spotify and YouTube. Just go online and choose some characteristic rhythms from the country you’re traveling to. Trumpets from Mexico, Tango from Argentina, Aboriginal sounds from Australia. Have a go at dancing to it – play games like musical statues, and maybe even prepare a little dance routine. Why? So, you can get up and boogie together like a family from a Disney musical when the time comes, of course!
It’s really important to make it clear to your children that they will not be able to see their home, friends and family for some time – but that you will be coming back! It’s also important for you to understand that, even if you warn them about this, your kids will still get homesick. The trick is to be prepared for when they do. That way, you’ll be able to meet your children’s needs and not be consumed by their sadness.
First things first: don’t even begin to question your decision for traveling. If your children feel sad and need you to hold them, then do so. And remind both them and you that tomorrow is going to be a new, beautiful day with a lot of things to discover.
If you feel they are overwhelmed by the trip, just plan a day or two of simple recreation. Stay “home”, play some board games, read a book together – do some ‘normal’ things. Perhaps prepare their favorite dish from home for dinner. You could even take a ‘virtual’ trip back home by making a Facetime call to grandma and grandpa. By looking through a pre-made photo album containing pictures of family and friends, house and garden, toys they left behind. We did this and it helped a lot in the first couple of weeks. Meanwhile, they rarely need to look at it anymore.
Last but not least, the family travel tip you really can’t afford to ignore:
In my experience, it makes everything a lot easier when the children know what is going to happen to them, every step of the way.
Before the trip, explain what happens on the plane, what will happen after you land, what your accommodation is going to be like, etc. As the trip gets closer, be sure to go through some behavioral rules at the same time (i.e. please don’t make the flight a nightmare for us and everyone else!). Repeat this on the day of travel.
Continue to inform them about what’s coming next at every milestone in your trip. This way, they’ll feel relaxed, trusting that you grown-ups know what you’re doing (something we should probably enjoy, before they suddenly morph into constantly disapproving teenagers!).
As our children grow up and begin to express what they want (and don’t want), we are challenged, more and more, to discuss – and justify – our plans and actions with them. This is no less true when it comes to travel. If this is the case, let them take part in the process of decision-making. After all, it will help nurture the kind of independent-thinking and problem-solving that might allow them to be their own responsible human beings one day…
What are your tips and tricks when preparing your kids for a trip? If you have more ideas or if we have forgotten something essential, please let us know in the comments!