Traveling with children can be overwhelming even when just planning a vacation a few hours away let alone going abroad. For children, who thrive on routine, the anxiety is even more so when they are told they will be leaving home to visit a place where people don’t speak their language, eat different foods, and live in a way that is different from how they live. But there are ways to raise a good traveler.
While it seems like a daunting task, there are many ways to prepare your children for what they will experience and allay their fears long before ever boarding the plane. Since children thrive in a well-known environment without too many daily changes to routine, rapidly forcing them to adapt is not the best approach to a successful and happy vacation for the entire family. Children are not able to process changes the same way adults do, so it’s better to acclimate them to what they might encounter abroad well ahead of time. We’ve come up with several tried and true methods for preparing children to travel that will get them excited about the upcoming family adventure.
1. Map it out
As soon as you have your destination in mind, show your children the spot on a map. You can point out where you will be staying, different points of interest, where the beaches are, and all kinds of neat things about the area. Children love looking at maps because it makes them feel as though they are real explorers, which they soon will be. Paper maps are the most fun because they are hands-on, but you can also scope out the aerial view on Google Earth for a different perspective.
2. Bone up on the culture
The best thing about traveling to another country is discovering another country. Head to your local library or surf the web to research the country or countries you will visit. Check out non-fiction books about the countries or find fictional children’s books that are set in that location. Children love to hear stories of fictional characters that take place in the spots they too will be visiting. Start discussions with them about the people, food, landscape, climate, and landmarks they will encounter on your travels. Find a game that children in the country you’re visiting play and play it with your kids. Do an Internet search on your destination’s culture and pick out some pictures to discuss with your children.
3. Watch travel shows or videos
There’s nothing better than being able to visualize what the place is like where your family will be vacationing. While there are some travel show DVDs available at your local public library, you should also be able to discover quite a few on television or Netflix. The show doesn’t matter as long as it provides a glimpse of your travel destination. Watch the shows together making sure to make a big deal about the exciting adventure of trying out the foods, meeting the people, and finding interesting areas to visit.
4. Try out the cuisine
Most children can be picky when it comes to trying new foods, but if you want to raise a good traveler, overcoming this is important. Having a bit of a heads-up on what to expect in a foreign country for meals can eliminate some fussiness later. Prepare them for new and different dishes by either finding a local restaurant that serves up food from the country you are going to visit or try your hand at cooking some of the dishes at home. At a restaurant, you can order up a selection of different foods and let the kids choose some foods they would like to try. Giving your children a chance to savor the new flavors of a different country ahead of time will make it less of a shock to them when you do actually travel.
5. Expose your children to the language
Since your goal is to prepare your kids and make them more comfortable when they go to a foreign country, look for a few opportunities to teach them a few key phrases in your destination country’s language. There are several ways to do this. If you know people who speak the language, you could enlist their help in teaching a few phrases to your children. You can also easily find bilingual bingo games, flash cards, and even language instruction videos designed for children to teach them a few words or phrases.
6. Purchase foreign currency
If possible, get your hands on a small amount of local currency before traveling. It is not only useful to have some on hand when you arrive at your destination, but it also makes for an excellent teaching opportunity for the kids. You can teach them about exchange rates, what things might cost, and how you set a budget for your trip. It’s a hands-on, hassle-free, complaint-free math lesson.
7. Make a list of places to visit
After you’ve had a chance to watch some videos, look at maps, and maybe even scope things out on Google Earth, it’s time to sit down with your children to create an itinerary of all the places they want to see. You might have to help them with ideas, but it’s good to let them take the lead. Giving children a chance to help plan the itinerary helps to make the impending vacation more real. Maybe they want to see an ancient monument or explore a museum or a wildlife park. Whatever the case may be, get your list together and check those places out on the Internet.
8. Prepare for the weather together
Your overseas destination might have a climate different than where you reside. It can be fun to involve your children in packing for the trip. Find out what the average temperature will be at your vacation spot. Talk with your children about the differences or similarities in weather between the vacation spot and where you live. Discuss the types of clothing you need to take on the trip. Play dress up in the clothes appropriate for your destination. Make a list together of the things you need to take with you.
Just as with other things in life, children need reassurance when faced with traveling to a new place. By preparing them with the steps listed above, you are making the unfamiliar more familiar and giving them a new level of comfort. And that’s how you raise a good traveler.