Since I am an American married to an Englishman and living in Australia it is a given that we are world travelers. We have passed this onto our children who have had passports since they were infants and struggled to hold still for the required official photo. We have taken short trips, driven 1000km back and forth between Sydney and Brisbane without hesitation, and traveled overseas repeatedly with them on long haul flights and extensive road trips.
I am here to tell you that not only can you travel with kids, but they can thrive on traveling – learning, experiencing, exploring new things, places and people.
7 ways to help your kids get the most out of any trip
1. Use visitor’s centres
Most towns and cities have at least one visitor centre staffed by people familiar with what is on offer in your destination. Take advantage of their knowledge and ask about kid-friendly tourist spots, activities and programs that can capture your kids’ attention.
You may be aiming to learn about American history and your kids hear “another boring stop today”. There may be tours on offer that draw them in. There might be exhibits that are more hands on and interactive which always makes learning more fun for kids. Try to balance the kinds of activities you do so kids stay interested and everyone has fun.
2. Don’t monopolise the map handling
While you are at the visitor’s centre grab a few walking maps of the town. Look them over with the kids. Circle where you want to go. Let them help plan out the route or order of events, maybe deciding where your first pit stop for food will be or identifying an ice cream place on the map.
Let them hold a map and help with navigating your way. They can look out for landmarks you circled and that tells them they are on the right path.
3. Take local transport (or go on foot)
Mix things up. For kids the transportation can be half the fun (or more). Take trollies, carriage rides, tram, subway, ferry, buses, etc whether you are going 5 blocks or 2 miles. They are usually affordable, let you mix with locals (kids love to chat with each other), and often have stops near all the tourist areas. Some places we’ve traveled have some form of free transport for tourists so ask around (and always ask if kids are free).
4. Stay active
Try to mix up the types of things you do in a new place. While you may want to see a museum or a historical site, they might like to have a more active approach to engaging with your destination.
Let them climb on things – whether it is a series of statues in Central Park or replica cannons in Charleston, many of our photos show our kids exploring in their own way. They are not causing harm and you will often find that these things are allowed or encouraged by those that installed them.
Visit parks and playgrounds and mix with the locals.
Try out sports that are popular there, of the season or new to you. Ice skating, horseback riding, boating and others can give you glimpses into local life.
5. Try local foods
It can be tempting to feed them familiar foods as much as possible. Trust me I know. Seek out menus that don’t strictly cater to your usual foods. You can order a variety of things including the familiar and let everyone try dishes. Seek out a few buffets if you are somewhere especially exotic so they can freely try one bite of as many things as interest them.
6. Before the trip preparation
Before you set off on your trip read books about the place you are going or stories set in the locale. Check out visitors blogs and other online resources for information, tips and games. Many destination sites are loaded with tools for kids.
7. After the trip keep the memories alive
It is possible for young kids to completely forget a big overseas trip. What has worked well for us, since our kids hit the 4-5 year old mark, is talking about the trip long after we get home. We create and look through photo albums / photo books. We create scrapbooks or journals. The kids display souveniers they selected and often bring them into their at home life. Whether it is their flamenco dresses and fans from Spain or their Tshirts from NYC, there are reminders of our trips everywhere in our home. People ask them about them, they take things to school for show and tell, they play with them, read the books they bought, enjoy and use things rather than pack them away.
What is your best travel with kids tip or experience? Do you enjoy travel with kids or hold off until they are much older?
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