Ten Tips for Successful Travel with Children of All Ages-Part 1

Kristen and Lauren in Paris, France - 2004
In Part 1 of this story, Sandy provides the first five tips for successful travel with children of all ages.

As we talk to people about our journey travel with children inevitably comes up. Traveling with our own two daughters and seeing the impact of those experiences on their growth was a big reason why we decided to use our Trekking the Planet journey to create a sense of curiosity about the world in young people.

We took great trips with our daughters, Lauren and Kristen, from when they were ages three through their teen years. In the process they have both been to over 30 countries around the world. No matter how young your children are, there are ways to bring them along and still have a wonderful experience. Successful trips with children just take a little planning, communication and creativity. So, here are the first five of 10 tips that can work with all children of all ages!

1. Plan a progression of travel with your children

Just like we would not hop on a plane and travel to a new and exotic country on the other side of the world without some kind of preparation, children also need some progression to prepare for a big trip. So before you take them to Europe for two weeks, try some short journeys to prepare them. For example, visit museums close to home, camp overnight in the backyard, drive for a few hours in a car or take a short plane flight. As we traveled more with our daughters as they grew up, I found this to be very useful as we prepared for each trip.

Kristen and Lauren on safari in Botswana - 2003

2. Let them have a say in the pre-trip plans

While planning the trip, get the children’s ideas of what they want to do and try to include at least one of these in your final plans. This will provide them with a sense of contribution and something to look forward during the trip. For example, when we went to Australia when Lauren and Kristen were 13 and 10 years old, they wanted to go to a zoo so we planned our time to include their request.

Kristen with koala in Brisbane, Australia - 2003

3. Provide them with some background on the places you are visiting

No matter what the age, there are books, DVDs and Internet materials available on your destination to share with your kids prior to the trip. Look at book sellers, your local library or teacher supply stores. When Lauren and Kristen were six and nine we took them to Europe for three weeks. We spent time before the trip reading and looking at pictures with them of the Swiss Alps and Paris to get them acquainted with these destinations.

Kristen and Lauren in Switzerland - 2000
If they like music, find examples of the latest songs. Check out the popular sports and teams in the area and learn about them. When going to a foreign country with older children, teaching them a few words of the local language (“Hello, Please, Thank You”) will help them feel more comfortable with the country they are visiting.

4. Have age appropriate material for them

Travel items for children can be inexpensive, such as games, coloring books, picture / reading books, and small toys. The important thing to remember is that the material should be something that children can use when they are in the car, at the airport, or on the plane when they can easily get bored. On longer vacations, give them some things at the beginning of the trip and save other items for later in the journey or even for the return home to provide some variety.

Kristen and Lauren in Machu Picchu, Peru - 2005
Along these same lines, purchasing small mementos along the way can serve as a reward for a child’s good behavior. On the first international vacation with our three and six year old children, I bought Lauren a small plastic toy lamb (for less than $2.00) in Oxford, England, as a reward for her good behavior during the first part of that trip. She loved that lamb and played with it during the rest of the vacation. Other barnyard friends were added from toy shops along the way as a continued motivator throughout that trip.

On the three-week trip to Europe when our daughters were six and nine, I gave them index cards at the beginning of the trip and added stickers on them when they were well-behaved that day. At the end of the trip, they were able to buy small souvenirs, depending on the number of stickers each one of them had accumulated.

5. Carry a map and show them where they are

Lauren and Kristen at Angkor Wat, Cambodia - 2004
While in the car, train or plane, pull out a map and show your child where they are and where they will be going. Show them where the current location is relative to their home. Besides providing a sense of geography and navigation, this also helps kids understand how far away they are and what landmark or destination to look for in the future. Talk to them about where they have been so that they can communicate to others about their journey when they get home. For older children, giving them the job of navigation will keep them looking forward and engaged.

Tips six through ten will be shared in Part 2 of this story, which will be published next week.

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