How to create a travel bug
You’ve heard about Italy all of your life and dreamed of visiting the Roman ruins of Pompeii, getting lost in the narrow, cobblestone back streets of Venice and swimming in the enchanting waters of the Mediterranean off the Isle of Capri. You don’t need help getting excited about your upcoming trip. But is it the same for your kids?
Kids might be apprehensive about taking such a long trip, sad about leaving their friends and frightened about venturing to someplace unfamiliar to them. I’ve traveled with my children so many times over the past few years and I have learned one very important thing—preparation is the key to shaping a child’s interest in travel. Some things work, some don’t, but the following suggestions, in a combination created especially for your child, may turn your child into a travel bug like yourself.
Talk to them about the different language, culture, and food they will encounter. Seek the right balance between the familiar and comforting, and new and exciting. Prepare and excite them about the differences. Be careful not to over-promise, which might lead to disaster when a particular museum or amusement is closed unexpectedly.
Look at a street scene, say the Eifel Tower in Paris, and ask the kids to imagine standing right there, there in the picture. What would they see? What would it sound like, smell like? Then shift to a map and try and find that spot. Where is it in relation to our hotel? How could we get there? Needless to say, it is exceptionally cool to in fact try to find the spot we picked out of the book once we actually got to Paris. Older children may be able to navigate the family to that very spot, with little or no assistance.
Check out entertainment
Download music inspired by your upcoming trip. Mix it in with music you would normally listen to while driving or eating dinner. Or rent a movie from the library. Try "The Sound of Music" if visiting Austria, or "Finding Neverland" or "Harry Potter" for England. Pair it with food one night a week and invite your child’s friends so it becomes something to look forward to. Search for companion iTunes audio and video tours for your city, available in many cases, absolutely free. Have your child listen to it on an afternoon outing.
Use technology to your advantage
I bet your older kids can find more information on the Internet about your destination than you can. You know your kid; would a trip to the zoo, amusement park, arcade or mall make a trip abroad more exciting to them? Well then, task that out to them. If they can find it and it fits within the budget and time frame of the trip, it will go on the itinerary.
Introduce your kids to travel-related websites designed for for kids such as GeoSpy, where kids choose a mission to race against time to identify all the states, continents or countries on a map; Yahoo! Kids, search engine, games, music and more; Earthcam, an online directory of webcams around the world.
Try the local cuisine before you go
Pick up a children’s cookbook or look online for kid-friendly recipes, let your kids help you create Italian-themed menus and then cook together as a family. While spaghetti with meatballs might not be the most authentically Italian dish, it will help set the mood for your trip and will get your kids even more excited about their Italian adventure. Visit an Italian Festival, Asian market, go out for a kebab, or try to eat with chopsticks. You’ll expand your child’s horizons, create a fun memory, and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite dish in the process.
If your kids are like mine, they will try anything once. But if they don’t “like” it, they probably won’t try anything like it again. Let your picky eater know that you would appreciate it if they tried the local food, and if they still aren't too keen on it, you’ll skip over to American exports like McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell, or KFC. These familiar chain restaurants offer a respite to weary American travelers with kids offering variations on the food you and your kids are familiar with.
And lastly on food…kids get cranky when they are hungry, so make sure you have plenty of snacks for the in between times. Since my kids never passed a vending machine they didn’t like, I keep healthy snacks like cereal bars, pb&j and bread handy to fix a quick snack in the room and if I have a refrigerator, milk and lunchmeat as well.
Help them pick up a few phrases in the local language
I highly recommend purchasing an inexpensive language program on CD or DVD. But don’t just hand it them or start it up and leave the room, make it a family activity a month or so before your trip. Test and then reward the family member who “wins.” Create a bucket list of possible itinerary ideas and in lieu of money or a toy, allow the winner the opportunity to choose one of the family activities from the approved list. The discs can also act as entertainment on the plane.
Try watching a movie in its native language without and then with the captions turned on, to see how much you understand instinctively. It can be a lot of fun making up dialogue. You’ll all be surprised at how much you will understand from context, hand signals and body language.
Make flashcards of a few useful words/phrases in the destination language and have fun quizzing each other. Contact the tourism board or local chamber of commerce of your destination before leaving for your trip. Request travel brochures and tourist information. Arrange these in a folder for easy reference. Let the kids flip through the fliers and magazines while in flight to further prepare them and boost their enthusiasm. Give older kids a calculator and a budget. Then, let them work out an affordable itinerary. Give your kids a camera, if they don’t already have one, and encourage them to take tons of photos. It is usually very interesting to see things from a child’s perspective.
Write it down or start a new collection
Wouldn’t you and your child love a memory book/journal of their vacation? Before the trip, get each of your kids a small journal, markers and tape. Suggest that they journal about their trip by drawing, writing, and taping in pictures, ticket stubs, postcards etc. This will help them remember the special moments of the trip . On the plane or in the car, they can tape in some fun things from the in-flight magazine, write about the movie they saw or log what fabulous or not so fabulous food they ate. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they thought were the important moments of their family vacation.
Ask your child to collect addresses of friends back home so he/ she can mail them a postcard before returning home. This gives friends something to talk about when they reunite. Then they can work through the list on the trip.
Encourage them to start a collection. It doesn’t really matter what, as long as its something that interest them. Magnets, postcards, hats, stickers, mugs, dolls, books, pens all work well and won’t blowout the budget.
Prior to the return flight, take your digital camera’s memory stick to a drug store and pop it into a do-it-yourself photo center. Request one-hour prints. Then, purchase a small scrapbook for each child and let them record their memories with special pens while they stick down photos with double-sided tape.
Great plans fail miserably, when it comes to kids, when idle hands and minds are not addressed. Trust your parental instincts when it comes to choosing your kids travel toys and books. You’ll want things that will keep your child’s interest. A good set of portable art supplies with crayons, color pencils and some paper can transform into hours of amusement (or at least distraction). If your son can play at home with his Nintendo DS for hours, it’s probably a pretty solid bet it will entertain him on vacation as well. Make sure to pack the charger (to keep it working) and earplugs (to keep it from working on you.)