Travel is loaded with benefits for families. It awakens curiosity and helps kids and parents feel more at home in the world while creating strong bonds and lasting memories. As kids grow, the fun of traveling together can grow right along with them.
My youngest son and I have traveled together every year since he was in the fourth grade. We’ve toured big cities and explored remote islands. We’ve visited family, camped in forests and hiked in National Parks. We recently spent two weeks visiting Prague, Munich and Salzburg to celebrate his college graduation. Wherever we go, people ask, “How did you raise a young man who likes to travel with you?”
Here’s how to keep the spirit of adventure growing so your family never outgrows the fun of traveling together.
Aim for quality time and shared memories.
It’s easy to get caught up in plans and logistics and forget that traveling together is an opportunity for families to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company while exploring someplace new. Whether it’s an out-of-town visit with relatives, a cross-country road trip, or a visit to another country, put relationships first — not destinations or timetables. From planning to departure, aim for quality time and shared memories.
Involve kids in planning.
Talk with kids early about where your family is going (or would like to go) and how you’ll get there. Read books, search the web and learn as much as you can together about your destination. Even if you’re “just” visiting grandparents, get kids thinking about questions they might ask or local sites they want to see. Create a list of options and have each child choose one or two. Combine them with your choices to come up with a plan that includes something for everyone.
When traveling with kids, everything takes more time, so be sure to allow for it. Be prepared to wait in lines, search for misplaced items, and encounter less-than-friendly folks who aren’t interested in being helpful. Talk honestly about the likelihood that something may go wrong. Make it a game to see how quickly it happens and what must be done to overcome it. Keep a sense of humor and expect the unexpected.
Less is more when traveling with kids. Plan downtime and expect to see and do less than if you were going without them. When traveling with my son, we plan one outing a day (yes, one!), usually in the morning. Then we try to leave the rest of the day free for spur-of-the-moment fun or relaxing. That might mean a nap or a snack, lingering at a bookstore or in a park, people watching, even getting caught up on the electronic messages we both miss when we’re unplugged.
Don’t replace regular distractions of work, school and electronics with travel distractions of itineraries, expectations and demanding schedules. Slow down and connect with one another. Now is the time to pay closer attention to what’s happening in your child’s heart. Ask questions and stay curious about the person your child is becoming. Away from the demands of everyday life, they might be more inclined to open up to you.
Keep kids engaged.
You’ve chosen age appropriate destinations and activities. You’ve paid attention to your child’s interests and allowed time for relaxing and having fun. What more can you do to keep kids engaged? Teens, in particular, may have rolled their eyes once or twice since leaving home. Think of ways to give older kids ownership. Ask a map lover to handle navigation, the smartphone photographer to keep a video log, the budding journalist to record each day’s activities in a travel journal. Kids are more engaged when they have a fun job to do.
Grow kids who love traveling with you.
Making travel enjoyable when kids are young helps them be positive about traveling with parents as they grow.
“Most of the traveling I did as a child revolved around visiting family — that’s what I thought travel consisted of,” says Nicole Shepard of Rancho Peñasquitos. “But for my high school graduation, my mom arranged a two-week trip to Germany and Austria, and I’ve had wanderlust ever since.” Nicole recently launched an online travel business called The Ticket Girl inspired by her love of travel. “Navigating a foreign country with my mom is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and those are memories I will treasure forever.”
How will your kids remember your family vacations? When parents fill trips with wonder, humor and a spirit of adventure, they create lasting memories and strong family bonds that will have kids wanting to travel with them for years.
Jody Lee Cates is a travel-loving mom and local blogger who writes about healthy relationships. She writes “Parenting with Purpose” articles for San Diego Family.