preparing and getting children excited about family travel

kids travel gifts CollageYou might love travelling a lot and want to pass on that passion for your children. Or maybe you’d like to spend the next vacation in a location that doesn’t seem at first like a great family hotspot…or maybe you just would like to get more out of travelling with children (than just the local MacDonalds, the nearest beach and the most famous sight in the area).

So the questions start popping in your mind: How to get the most out of the trip? How to get children excited about this new destination? Or how could we learn more about the destination? Luckily, there is a lot out there to get children excited about the new travel destinations! Travelling with children, especially smaller ones can be a nightmare in terms of play options, things to do and of course how to manage the long flights. The older the children get, the easier it also becomes to travel with them.

Currently our family consists of a 8-year-old and 4-year-old twins and there are travel essentials that go with us when we want to travel light and are not driving (which is pretty much most of the time)… So I wanted to share what has made our three little ones love travelling – so much that a day after a 11-hour flight back home late at night they are happily asking the next morning when are we going on our next adventure…

Not for Parents China
We used to live in China and this was a wonderful book for our daughter to learn about the country and its’ amazing history

For the question “how to get children excited about the destination in advance and in situ” we have few tricks up our sleeve. First one is children’s travel books: there are amazing books for children to learn from (this obviously is more for the reading-age children) such as the Not-for-Parents series.

So take a look to see if there is some cool books available on your destination. And they don’t even need to be travel books: I’ve been wanting to go to Pompeii, that mysterious Italian city for a while, and since my daughter read the Treehouse series children’s book on an adventure in Pompeii, she’s been really exited about seeing that place too. (I actually like the Treehouse series a lot as they have lots of historical places and eras in their books).

Treehouse Sri Lanka
Learning about the purpose of treehouse in Sri Lanka – on areas with wild elephants people escape to these treehouse at night

Now you don’t need to spend any money on the research and getting excited part – you can also create something fun yourself for the children to learn from (and check the local library for some interesting books). For Internet-age ones one can easily design a cool clue-hunting adventure on the destination where the correct answer will lock a secret – such as something fun you are planning to do in your destination.

Running elephants in nature Video on running elephants in Sri Lanka (Click here to view)

(This elephant safari in a national park was one of our highlights – we got to witness this run of two families to the herd and see how they protected their little ones in the middle. Just amazing experience!)

For the little ones a session on YouTube on the destination will do a lot of good: our latest adventure took place in Sri Lanka and we looked at the elephant-riding and baby elephant feeding videos as well as researched our hotels and they play and pool facilities (the most important factors for our little water-loving beebies)…

For older kids creating a scrap-book or collecting material for school project with brochures, photos and ticket stubs could be also fun with during the trip as there seems to be a country project every year.

Indian Cows in Sri Lanka

Video on Indian cows in Sri Lanka (Click here to view)

 (The children took this video on the roadside, while our guide was telling  us about these white Indian cows and their meaning to Hindus)

As I blog and post on Instagram, our children have also become avid snappers, so our eldest has an old iPod she gets to use while travelling. During our last trip the children took turns to video with it and had tons of fun: even long car rides when we were touring the island of Sri Lanka didn’t bother them as they did funny videos of themselves as well as animals we saw on the roadsides (monkeys, water monitors, wandering cows – you name it!). Do remember to pack a water-tight case for the iPod/camera though – with a lanyard so it doesn’t get lost or damaged…

Take your time, if possible, when on the road and let children have their photo opportunity stops on the way also,. You can also make up fun travel games, such as a photo contest between them with a list of challenge questions to photograph or spot! If your children have been tasked to do a report on their travel, create a family blog and have them write on the blog: that way you have a lasting memory and easily printable school report on the run without the last-minute late-night must-write-a-report-about-something session afterwards.

I’ve already partially moved to the next topic on “what to bring along when you are travelling”. We prefer to travel light, as flights often happen at night and you end up carrying your children along your luggage, so it’s easier the less you carry with you. I think I broke our record this summer when I manage to pack for a family of five just one carry-on suitcase for five days in the sun – but it also helped that one didn’t need much on the warm beach. I prefer to pack less and just take some washing powder with me in case we run out of clothing – the sun will dry them in a few hours anyway, and there is always the local shopping option too…

Kids travel kit

Therefore this “travelling light” policy reflects on what the children can bring with them when travelling. Rule no 1 is no stuffed animals – they take a lot of space and just tend to get dirty and lost – and with the allure of the beach or other things to do I’ve noticed that they are not needed at all. Each child gets to bring a super-light string backpack which doesn’t take much space and can be easily folded and stuffed in the suitcase, if required – yet it’s easy to take out in the plane or car and have your child carry it around.

Great stuff to put into the bag are a notebook for drawing, writing and games, a pack of pencils, small travel game or two and a few little toys, maybe . The latter means a couple of cars or aeroplanes for our son and few of those little pet shop things for our younger daughter. Our eldest loves to read so she gets to bring her kindle fire which has also good night stories for the littles ones – as well as some games for them to play.

In our house electronic toys exist, but are not used on a daily basis – travel is a great example when we bring them out. 11-hour flight sails by faster when the children get to take turns, or play together some games. It’s the novelty factor, especially as I normally add a couple of new games that they haven’t seen before…

Tea factory in Sri Lanka
We love tea, so it was an amazing experience to visit see the tea plantations and then visit a tea factory and learn how different tea are being made. Fun and educative!

Now the tips above are rather easy to follow if you are doing adventure travel like we did in Sri Lanka with elephant safaris, adventure hiking, tea plantations etc, or a beach holiday where sand and water play will keep your children happy (remember to bring some sand toys, or at least a couple of spades). But city destinations can be amazing too, and not just because they normally have a zoo or an amusement park. The City Walks with Kids -series (and other similar series) and fantastic. They have walking routes for places to visit with special points of interest for children, yet at the same time they teach about the history and culture of the place you are visiting, but in a fun way. This is what I love!

[City Walks with Kids packs above and London sticker book which I found on Amazon]

We have several city walks packs and our children love to use them for planning and choosing what to see – and we use them quite so often to see our “home town” London (we don’t live in London, but very close by). The first sight they children picked was Tower of London and we all loved the place. Additionally, most placed have little work sheets, treasure hunting or similar, as well as little free trinkets such as a badge and a pencil in Tower of London.

Currently our little ones are at a sticker age, which means that they can enjoy and learn from sticker books – this fun London one has been a success with our twins – and there are lots on offer in terms of sticker books and children’s maps from different publishers.

With these tips our travel has been a lot of fun with our children meaning that one can visit the cultural sights and museums without bored, fidgeting children – it just takes a little bit more planning to make it fun for everyone, and some adjustments are sometimes required if you let the children participate and pitch in when planning your travels…but letting children help will make them enjoy the journey more also…

Now I’d love to hear about your best travel tip when planning and travelling with your children! What are the things that worked well, and what would you advice to avoid when on the road with the offspring?

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