The love of travel is perhaps one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children. It breeds curiosity, tolerance, adaptability and a sense of adventure. Whether it’s three hours or three continents away, traveling broadens the mind and restores the soul. Plus it’s just plain old FUN. But there is a difference between taking your children on a trip and cultivating a love of travel, and that difference lies in how you involve them in the process.
Get their input. Where do they want to go and why? What types of activities interest them? While an African Safari may be out of budget, perhaps a trip to an area zoo to see the new giraffes can be an adventure of its own. You don’t have to go far to appreciate and grow from the experience. Make a list as a family—no rules or restrictions—just let their minds (and yours) dream. You may not make it to Paris this year, but perhaps saving for it can be a family goal. To make the process even more interactive, pick up a My Family Travel Map from Lonely Planet Kids—it’s a cool way to plot your adventures!
Let them plan. Once you’ve decided on a place, let the children be involved in the planning. For an upcoming trip to the Keys, I tasked each of my children with finding and planning one family activity. Once they picked what they wanted to do they had to write down the cost, location, times and booking information. Though their goal was just to plan one activity, they ended up learning a lot about the islands’ landscape, history and wildlife in the process (parenting win!).
Document the trip. Whether it’s a travel journal or just a plain old notebook, have your children journal about their travels each day—taking note of famous landmarks, interesting facts, unique cultural traditions, what they ate and where they went. Yes, you may endure some whining initially, but once they get a few days in and can look back and be reminded of all they’ve seen and done they’ll come around. And one day these journals will be one of their greatest childhood treasures.
Hand them the map. As adults we often take it upon ourselves to navigate a new place. But you know how when you ride someplace as a passenger it’s hard to remember how you got from point A to point B? Kids are no different. Try giving them the map for a change. Let them be the ones to direct you and to get an understanding of the lay of the land. One of my favorite pictures of all time is my daughter at age seven walking down the streets of Florence, map in hand, directing 10 adults on where to go.
Make at least one day plan-free. While it’s understandable to want to see it all, sometimes the most memorable days of a trip are the ones that just happen organically. Forget the “tourist traps” and explore as a local. Ask your waiter about their favorite local hangout or strike up a conversation with a merchant and find the off-the-beaten-path hot spots.
Preserve your trip. In theory, creating photo book to commemorate a trip is a wonderful idea….in practice, it falls to about 297 on the priority list. Take the pressure off while still capturing the memories by creating a trip jar. I like to use mason jars but any size or shape container will work. Save plane tickets, restaurant menus, a seashell from the beach, whatever little meaningful mementos you find along the way. When you get home, print a few of your favorite pictures, label the jar and you have a quick and easy scrapbook.
One last bit of advice…every once in awhile forget everything you just read and simply pick up and GO! One of my family’s favorite trips of all time was when we spontaneously purchased plane tickets at noon, and by 1 p.m. were in the car, on the way to the airport with no hotel or rental car at our destination. Sure we were missing a shoe, and very few of our outfits matched, but there’s a certain excitement in just winging it!