By Lisa Bellavin
You’ve probably seen that the dollar is the strongest it’s been versus the Euro in more than a decade. So if you have little ones – and we’re talking ages three through 10 here – this might be the best time ever to introduce them to the wonders of international travel.
But the logistics! The uncertainty!
Don’t be daunted. With their innate curiosity and boundless energy reserves, young children can make surprisingly great traveling companions. With advanced planning, flexibility and right expectations, you can create an international vacation that makes a lasting impression on your children and generates family memories that will last a lifetime.
Here’s a little advice to get you started from a parent who’s recently taken this adventure.
- Be prepared. Like super-prepared. In pre-kids days, you might have traveled by throwing caution to the wind and winging it. For kids, this isn’t always the best idea. Imagine stepping off a plane where the language, smells, advertisements, and landmarks are all unlike anything you’ve seen before. This can be unnerving for some adults; imagine what it can do to a child. The more in-control you are, the more secure your kids will feel. Know how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel before you land. Memorize your train route before you leave your hotel so you don’t need to consult maps, ask directions or make errors. Double-check the hours and days of operation for museums, shops and activities so you don’t find yourself showing up on an “off” day.
- Anticipate jet lag and schedule appropriately. Ever had jet lag? Not fun — but at least you can mentally process what’s going on. This is a much harder concept for children. All they know is that they feel sick and very tired, and no amount of reasoning will change this. Plan ahead for this temporary setback. Don’t schedule fancy dinners, tours or early-morning outings until later in your trip. Keep the first two or three days light and flexible with a few rest opportunities in between.
- Build excitement with apps, books and movies. Part of the fun of any vacation is the planning and anticipation, and parents have lots of options to get little ones excited about their trip. Apps like Duolingo and Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer get children thinking about language and the logistics of travel. Parents can get creative in building an air of curiosity about a specific place. Headed to France? Read Madeline! Visiting Austria? Watch The Sound of Music. The fun comes in cultivating in your children the same wonder about a special place that you have.
- Schedule one “off” day. Trust me: this is important. After traveling for a few days, both you and your little ones are going to want a day to sleep in, eat brunch and sit next to the pool with a good book. Just because you’re spending a huge chunk of money to go overseas, you don’t need to cram as much as you can into the time you’re there. Don’t forget: You’re on vacation! Plan a day in the middle to relax, don’t feel guilty about it, and hit those museums, shops and landmarks the next day refreshed and eager.
- Pack smart for day trips. This is pretty self-explanatory. Hungry kids are crabby kids, and whatever weather you dress yourself for is going to be the polar opposite of the weather they’re experiencing. A few minutes of preparation in the morning — grabbing water, a snack, a hat or hoodie, and some portable entertainment — can save a couple hours of whining in the afternoon.
- Prepare kids with words – “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” – in the local language, and encourage them to use them. Not only is it polite to speak to locals in their native language as much as possible, but it’s a super-cool way to introduce little ones to the concept that while we speak English, there are many other languages people use to communicate around the world – and some people know two or three or more. Also, a non-native child trying to speak the local language will melt locals’ hearts … every time.
- Make a point to visit areas where your children can play and socialize with other kids. The whole point of traveling is to immerse yourself in another culture, and this goes for kids and playtime. One of my favorite memories from my last overseas trip was watching my son and some other little boys try to talk to each other while feeding ducks at the zoo. Learning that other kids around the world are different but very much alike is powerful.
- Don’t forget the toys and DVDs. When suitcase space is at a minimum, it’s easy to leave these things home. But after a long day of sightseeing, parents and kids need to relax, and foreign-language TV in the hotel room isn’t going to cut it. Often the only English-language programming offered is news, which will hold a child’s attention only so long. A couple of familiar toys at the end of the day and an old-favorite video or exciting new cartoon can bring some much needed downtime.
- Give them money and encourage them to use it. Even the shyest kids can be empowered by seeing something they like and purchasing it with strange new coins! Teach your kids about the local currency and let them buy something, even if it’s a bag of candy from the department store or a pretzel from a local street vendor. Help them collect one of each denomination to put in their pocket for the day. Coins and paper money also make excellent souvenirs! Introduce your children to the “hobby of kings” before traveling and watch their interest in history and finance grow. We like A Kid’s Guide to Collecting Coins by Arlyn Sieber.
- Just go. And now for the most important piece of advice, from one parent to another: It always seems like the future will be a better time. The kids will be older, you’ll have longer to save, and prices might come down. But there is no time like the present to start making a lifetime of memories with your children. Kids who travel have a greater understand of cultures, geography and that one of the greatest joys in life is not simply acquiring “things,” but gaining new experiences.
Lisa Bellavin is community-relations manager for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.
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