Where did the time go? It seems like last weekend I was sixteen with a backpack and a plane ticket, embarking on my first solo adventure. In the blink of an eye two decades have passed, four tiny travelers appeared out of the ether to join in the journey and all of a sudden plane tickets are a lot more expensive. It never occurred to me not to travel with my kids, I simply tied them on as babies and off we went, so it was with some surprise that I discovered that most people believe their traveling days are over once they become parents.
But I think children are the perfect traveling companions and seeing the world through their fresh eyes breathes a life back into the experience that we well traveled adults sometimes lose as we become slowly jaded, continent by continent. Whether you have a whole bunch of gypsy kids, like me, or one brand new baby like my friend Abby, let me assure you, your travel days need not be over, here are five things you can do today to begin to prepare your kids for big-time adventure:
Have Local Adventures
No need to spend big bucks, or disrupt toddler routines with hours in the car, trans-continental flights or weird food; start small and start at home.
If your long term goal is big-time adventure start small scale, right in your back yard. Buy the guidebook for your area and do all of the “touristy” things that you’d do if you were visiting a new city somewhere else.
Sleep in tents in the backyard and pretend you’re in Colorado. Ride your bikes ten miles to a friend’s house and sleep in their backyard. Go spelunking in local caves – it’s a good excuse to buy those cool head lamps you’ll use on your big adventure.
Start geo-caching in your area with your kids and let them experience the delight of a treasure hunt that has thousands of participants and continues all over the world. Look for ways to practice locally all of the adventurous things you’d like to do elsewhere in the world, but sleep in your own beds!
This is not just for kids. There is no better way to make it through the mundane than by having a great big dream, or several. Don’t let your kids get tunnel vision! Teach them to dream, stoke their imaginations with great books and movies and personal interaction with adventurers. Help them to look outside of their four walls, and then beyond your state, or country to the wonder of the great big world.
Create “dream posters” for your family using clippings from magazines or pictures from the internet of places you’d like to go and things you’d like to learn or experience together. Pick a new place or experience each month and learn more, figure out where to go, who to talk to and how to make the dream a reality. Teach your children to dream big dreams and then give them the gift of learning how to make their dreams a reality
“Sherp” Is A Verb
One of the big obstacles when traveling with kids is the prodigious amount of hear they add to the project. There are two solutions to this problem, first, pare down the gear; second: teach them to carry their own stuff. Of course, this is easier said than done and we fell upon the game of “Sherpa” quite by accident.
It happened in an airport, a week after watching a documentary about trekking in the highlands of Nepal. Having greatly admired the rugged fellows carrying loads long distances my children had decided that being the “Sherpa” was something to aspire to. For years they argued fiercely over who got to “Sherp” groceries, baggage in airports, day packs and the like.
If a kid can walk, he can sherp, even if it’s the tiniest toddler backpack with only his juice and goldfish crackers inside. Take day hikes and make it fun – load the kids’ packs with special treats and little surprises not to be opened until the end of the hike.
Choose packs that fit your child’s frame and remember that children should never carry more than 25% of their body weight and far less than that percentage will keep everyone happiest; 7-10 lbs of gear is usually plenty for a school aged child.
We live in a culture of excess and, unless you’re headed to a resort, traveling is often an exercise in discomfort and doing without. How can a parent prepare her child to meet these challenges with spirit? Try what we call “Deprivation Therapy.” Start by giving some stuff away. Find a good cause, learn about the plight of a people group in need, and donate some of the “extras” in your life.
Headed somewhere “off the grid?” Turn off the electricity to the house one evening per week, light some oil lamps and play Monopoly in the semi-darkness. Saving up for a particularly spectacular journey? Add to the savings by shutting off your cable and adding that money to the trip fund. Worried about keeping the kids entertained on a long flight? Take the DVD player out of the car and start practicing making your own fun while strapped in for short local drives.
All this “deprivation” doesn’t have to be dreary, it should be fun, a great game, part of the adventure, an experience in how the other half lives and a spring board to bigger, better, more far flung adventures in the future.
One of the things that causes kids (and parents) to freak out about major travel is the long list of routine disrupting cultural differences, especially those that affect health and hygiene. We thought a lot about this when our kids were tiny and decided to make the uncomfortable fun, by playing a series of games at home, ahead of time.
“Toothbrush Drills” before bedtime will help your kids learn to brush their teeth with bottled water and never rinse in the local tap water. For extra fun, stick one of those coloured bath tablets behind the screen in the faucet so that if a child accidentally turns on the water it runs out bright red or blue over their brush!
“International Dinner Night” is a great way to introduce your child to new foods and new customs. Provide chopsticks and no forks at all for Indonesian night, eat around the low coffee table for Japanese night, serve red beans and rice but nothing else for Belizian night, since for most local families, that would be dinner.
Serve a regular meal but announce that the family has been transported to a third world country and have the children identify and eat only what would be safe to eat there. (Hint: eat only what has been boiled or peeled and if there is any chance it would have been washed in local water, like salad, it’s not edible!)
“Bathroom Drills” will reduce your kids to hysterics. Set up a booth next to the bathroom and charge twenty five cents for admission and a wad of toilet paper. The advanced version of this game adds a plastic Coke bottle filled with water and a hole drilled in the cap next to the toilet (portable bidet). If only I could find a way to add a “squatty” to this game!
Think of all of the ways life will be different or difficult and create a game to teach the new skill, familiarize your child with the new culture and above all, make it fun!