Our oldest two children have each spent time in almost 20 different countries. They’re five and three.
And granted, they’re still young, so I don’t know what kind of travelers they’ll be as teenagers. But I can tell you that the seeds of wanderlust and adventure-love have been sown. We’re back stateside for the next year or so, and over the last few months they’ve asked why we haven’t been going on trips. (It’s because I had a baby, kids.)
If you’re a traveler, chances are you want to keep traveling even after you have kids. Try these ideas for raising children who share your passion:
Lay a foundation for good sleeping habits. Sleep training is controversial, I know. But in my experience, kids who have a good routine can tolerate a little traveling shakeup and go back to their solid sleeping patterns. Kids who don’t have a settled routine at home are already dealing with not knowing what comes next—but at least they’re on familiar ground. If there isn’t an established pattern to their day and they’re in a new place with different food, chaos ensues in their little heads—and it will reign on the journey, too. We like to have our traveling routine mirror our home routine—meals, naps, and bed at the same time if possible. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we try, and it really seems to help.
Start while they’re young. Don’t be afraid of traveling with your kids! Usually it’s the parents’ fear that holds them back from traveling, not the children’s behavior. I truly love traveling with my children, though it isn’t easy. It’s inconvenient. It can be stressful. I do lose some sleep and have to deal with fussiness. On the flip side, though, we make memories, inspire wonder, learn new things, and have fun together. The more often we travel, the more streamlined we get and the more rewarding it is.
Minimize stress. I like to be prepared with food, distractions, and any necessary medication. The more prepared I am, the less I stress. I’ll try to have a plan for the day instead of making it up as we go along. When traveling, there are lots of variables and chances for the day to take a different turn than I intended—so I don’t leave everything up in the air. After many evenings of wandering around unfamiliar cities looking for a good restaurant with hungry, grumpy kids (and parents!), I know we need a dinner plan before we head out, because I can’t make decisions on an empty stomach. If we find somewhere we want to go instead, great. But having a plan keeps the pressure off at that critical time of day.
Tell stories about the places you’re going. Kids love finding themselves in stories. My husband and I made a lame joke about “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” while we were in Athens, and it led to telling our boys the story of the Trojan horse. While we weren’t in Troy, they connected with the tale because we told it from the point of view of the Greek soldiers. They still ask for the story all the time, and love knowing that they’ve been to Greece. Read books set in the country or city you’ll be visiting, or even make up your own! My oldest asked me to tell him a story about a python while we were in Rome, so we named him Luigi and imagined what he’d do at particular sights we visited. Storytelling helped cement the memory of our trip in his mind.
The real key is this: Go boldly. There will be bumps in the road. But the more you practice, the better it gets.
One word of caution to those raising little travelers: Once your kids are bitten by the travel bug, that love for new adventures stays with them. My mom and my mother-in-law are in the stage of life where they lament getting us interested in traveling, because it means we’ve chosen a life spent moving around. They’d like to live near their their grandkids, but their children just won’t settle down in one spot! I expect I’ll feel the same way when we finally do commit to one location and put down roots…and my kids pick up and hit the road themselves.
How are you stoking the passion for travel in your children? Any tricks you have learned as you’ve journeyed this world with your kids you would like to share?