This guest post was penned by the mommy traveler aficionado, Carrie Simmons, visit her website at www.TravelWithKids.tv
Traveling to the grocery store with kids can seem overwhelming to many parents, so they can’t imagine traveling internationally. But it is an experience that brings families closer together and gives them memories to last a lifetime. The key to making it a great trip is lots of forethought and careful planning. As producer of the television series Travel With Kids, I have had plenty of opportunities to create excellent family vacations to exotic locales. So, I have put together a list to help you avoid the pitfalls of family vacations gone wrong.
1. Where to go? Decide where to go as a family. You may have ideas on your dream vacation, but giving the kids some input, even if it’s just deciding between two places you’d be happy to visit, makes them feel invested in the trip. Take into consideration what the kids are interested in or what they are learning about in school. If you have an animal lover, a snorkel adventure or a trip that involves hiking and animal spotting may be in order. If your child is learning about the ancient civilizations, a trip to Mexico’s Mayan pyramids helps history come alive. Don’t rule some place out just because other people say, “I would never bring my kids there.” Everybody is different. We (and our kids) have enjoyed many destinations that were typically “adult vacations”…like Paris and Peru.
2. Go Now! They are never too young to travel and you will be amazed at what they retain! Our kids still talk about places we visited years ago. If you keep putting off going some place, it may be a pitiful remnant of what is once was. A wise man once said, “There’s no time like the present.” In family travel this is truer than ever, as the kids get older and have more on their plates, you’ll find it harder and harder to get away. Plus, younger kids still have the active imaginations to make castles and pyramids come to life affording parents a fresh perspective and enthusiasm.
3. A Family that Learns Together. Don’t be frightened by the unknown. There’s no greater gift you can give your child than letting them see you learn. Showing them by example the steps it takes to learn about a new culture or language, try something new, maybe fail a little, but continue to persevere and find a passion for it, is one of the best lessons you can give your child.
And speaking of lessons, think about taking your trip during the school year. Going outside of summer often means it’s slow season, which means lower rates and more local flavor. If your child will be missing school, ask the teachers about getting class work to take on the road and sending in roving reports. With digital technology and the Internet, it’s like the whole class gets to go along for the journey. Plus, many teachers will give your child credit for their extra work.
4. Trip Before the Trip. Once you’ve decided where to go research the destination together by watching films on the destination or ones just filmed there. Nothing beats watching Jack Sparrow teeter along the ruins of Port Royal to get your kids excited for a trip to Jamaica. Or watch a travel documentary on the place or read a book about it together. Combining all this into a family night is a great way to get everyone excited. Our Travel With Kids DVDs always include movie and book recommendations as well as recipes and crafts related to the destination to make a great family night!
5. Where to stay? First let me say…it’s as true in hotels as it is in real estate…location, location, location. You don’t want to stay in a place where you have to hop a half-hour bus every time you want to go to the beach or into town. So, think about how you will be spending the bulk of your vacation time and choose a location that will flow with that. Staying in the “old quarter” of town or in real neighborhoods (versus at a large chain resort) provides a more authentic journey into a country, which is one reason I like to check out vacation rentals.
Vacation rentals can make vacation a home away from home. There’s plenty of room for the whole family to spread out. There’s a kitchen for either snacks or full-blown meals making traveling with a picky eater a breeze. Vacation rentals are also often in resident neighborhoods making it easy to befriend locals and get the insider scoop on the destination.
6. Pack it up! Packing is the next big worry for any traveling parent. My first advice…don’t stress. Remember, they have kids in foreign countries too. So, if you forget some essential, chances are you can buy it on the road. Of course there are certain exceptions to this rule like prescriptions, video tapes and DVDs… But as for the necessities, we’ve found diapers and baby food in even the most remote markets. And toys, well if worse comes to worst take a hint from the locals….we never knew how great a handful of stones could be until we watched a group of kids playing with them out the window in Asia. Next, remember to pack light. You can always do laundry along the way. So pack half of what you think you’ll need. Third, involve your kids in packing. By letting them choose what goes in the bag and what stays home, I eliminate the “This bag is too heavy!” or “I can’t believe you didn’t bring that!” comments.
7. Foreign Languages. There are some special things to take into consideration when visiting a foreign country. Remember, not everyone speaks English. Although we’ve seldom had a problem finding someone who speaks English, it’s amazing how far learning a few words in the local language will get you. When we were in France filming Travel With Kids Paris, the whole family learned basic greetings and pleasantries in French before we left and had a much different experience than friends of ours who tried to get by on English only.
8. Money, Money, Money. Keeping track of your money while you are traveling is very important. You don’t want to get half way through the trip and realize you’ve already spent your budget. Decide before you go how much money you’d like to spend then convert it (in your head not at the bank) into local currency. This will enable you to think in local currency before you arrive at a destination. But don’t withdrawl all that cash just yet, carrying all your spending money is just asking for trouble. We bring a few hundred dollars in cash dispersed to several places (two wallets, tucked inside passport carrier, in side pocket of carry-on, some in suitcase). The rest of your spending cash can be easily withdrawn from ATMs along the way but be sure to check with your bank about fees and accessiblity.
My other bit of advice…to keep your sanity and teach the kids a bit of math…give the kids a spending budget. Decide on an amount before you leave and give it to them at the start of the trip in local currency (this is especially fun for them if the currency trades in our favor…a 1000 bill in a foreign currency may only be worth $10 here, but it gets them really excited!) They then have to budget their money, negotiate purchases and convert to dollars to figure out if it’s a good deal. What a math lesson!
Now you’ve got the tools to plan the trip of a lifetime with your family. Decide on a destination and peruse the vacation rentals on this site. For a little extra guidance check out our travel documentaries. But whatever you do don’t wait. Before you know it, life will become more hectic, the kids more scheduled and you’ll think, why didn’t I go then?