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Traveling with kids is always an adventure. You can never truly cover all your bases. It can seem like information on how to prepare your kids for a trip is adding one more thing to travel planning! However, these tips will get you much closer to happy kids invested in your vacation.
Read books about the place you are visiting.
I read Anne of Green Gables to my boys on our way to Prince Edward Island (my husband was driving, not me!). A history book or even a fictional book that takes place in your destination will allow them to feel invested in this new place. You can also watch a movie at the very least. The Pippi Longstocking movie before our trip to Sweden was more interesting to my kids than the book.
Find recipes to make and sample some of the food typical of where you are going
When I was 18 my parents, my 4 siblings and I drove from Amsterdam to Amman, Jordan, over the course of 2 weeks. It was a wonderful and horrible trip all at the same time. We were squished with all of our luggage into a small SUV in the days before the internet, and some of our hotels were very misrepresented. Plus there was a heat wave gripping Europe. We slept outside on the ground in Switzerland (no hotels available), shared 3 beds between the 6 of us in Germany, sweat through all of Italy and Greece, and loved Turkey and Syria before making it back to Amman after 7 years away.
However, my poor little 6-year-old brother subsisted at the time on an exclusive diet of hot dogs and Doritos and could find nothing he wanted to eat. He refused all food on the basis that it smelled weird. I think he was pretty miserable until my parents found some chips that sufficed. The chips worked because they were familiar.
We now have a picky little eater of our own. We have done research before we go anywhere. We made sure he like meatballs with gravy before we went to Sweden. We got Icelandic yogurt at the grocery store to prepare him for Iceland. If you want some ideas of food to make before your trip visit My international recipes Pinterest board.
Most cultures have some food that parallels the food your children like. For example, french fries are fairly universal and, although it won’t be the healthiest option, it will keep them fed.
Also, grocery stores are very likely to have familiar foods, so have a grocery store dinner every now and then.
If another language is spoken in your upcoming vacation spot, pull out your Rosetta Stone tapes, download Duolingo, or watch a movie from the country to where you are headed. Teach your kids how to say “hello” and “goodbye” at the very least. If they are older, teach them how to say “I am lost”, “please call”, etc. If the language is written differently than yours, teach them some letters as well.
Our favorite for learning languages on the go is Pimsleur Language Programs
We are working on learning Norwegian right now! We put the cd’s in the car or play them from our phones. That way we can all learn a language together.
Give some context
Talk about and read about the sites they will be seeing. I get so much more out of something if I have some background information. Your kids have less general knowledge then you so give them bits they can handle. Capitalize on their passions, and give them something to look forward to that is theirs alone!
My favorite way to do this with kids is with Little Passports They get a box in the mail each month with games, basic knowledge, pictures, and souvenirs from different countries.
Know your kids strengths and weaknesses
If you have an anxious child, show them the basic agenda. If you have a willful one, give them some input into the things that you do. If you have two that always fight, make sure they don’t sit together on the airplane or in the car. We have found that by tailoring things to our children, we have happy participants instead of grumpy obstructionists!
The more you can prepare your children for your trip, the smoother it will all go. Instead of dragging them along, you are making them part of the excitement and ensuring their cooperation. Not only that, you are giving them context to the world that they will carry with them for their lives.