“Collect experiences not things”. It is a common proverb seen on most social media timelines, commonly in the form of a meme. However when it comes to children and travel, the very thought for some parents is as appealing as another pregnancy cramp.
If you’re concerned your next family trip will be a laborious experience of no real benefit to your family, then fear not. Travel should be viewed as an educational experience for your child. Below are tips and actions I use to enhance my daughter’s (Ariana) travel experience.
The objective of enhancing your child’s travel experience will enable them to use travel as an educational experience which will strengthen their development.
Always ask your child questions.
Throughout the course of any trip, I ask questions to engage Ariana (although not to the point of annoyance where every single experience is questioned). This will help confirm her experiences and provide opportunity to open dialogue with your child. During our trip to Indonesia, we constantly asked Ariana about the different vehicles and places she saw during our road trips. We caught her eagerly looking out the car window, which would prompt us to ask “Ariana what are you looking out?”, her response would confirm her experience and allow us to elaborate on what that experience meant (e.g. informing her that the building she saw was a hotel or the bike she saw was a rickshaw/ becak). By engaging with your child, you will also enhance your relationship with your child, as they will then become inclined to ask you questions should they become unsure about other experiences they encounter, thus forming a closer bond with your child.
Limit screen time (iPad/ mobile phones) to the plane only.
Screen time is the enemy of travel. It is the Taylor Swift vs Kanye West of your child’s development during travel (i.e. they are not meant to get along). If your child is constantly viewing a screen during the course of a holiday, then they will not take advantage of the educational travel experience on offer. They will not experience the wonderful forest you visit or the exciting hawker centre, instead their only experience will be the high score they achieved on angry birds. Having a child reliant on screens, will create a situation of conflict, in which any time away from the ‘comfort’ of a screen will likely cause tantrums. However this rule does not apply to the long haul plane flight, where you need any distraction away from the cramped conditions on most economy flights.
Expose your child to local cuisines.
This is not a suggestion to expose your child to the roasted grasshopper commonly seen in Latin America, rather it is opportunity to expose to them to foods they would not encounter in their home country. If you’re traveling through Asia, this is an opportunity to expose them to a local fried rice or noodle dish (rather than a pre-packed puree). Traveling to a new country is an opportunity to expand your child’s culinary tastes. If you constantly provide pre-planned food, then you will lose an opportunity to steer them away from their usual routine of purees and yogurts. However this tip is not suitable for children with eating allergies or deficiencies which require a pre-planned eating routine.
Allow your child to speak to the locals
Whether your child is speaking fluently or not, having your child interact with another child in a foreign country, is great exposure to another culture. It is not a way for your child to become an anthropological expert, rather it is an introduction to another culture that will challenge their development. Having your child interact with another child who speaks another language will allow your child to become more open-minded to people of different cultures and background. They will become aware that other children guage the world differently to themselves, allowing them to possess a more inclusive character as they develop.
Create a sense of adventure
Playing hide and seek in Penang (Malaysia) was a great way for Ariana to gauge her surroundings, whilst having fun at the same time. Creating a sense of adventure, whether it is through playing a game or descriptive storytelling, will initiate greater excitement for your child. The excitement created from a sense of adventure will allow your child to become a more involved learner. They will become more invested in the foreign text they see on a temple wall, or the graphic drawings of the local gallery. Of course you want to avoid disrespecting locals (e.g. choosing to play hide and seek within a religious temple), as you seek to create a sense of adventure for your child.
Before you travel, expose your child to the destination
Before our trip to Indonesia, we ensure we expose Ariana to Indonesian themed reading material or You-tube videos of famous cities and landmarks that Ariana would be exposed to before our trip. The intention of this pre-exposure is to create a sense of excitement for the upcoming trip. The more you saturate your child , the greater their infatuation will become for their upcoming trip.
Don’t confine yourself to your child’s sleeping routine
As parents we’re a slave to our child’s sleep routine, parents follow their routine more closely than a Kardashian Instagram account. By not following your child’s sleep routine, this will provide a clear indication that they are away from home which will then create a sense of excitement to explore their foreign destination. From my experience Ariana gets very excited if she knows, she is able to sleep at a later time. The payback for allowing your child to stay up longer is an excited child ready to engage and learn from the experiences of their travel. Of course the downside to this, is that it will become harder to train them back into the routine once you get home, however this is compensated by the learning experience your child is exposed to.
After the trip, review your child’s travel experiences
With any positive learning experience, it is essential to review their experience in order to confirm any lessons your child acquired during their trip. We make it a habit, to ask Ariana about her holiday experience, and of any highlights she encountered.
The above tips are great to help me turn any trip with Ariana, into a fun and enjoyable learning experience. I’m sure other parents will have other tactics in ensuring their trip is a great experience. Each child will have their own quirks, but the key is to dismiss any prejudice you have about traveling with your child, and ensure it used as effective experience for your child’s development. Whatever misgiving you have about traveling with kids, can be replaced by the wonderful opportunity traveling with your child offers in order to strengthen the parent-child bond.
Chris & Ariana.