When it comes to traveling as a family, one of the great challenges is keeping everyone happy. With varying concerns and divergent interests come a host of challenges in selecting destinations. Add to that the logistics of traveling with children who may tire out, or whose appetites and attention spans differ from both adults and one another may seem like they add up to an insurmountable task.
There seems to be a tendency to cater to the youngest of children “on their level.” This can involve a host of very simple excursions and special “kid friendly” activities that end up being more “kid specific” and leave adults and older children out of the loop. Besides, few people want to go all the way to say, France, only to end up in a petting zoo indistinguishable from one a mile away from home.
We present to you three handy tips for traveling with very young (generally pre-school aged) children and still managing to excite the rest of the family while keeping the kids happy and ultimately providing the best experience for everyone.
1. Start Them Young
It is a simple fact that children learn things quickly and adapt better than adults to new circumstances. There can be a tendency among parents to allow their most protective nature to kick in and to possess some degree of fear about traveling with their youngest children. If not this, then the reluctance may come from a belief that the child won’t get anything out of the experience. While it is true that a 3 year old will not absorb nearly as much about the Louvre as a child 10 or even 5 years older, what they do gain is “travel experience.” Getting children used to the idea of traveling: the unique schedules, amount of movement, excitement and everything else that goes into it takes time. The younger children start, the quicker they will learn and the younger they will be when they get their “travel legs” under them.
There is a learning curve to getting around, touring and being in a new environment. Children who start younger are better placed to have more memorable vacations and better experiences in their life. Delaying travel until they are “old enough” is unnecessary. Take them wherever you go, and enjoy. Be prepared to be flexible, but take the kids!
2. Don’t Be Afraid to “Go Educational”
As mentioned earlier, there can be a tendency to “dumb down” activities for very young children out of a fear of either boring them, or of things going over their head. However children will surprise you, especially when they have been started young. Learning on vacation is different than learning in school or day to day life. It tends to be more hands on, situational and inherently engaging in a variety of other ways. The simple joy and excitement of being in a new places gets blood pumping, resulting in brains and bodies that perk up with an ability and desire to handle more than usual. A subject that may otherwise be over a child’s head may penetrate when a family is touring on vacation, more so than if the same topic were being taught in school. The strong visuals and other unique stimuli of a museum, historical site or other unique location make greater impressions than simply reading about them or seeing images in a book.
At the very least an educational experience gained at a very young age may plant a seed. While unable to fully grasp a concept or understand an exhibit; images, thoughts and emotions are imprinted. A child may grow more likely to want to learn about a subject later in life when they have a memory associated with it from a young age. They may choose to come back when they are older, or otherwise seek out and fill in the knowledge they were unable to on that first visit. Don’t look at it as a lost experience, but an initiating experience with a place or subject.
3. Vary Activities
One of the keys of travelling with children of any age, but more important still with very young ones, is keeping the day exciting and engaging for them. For this reason we strongly recommend alternating quieter/educational experiences with active/just for fun ones. Children don’t like to, and may not even be capable of, doing one thing for too long. After a long period of sitting still, or a morning of walking, or some extended stretch of time in which they must “keep it down” they start to get antsy. However, a quick visit to a park for some sun and running around, a nice snack along the water or a chance to do a craft project or something more hands on will often rejuvenate them to the point where they can handle another “grown up” outing.
Don’t block all the adult or educational parts of your trip into a single day or a single part of the day. Look at traveling with young ones as a “one for us, one for them” experience and everyone will feel more refreshed and better able to enjoy all of the activities laid out for the trip. Kids can be far better sports than you may think when it comes to this, but it is also important to meet them halfway.
Young children are capable of doing much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Use all these tips together and you’ll be on your way to enjoying vacations that will both be better enjoyed by, and better benefit the whole family.