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Family travel is undoubtedly rewarding and fun. It’s also labor-intensive and stressful for the parents who need to act as travel agents, navigators, offer personal packing services, and serve as tour guides. That can leave parents feeling deflated, frazzled, and unable to truly relax and enjoy themselves. No parent wants to feel like they need to take a vacation to recover from their vacation.
Parents can take some steps early on to make their kids independent travelers. As a bonus, kids who feel they have a stake in the process will not only be more enthusiastic about traveling but might develop a lifelong love of exploration. Arming kids with the confidence they need to plan and execute all aspects of travel with ease is a win-win for everyone — but it doesn’t happen overnight.
Start Them Early
Traveling with kids when they are still young is the best way to ensure seeing the world becomes part of their DNA. Getting out and about with babies and toddlers can be challenging, extended release prednisone but taking trips in the early years can be as simple or ambitious as you like. Even weekend trips or staycations in local hotels can get kids in the groove of packing, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, and trying new things.
Get Them Involved in the Process From the Get-Go
From planning to packing, even young children can play a role in getting ready to go on a trip. Younger children can start by making simple choices like choosing the type of food to eat one night, even if a parent selects the restaurant. They can choose between going to a children’s museum or the aquarium or deciding which amusement park ride to go on first. These small steps give children agency and help them realize early on that successful vacations involve a lot of decisions — big and small. As children get older, they can gradually take on more responsibility by identifying major sites to visit at their destination and building up to planning entire days. If parents are open to suggestions, they can ask their children for ideas about where to visit next, and build up to asking children to plan itineraries and develop budgets. If something goes wrong, don’t panic. It’s an opportunity to teach children how to be flexible and the importance of having a Plan B.
Given Them the Tools to Make the Journey Tolerable
As interesting as the destination may be, getting there may not be as fun. It’s well-accepted that devices make traveling easier. Kids who hate the process of traveling may grow up to be adults who hate traveling – and that’s boring. Books and sticker kits are great, but usually don’t hold kids’ attention for long. Regardless of screen time rules at home, many parents consider throwing those rules out the window on planes and long car rides. An Amazon Fire 7 is a great choice to keep kids happy throughout hours of travel. It is bigger than a cell phone but smaller than many other tablets, and has a long battery life making it great for travel.
No matter what kind of device kids are using, they need to stay charged. Fast, backup chargers are key. Get one that will last, like the Otterbox 3-in-1 charging kit that’s capable of charging a variety of devices at once.
Travel pillows and eye masks can help independent travelers get some rest on the journey so they arrive at their destination refreshed. Of course, good headphones like these from Puro are essential to ensure that kids learn how not to bother other passengers while blocking out the sounds of other travelers.
Learn and Learn Some More
Travel becomes much more engaging when children learn about where they are visiting. Sometimes this involves learning about the history of where you are going and what makes the place worth visiting. Other times it may mean learning cultural norms, such as needing to cover shoulders and knees at religious sites. Making children aware of these differences, and how to research them for your destination, can help make kids more confident travelers and teach them some important lessons about how to be respectful of cultures different than their own. If you’re traveling to a country that speaks a different language, encourage kids to learn some basic phrases so they can say hello and find their way to the bathroom on their own.
Make Sure They Know How to Stay Safe
In some destinations, being an independent traveler means being aware of your surroundings and different risks than you are used to at home. Tourists can be a target for pickpockets anywhere in the world. Another consideration is that in some locations, drinking tap water or eating raw food may be unsafe. While this isn’t cause for alarm, it is a reason to teach kids the skills they need to be safe anywhere in the world and the tools that can help. Simple steps, like using an Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt that is comfortable and discreet can help keep money and passports safe anywhere. Dehydration is dangerous so teaching children when they need to get bottled water, even for brushing their teeth, will help them be prepared to stay healthy. Teaching them to look for tools like Lifestraw water bottles with built-in filters can help them stay safe almost anywhere water is questionable.
Teach Them How to Get Around
Once kids have figured out the fun stuff like what to do and where they can find the best pizza, they can take on the responsibility of figuring out the best route to get from here to there. Is a plane, train, or automobile the best way to go? Many families cover a lot of ground on vacation. Help your child use a map or app that will help identify sites that are close to each other so you can make the most of your days. Does the city you are visiting have public transportation? Figure out what you need to do to pay, and use the public transit system where you are going. Start fostering this independence at home. Ask your kids to find a different way to get to school one morning and take them on a day of sightseeing closer to home using only public transportation and their feet. With enough practice, these skills will become second nature, and kids will be able to easily navigate nearly anywhere in the world you drop them.
Get Them Ready to Pack and Stay Organized on Their Own
Packing and staying organized away from home are some of the best skills for traveling independently that parents can teach their kids. This involves some common sense and a lot of the right gear. Kids can learn how to pack minimal clothing that all matches, and how to roll garments to save space instead of folding. No parent wants to be stuck with holding their own bags and all of the kids’ stuff while navigating an airport or new town.
BEIS Travel’s line of luggage designed for kids is a good place to start. Their child-sized suitcase is light and small enough for toddlers to use on their own, yet big enough to fit all of their clothes. Once kids get a little older, elementary-aged kids and up should be able to manage a regular-sized carry-on by themselves. Get one that will last and is very easy to maneuver like the Monos Carry-On Plus and that can serve as the foundation for a larger luggage set as they grow. The Plus has a compression pad and internal pockets that make it easy to pack more.
For those who prefer to travel and keep their hands free, learning to travel with a thoughtfully-designed travel backpack like the Peak Design Travel Backpack is a good start. Finally, another travel trick all kids should know is how to use travel cubes and a tech pouch to stay organized while packing and in hotels.
Family vacations don’t have to feel like work. With a little effort before, you can make things a little more effortless — and equip your kids for a lifetime of safer, more confident travel.
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