How to get the kids excited about your next trip

So you want to tour Italy's Etruscan ruins but you have a sneering teen in tow, or a toddler who can shatter priceless artefacts with a single shriek? Just how do you get kids excited about the places you want to go? 

Look at things from their perspective, that's how. So even if it is a trip for you, don't ever let on. Take it from a travelling mother-of-three, plan it right and there's no need to shun culture in favour of theme parks just because the kids are coming too.

'Hurry or we'll miss the Antique Glass Museum's special exhibition!' squeals no child ever. Image by altrendo / Getty Images 'Hurry or we'll miss the Antique Glass Museum's special exhibition!' squeals no child ever. Image by altrendo / Getty Images

Choose the right destination for right now

Some destinations simply work better with children of a certain age. Selling New York to teenagers is a breeze but art galleries, shopping and fine dining can all be tantrum territory for tots. List your daydream destinations and figure out which would work right now and which are better saved for later.

Get everyone involved in the planning

You may have decided where to go but let the kids decide what to do. Get a guidebook aimed at children (such as Lonely Planet's Not for Parents series), let them pore over bright pictures, cool facts and crazy traditions and you may well be surprised by their suggestions. Let them loose on a tablet and they'll soon be shouting each other down trying to tell you what to do.

Little kids will gladly flick through Instagram or Pinterest, YouTube is a bottomless pit of visual teasers, and social-media savvy kids will soon discover the lowdown on where to shop, eat and hang out. In fact, they probably already know more than you'd ever like them to about warehouse parties in Berlin and full moon celebrations on Thai islands. Lay down the ground rules before you leave home – clear boundaries leave less room for arguments while on the road.

See the Hollywood version

Little kids get excited easily and Up, Rio or Madagascar will have them eager to hit the airport while older kids will find British colleges and medieval castles suddenly more appealing after a dose of Harry Potter. Don't be afraid to offer some cultural context by choosing films that address more serious issues like Slumdog Millionaire or Whale Rider - but steer clear of period dramas. Maybe Russian Ark or The Last Emperor inspired you to hop on a plane, but they'll incite little more than massive yawns and eye-rolling from your kids.

Scaling the walls at the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres, Spain. Image by Oda O'Carroll / Lonely Planet Scaling the walls at the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres, Spain. Image by Oda O'Carroll / Lonely Planet

Plunder the bookshelves

Tots will get fired up reading illustrated classics such as Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline series and Miroslav Sasek's This is New York/Paris/London. The gory details of Horrible Histories will bring everything from Roman ruins to World War II trenches to life, The Hobbit turns boring New Zealand road trips into voyages of discovery and if you're hell bent on a big museum visit, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweile is a fabulous tale about running away to live in the New York Met. Look out for destination-related titles in the Adventures of Bella & Harry series which blend fact and adventure. Steer Europe-bound teens in the direction of 13 Little Blue Envelopes or the Students Across the Seven Seas series.

Plan some action

Children couldn't care less about that stately home you want to visit but they'll change their tune once you show them photos of the adventure playground and giant zip wire in the grounds. Kids get psyched up about doing stuff rather than seeing things so try to find out what they can do at your destination, and if there's not much on offer find a water park close to those boring ruins or some vintage shops near that obscure art museum.

Ditch the bus

For most kids the prospect of a walking tour is akin to slow death but book a Segway tour around the sights of ancient Rome (romebysegway.com) and suddenly everyone will want to go. Hop on an Icelandic pony and a boring glacier tour is transformed into a wild adventure (mountainguides.is), explore the Dominican rainforest by high wire (samanazipline.com) or Krakow in a vintage Trabant (crazyguides.com) – just get creative and even the 'lamest' sights will be instantly cool.

Camping_cs 'The Loch Ness monster only shows up for really quiet, obedient children.' Image by David Epperson / Photographer's Choice RF / Getty Images

Tailor your trip

For especially tricky customers put your plans on hold and arrange a day entirely for them taking in all their favourite things: zoos and wildlife parks for animal lovers, flea markets and famous department stores for shopaholics, movie locations and famous recording studios for the hippest teens. Find their niche and sell it to them: think a tour of Paris's best patisseries for that baking-mad tweenie or grunge sights of Seattle for a rock-loving teen.

Let your children navigate

Avoid the endless 'Are we there yets?' and hand over the map. Mark it up for little ones with bright pictures of all the places you'll go and let them navigate. Knowing where they're going and what they can do there builds excitement and shortens the journey. Older kids love to take responsibility so let them navigate the subway and plan the quickest route between attractions to free up time for extra shopping.

Enjoying the view at stately Basildon Park, England. Image by Etain O'Carroll / Lonely Planet Enjoying the view at stately Basildon Park, England. Image by Etain O'Carroll / Lonely Planet

Assign an official photographer

Every child likes to take photos so invest in a sturdy model and you'll start to see things through their eyes – and get plenty of bonus shots of their shoes. The Vtech Kidizoom is practically indestructible while the Nikon Coolpix S31 is a great option for anyone more reliable. Tell the kids it's their job to document your trip, upload images for friends back home and send real-life postcards through web-based postal services such as cardsinthepost.com.

Selling the unsellable

When it comes to small children and large museums or withering teens and ancient ruins you sometimes have to be cunning to get them on board. Let little ones dress for the occasion (a knight's costume enlivens a trip to the most boring castle), give teens their own budget and the incessant nagging to buy 'stuff' falls away, let the kids build the playlist for your road trip, and like all good children, take turns. A morning doing what you want should always be followed by an afternoon for them.