When thinking about travelling with children, as adults we tend to focus on one angle: how do we have fun (and stay sane) while travelling with our kids?
There’s a flip-side to the coin: kids have to survive a trip with us and the inscrutable decisions we make when travelling, and we don’t always have their best interests in mind. Even when we do try to take the kids’ travel wishes into account, we can often get it wrong. You can spend a lot of time and money on a trip to Disney World, thinking it will be the best vacation your kids could imagine, only to find that their favorite part of the trip was the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the hotel. So what’s a travelling parent to do?
When you see a kid having a fantastic time, or quite the opposite, pay attention – there may be something you can learn about travel for yourself. Here are seven important lessons that kids can teach adults about travel:
1. Are we there yet?
Too much time in transit makes anyone grumpy. Don’t fill your precious trip time with long drives and boring layovers. If you have the option, choose fun modes of transit: steam trains, double-decker buses, seaplanes or speed boats often do the trick. If you’ve got no choice but to brave the long straight road ahead get the kids involved in navigating, keeping track of the distance and planning rest stops. You’re often close to some great things just a short drive from the direct route you’re on, so allow time to detour.
2. A taste of home can help sometimes
Kids tend to have little patience for bad food, and neither should you. And weird food? Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s just weird. It’s all about a balance. Local specialties are a great way to experience a place and street food markets in particular are exciting places to explore, but a dish from home can be exactly what you need to feel happy and comfortable somewhere new. So don’t miss Marrakesh’s Djemaa el-Fna, but the family might be happier dining in more familiar surroundings.
3. Release control
We drag kids all over the place, and sometimes we drag them somewhere and suddenly they’re having fun. They’re doing something new, something unexpected and spontaneous, and no matter how much they cried and whined on the way, it’s fantastic. The same can be true for you if you let someone else – maybe even your kids – take the reins and steer you toward something you never thought you would try. Surrender control of the guidebook and see where you get taken.
4. Make the world your playground
Okay, perhaps playing peek-a-boo with the person behind you on an airplane isn’t your style, but kids have the right idea: if it’s boring, turn it into a game. Treasure hunts in museums aren’t just for kids: they can be a great way to explore a popular attraction and leave the crowds behind. Can you spot the medieval galleon scribbled on the wall of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul?
5. Nap time
It doesn't matter how old you are, how much energy you have, or that you trip is coming to an end and you want to squeeze in as much as you can - everyone needs a break when travelling. Spent the day trekking from sight to sight around Rome? Sit down for a coffee and watch the world stream by, it might even energize you for more exploration later.
6. More parks and walks, fewer museums
Strolling city neighborhoods and local parks can provide some of the most fun and rewarding experiences on a trip, and they're always free. Sailing a model boat in the Jardin du Luxembourg or a fierce match of ping-pong in Bryant Park are fun (and thoroughly local) experiences for kids of any age. Carrying a hacky sack or fold-up Frisbee can give you all a chance to let off some steam and won’t weigh down your bag.
7. Again! Again!
Is your child the type that wants to read their favorite book over and over? If you do something that makes them laugh, do they want you to repeat it again and again? The same may be true with travel. Never underestimate the joys of a return visit to a treasured destination or repeating a great experience.
Inspire your kids to travel and start their own bucket list with Lonely Planet’s new Not For Parents series.
(PS. They're also available on the iBookstore! Check out Paris, Rome, London, New York and The Travel Book.)