If your family is missing travelling and your kids are knocking around at home due to lockdown or social distancing measures, maybe now is the time to teach them some of the essential skills needed to plan a trip. From research and budgeting to time management and some basic knowledge of the local language, preparing for a trip involves brainpower, and children from ages eight and up can start to apply theirs to create their dream city break.

To help them (and you) along the way check out our ideas below. Depending on everyone’s levels of enthusiasm you can create a simple fact file with some of the key things you need to know, or you can go all the way to a fully-fledged scrapbook with every aspect covered, pictures and annotations to accompany the plans and a career as a travel agent in the offing.

You can, of course, apply this approach to a bigger trip than a city break – but a shorter trip to a recognisable and geographically limited area is a good starting point. From there, the world’s your oyster when it comes to ‘Project: Plan Your Trip!’

Where to go?

As any experienced traveller will know, deciding where to go in the first place can be the hardest job. Under normal circumstances you might get the children to scan the offers from airlines for a good deal, but for now start with brainstorming a list of cities the children have heard of and get them to write down why they would like to visit.

A good place to start could be Lonely Planet Kids’ Cities Book, which gives a double-page guide to 86 different cities or simply use a map to see which cities are relatively near your home. And don’t forget too that personal recommendations are worth their weight in gold: get the kids to ask their nearest and dearest for advice on the next video call. Develop their decision-making and prioritisation skills by getting them to create a shortlist with pros and cons for each destination.

travel panning concept with open notebook, map, sunglasses, passport
Kids can plan trips and itineraries from home. Image: Getty Images

Book the basics

Once your new travel agents have decided on where to go, they need to think about some of the basics for the trip: when to visit, how to get there and where to stay. When to go will be largely determined by the weather so a quick google of ‘average weather in xx city’ will give them a good starting point. Tourist board sites for destinations will also provide a useful steer in terms of big events, depending on whether the kids want to avoid them or attend them!

When it comes to travelling, if you are lucky enough to have more than one transport option to your destination, this again necessitates the creation of a list of options with pros and cons – and the chance to have a discussion about sustainable alternatives to air travel.

Despite worldwide restrictions on travel at the moment, airline sites and SkyScanner will still give you flight prices and times. However, you will need to have another conversation (look at all these opportunities to enhance their learning!) about how prices are potentially distorted at this time.  

 Overhead View Of Young Woman Working Remotely On Laptop
Including your child in finding accommodation can teach them about their destination. Image: Guerilla Images/500px

Finding a place to stay 

The last key element that needs to be sorted is where to stay and, with the internet awash with accommodation options happy to take your money, this is where some important research skills can be taught. This is not a job to be rushed: the children need to work out whereabouts you want to stay (often articles in newspapers on a destination or sites such as Lonely Planet can help with this overview), and then plug the dates and location into a hotel site such as Booking.com or Expedia to see what comes up.

While the pictures are a useful aid, learning to read the small print and other people’s reviews (but also how to take these with a pinch of salt – critical thinking!) is also a key skill. Ask your planners to nominate their top three places to stay along with the cost, cancellation charge and why they think you should stay there.

Do not forget to start a budget tracker where all the main costs are included and noted. There are plenty of templates available on the internet which older children might find helpful but for younger children, it might be easier to keep it simple with lines for transport (including to and from the airport or train station), hotel, costs per day for eating, admission, and souvenirs.

Plan your time

Even if your family normally takes a more spontaneous approach to their trips, for the purposes of this exercise it pays for the kids to work out what you will do each day. A three-day plan is a good starting point: they need to establish a key highlight or attraction for each day and locate some good lunch and dinner spots which reflect the local culture and cuisine.

As you’re going as a family, make sure they think about some fun things for themselves and not just the world-famous attractions. For younger kids this might be playgrounds and parks, for tweens and teens somewhere a bit trendy to get that crucial selfie. You might also want them to think about how your family can ensure you are supporting community organisations and potentially doing something to give back (such as joining a litter pick-up or taking a tour with a local independent guide).

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Teenagers could plan for the perfect spot to take photos or selfies.  ©Lukasz Pajor/Shutterstock

Of course, they will need to keep the budget up-to-date with their spending plans. Useful indications of costs in different cities can be found by searching ‘Money & Costs’ with the city name on LonelyPlanet.com.

This could also be the point to throw in some language learning. After all what better way to remind the kids about why it’s good to know at least some words in another language than to role-play asking for a sandwich and a drink as part of your trip planning? Basic travel-related words can be found on Lonely Planet Kids’ audio site and the BBC has a useful hub to get them started.  

Woman hand preparing summer luggage. A phone, a hat and clothes are in her suitcase.
Kids can get involved in creating packing lists. ©bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

Create the packing list

Another useful exercise which develops independent thinking, as well as planning skills, is to ask your mini travel agents to create their own packing list. This means thinking through what is needed for each element of the trip, from clothes to essentials such as money and passports, and onto anything entertainment-wise (cameras, books, chargers, but also specific clothing if you plan to do something that involves covering your shoulders or being smart, for example).

Take this challenge to the next level by getting them to split the packing into hand luggage and hold baggage or set them the aim of going hand-luggage only!

Telling the tale

With all the hard work that has gone into planning this trip, it seems a shame not to be able to take it. Unfortunately, we can’t magic up the ability to travel again but you could utilise a combination of virtual tours, images of the city, blogger sites and your kids’ amazing imaginations to get them to create their own recount.

Add imagery through sketches of famous landmarks or pictures from the web and get them to interview, via video call, people they know who have visited the city to build up a good sense of the place. This could even be the time to start them blogging.

From bloggers to travel agents, ninja planners to budget superpowers, we don’t know why we’ve not thought about Project Plan Your Trip for our children before. 

You might also enjoy: 
7 ways to incorporate travel into homeschooling
9 ways to teach your kids about the world without leaving home
How to learn a language without leaving your house

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

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