The Travel Challenge: Take a Child’s-eye View First
When my daughters were 9 and 7 years old, our family moved from Massachusetts to Washington State. My wife and I, in our infinite wisdom, decided to make our move into an exotic adventure. We would drive across the country in the late spring--Why take major highways when we could explore the back roads of our great nation? Why not camp and only occasionally stay at motels? Our station wagon was packed so tightly with gear that we needed a crowbar to fit our children into the backseat. Our 7-year old was carsick and screaming after the first 10 miles of winding roads--Only 2,990 miles to go.
By the time we reached Minnesota, I was ready to sell the car and buy four plane tickets. It took our family a year before anyone could mention “the trip”.
We were dumb.
Moving, especially to faraway parts, is pretty scary for school–age kids. This is not a good time for more adventure. Keep travel short and sweet. Make your move as undemanding and predictable as you can. It may not be the most exciting trip for adults, but your kids will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Traveling with children requires looking at the world through your kid’s eyes. If your children are over 12 months old, you may remember child-proofing your home. Crawling along the floor, at toddler-level, parents see the world through their youngster’s eyes. Good travel planning requires the same perspective. What will this trip be like for my child? What will appeal to her? What will she hate? What will we need to make it worthwhile and a safe experience for everyone?
Good planning is critical. Do your accommodations have age-appropriate activities and equipment for your children? How big is the room? Who is willing or not willing to share a bed? What types of restaurants are nearby? Does the room have a small fridge? My kids had only two requirements when we hit the road—a swimming pool and nearby playground.
Car travel, especially for younger children, can be challenging. Most small kids don’t enjoy staying in one place for a long time. When our kids were little, we often took long car trips late at night. It was a hard on us, but our youngsters would be happily asleep in the back seat. When planning our daytime routes, we kept in mind kid friendly stops every few hours. Each child had an activity bag filled with stuff to do. Now kids can pig out on video games and movies. But some kids get car sick when watching video’s in the back seat. Playground stops are required. Sometimes a parent needs to get into the back seat to squash arguments and fighting.
Planning vacations for young families require child-centered thinking as well. Children love predictability and sameness. Kids experience constant change, both internally and externally. They love anything that stays the same. Staying at a different motel every night can tax even the most adaptable youngster. Some families choose a yearly vacation spot. Every year, they return to the same campground or location. Children love to anticipate this yearly ritual, and they relish its similarity to “last year”. Every year we went to Cape Cod, and our kids now 30 and 32 still want to come with us!
Travel with teens offers its own challenges. Adolescents don’t always want to spend time with their parents. Movies, malls, and other teens are good to keep in the vacation vocabulary. If it’s possible, let them bring along a friend. They will keep each other occupied.
Finally, keep travel and vacation expectations in check. Expect some difficult moments when family members are tired, hungry, and grumpy. Don’t let those bad moments interfere with your enjoyment of the good times.
Share your travel tips!