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Planning International Travel with Kids

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As much as this will sound like a cliché, as parents, my husband and I feel we cannot prepare our children to be global citizens unless they have the opportunity to travel to other countries, learn another language or interact with people from another part of the world. We are passionate about exposing them to other cultures, ways of living, languages, cuisines, music, etc. We view international travel as a great way to instill intellectual curiosity, tolerance and an appreciation of other world views in our children. It is an experience that will without a doubt broaden their perspective.

Here are some easy and most of all, fun ideas to help you infect your child with the international travel bug:

Involve your children in your vacation planning

After you have selected your destination, point it out to them on the map and show them pictures of the famous landmarks you plan to visit. Discuss what are you planning to do and see. Talk about things you should pack and bring along. The whole family will be excited about your upcoming vacation and this is a great way to spend quality time together.

Our family has a big world map on the wall where we add pins for each new location we visit. For some reason, dropping a new pin always generates a ton of excitement when we plan our next trip, and it’s a great way for smaller children to learn about continents, neighboring countries, etc.

International travel - Our world map with destination pins

Our world map with destination pins.

Discover basic facts together with your children

Interesting things to learn about the country you plan to visit are its capital, size of the population, name of the president, its neighboring countries. There are some great, fun iPhone/iPad apps that can help you do this, such as Stack the Countries (designed for kids) or Countries.

Tip: Another great way to learn (and easily memorize) facts about a new country is by researching or pointing out facts that are of particular interest to children, such as sports. Cuba and Puerto Rico are known for their love of baseball. In Italy, Spain or Brazil the entire country shuts down during big soccer matches. Norway is home to some of the world’s best ski jumpers, and tennis star Djokovic comes from Serbia, which was part of Yugoslavia until that country split in the early nineties.

Learn the Language

If you speak the language of the country you will be visiting (or at least some of it), chances are you are already teaching your children some phrases. If not, take this opportunity to learn a few useful foreign words or phrases together, such as greetings, “thank you” and “please.” Once at your destination, make sure you practice with the locals and look for opportunities to learn others. After our whale-watching excursion in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, everyone in our family knows the meaning of the Spanish word “ballena.”

Tip: Purchase games that incorporate other cultures or languages and play them together at home and/or bring them along on your trip. A basic, but great example is Spanish Bingo, which our family likes to play, and it helped me learn a few new words myself.

Understand the History and Culture

Once you reach your destination, seek and expose your family to landmarks and sights with particular historical and cultural importance. (You will most likely be doing this anyway.) For kids, it is another easy way to learn and memorize history and geography facts. Seeing these landmarks/sights up close will leave a bigger impression than reading about them or looking at pictures in their school materials.

Find Authentic Experiences

Get a glimpse of “real local life” by trying famous local dishes or taking the local bus instead of a taxi. You might get entertained during your ride by local musicians as happened to us in Puerto Vallarta, and it will also be cheaper. See our tips for navigating public transportation with kids.

Visit a local show, such as tango dancing in Argentina or bull fighting in Spain or Mexico, or attend a local sporting event. My husband and son always jump at an opportunity to watch a soccer game at the local stadium cheering alongside local fans.

Start a Travel Collection

Kids of all ages love to collect things! Before, during and after your travels, help your child start a collection related to international travel. My son recently developed an interest in collecting foreign money, but you can think of many other ideas or memorabilia such as postcards, stamps, key chains, samples of sand, rocks, etc.

Explore New Travel Products

Several companies offer products that help “inspire a love and understanding of the world” such as Little Passports. Their international edition consists of exciting kits, each one dedicated to a different country, with maps, stickers, souvenirs as well as access to online games and activities, and there are different subscription levels. Recommended for ages 5-10, it will have your kids racing to the mailbox every month, excited to learn about a new country.

Have some of your own great suggestions? Please do share! In the meantime… Bon Voyage! Feliz Viaje! Gute Reise!… to you and your family!

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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