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Raising Adventurous Children (Or, How To Become A Brave Traveler)

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We have a family understanding on vacations.  No matter what our comfort zone is at home, we agree to try new things and push the boundaries on vacations.  This sounds like a no brainer, but what do you do when you have a reluctant child (or parent, for that matter)?  As a little background, we have an evenly split family.  My husband and older daughter will eat absolutely anything.  Things that make my tongue quiver with fear are gulped down before I can blink twice.  My younger daughter and I are much more cautious with what goes in our mouths.

On the other hand, that same daughter and I are likely to be the first to try a new adventure, while my husband and other daughter might hang back, a little more subdued.  In order to encourage our children to be adventurous, we try to create an environment that is safe for taking risks in both our culinary and activity choices.  No one is forced to try a new food or do something they don’t want to do, but the opportunity is available.

Adventurous Eating

We have a very strict “no chain, no fast food” policy on vacation.  While I love a Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a chain restaurant steak, I can get those less than five minutes from my house.  Why would I fly to another country or drive a thousand miles for that?  Likewise, we absolutely do not order room service.  Part of the fun on a vacation is finding new restaurants and new foods.  At restaurants, my husband and oldest daughter are likely to order the most outlandish entree available while my younger daughter and I take a decidedly safer route.  Once the plates arrive, each person has the opportunity to share bites and taste new dishes.

How do we choose a restaurant? 

I always ask the concierge at the hotel for restaurant advice.  I also ask the bell staff, front desk attendants, and any housekeeping staff I might see.  I usually frame the question as situational, If you could go out to eat anywhere in town after work today, where would you choose?  Or perhaps, What is your favorite meal in town?  This gives me a wide array of answers.  Often the largest, most crowded restaurant is not the tastiest.

I also love to check out options presented by Food Network shows.  Who recommends a restaurant, and why?  I then weigh all of those answers.  There have been times we’ve gone against advice and gotten scrumptious meals. I’ve also taken the advice of a television show and left sadly disappointed, but all of that is part of the adventure.

Adventurous Vacation Activities

How do we try new activities? 

In much the same way.  If someone is against an activity (usually a fear of the unknown), we don’t force participation.  Offering the opportunity to do something without fear of ridicule or pressure is a tactic that works very well with my children.  This is an attitude that has to be built throughout several months or years.  It is an ingrained trust in each other.

The first time we went whitewater rafting, we were all a little nervous.  No one forced anyone to participate, but we equally encouraged each other through the trepidation of facing Class II and III rapids.

On the other hand, the girls and I were all very excited about going horseback riding in the mountains a few years ago.  Once on the horses, my older daughter decided that she absolutely did not want to go and begged to skip the ride.  The girls and I opted out of the ride and wandered through fields of wildflowers instead.  When the group returned, we learned that the horse that my daughter had been on was spooked by a clap of thunder and threw the rider who was then stepped on.  My daughter’s fear had been manifested.  A few months after that trip, she decided she was ready to conquer that fear and she chose to have her birthday party at a local stable where she rode horses all afternoon.  She faced her fear on her own terms and that has made her a stronger child.

You have to find the balance that works in your family.  In order to develop adventurous children, offer the opportunity to step outside of the box, but don’t force the issue when you travel with children.  It will come.

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Heather and her family were born and raised in east Texas, where she is an assistant principal. Her husband teaches high school chemistry and her daughters are…

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