Traveling With Kids: Tips For a Smooth Ride

Thinking about heading out into the world but feel concerned about bringing the kids along? Traveling with kids is a lot easier and more rewarding that one might think. Yet, I had to consult with my 7 year old daughter on this one. We just got back from a 10 month journey around Peru, with nothing more than a suitcase each. When I asked what her biggest takeaway was from this big adventure, she just said “ I learned that Peru is really nothing like California”.  I didn’t think much of her answer at first, but now I think it sums up what travel is about. We went to a totally new reality where her perceptions of life and normalcy where turned upside down…and she couldn’t have known that until she was back on the other side.

Before our big adventure, our travel had been much more typical… shorter trips, more pre-planning, and often with other people involved. This time we set off to Peru for a supposed 2 month vacation. But with no pressing needs to come back to, an organic long-term trip evolved of its own accord. Now in a couple of months we’ll be heading on a one-way ticket to Europe for round two, but this time I’ll be able to practice ahead of time for the things I learned on the go.

Get a (fresh) Routine 

When we first arrived to Peru, we stayed on the move for about 6 weeks. Even traveling at a slow pace, changing hotels, scenery, and taking ongoing buses/trains/planes tired my daughter out. By the end she didn’t really care where she was, she just wanted to stay put. So we rented a house for a month in the jungle and enrolled her in the local school. Having a routine, even a new one in a totally different language, helped her regain her energy and vibrancy. Kids gets travel fatigue too, and much quicker than adults. In retrospect, keeping constant travel to a 3 week maximum would have been ideal, breaking it up with fresh routines and structure along the way.  For our next trip I’ll make sure to stay put for 2 weeks as soon as we arrive, to get our bearings before setting off again.

A Flexible Education

Education is a life long process, and the classroom is not the only way to learn. I left for Peru with a folder of worksheets, but found that there was much more learning to be had at every opportunity. Playing with kids and even watching local tv helped her pick up Spanish fluently. New currencies, calculating travel times, distances and counting in a new language augments math skills. Observing wildlife, land formations and the night sky opens up investigation into science categories such as biology, geology and astronomy. Keeping a journal with illustrations charting experiences ties language skills directly into the moment, and does away with the boredom that comes with abstract lessons on her grammar worksheets.  I found out educators call this a rhizomatic education, where learning evolves organically as a result of experience. That means you can set learning goals, but if you end up being inspired by something completely different, you go with it. Through his process even I learned new things (like why Pluto isn’t in the solar system anymore). Kids are curious by nature, so you’ll likely have to do a lot of googling in your own time to satisfy their questions.

Comfort Tools

Kids need creature comforts just like adults. Except they can’t grab a glass of wine at the end of a long day or book a massage. I realized that with so much change and constant uploading of new information, dynamic, and structure, always keeping certain comfort items and routines helped create a feeling of control. She travelled with 3 favorite toys and other trusty items that brought her calm at any time. Having a couple favorite movies available in English (regardless of wifi connection) and comfort snacks (sometimes a granola bar can fill an emotional gap more than another new flavor can) go a long way. Of course, we only relied on these tools 2% of the time, but having them to hand prevented unnecessary stress and breakdowns.

In the end, these tips are only the minor details, but they can make a major difference to travel ease. Outside of this notetaking, the rest of our journeying went smoothly. Kids are naturally resistant and open to change, so being on the move was a source of near-constant excitement. She would gaze in wonder at traditional highland dress, sing along to local pop songs on buses, and generally walk around with her eyes as big as her head. Now back in California, I realize that she’s changed…she eats a huge variety of foods (spices, even curry!), speaks another language, knows all about jungle nature, and is far more mature than when we left a year ago.

Make this life a wonderful adventure.

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