19 Mar Practical, Playful, and Profound: Great Journeys With Kids
This is a guest post from a friend and fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Deidra Razzaque. Deidra is a transformative travel coach, writer, artist, educator, and mother of two kids. Her whole family recently returned to her Peace Corps host country, Costa Rica, for a family trip. Today she shares with us some tried and tested tips for successful travel with kids. Find her here: At Home in the World.
As a parent, I’ve been feeling lately that we are living in a globally unprecedented time.
Think about it: today many of our children have easy, rapid, 24/7 virtual access to millions of facts, photos, and actual people throughout the world. And many families today find themselves traveling and living abroad in increasingly novel ways—beyond sight-seeing, visiting friends and family, and learning languages on short trips, more families are becoming part-time nomads or spending years abroad. Some kids are experiencing global education systems, while some are homeschooling and unschooling within cultures beyond their own.
All of these experiences are leading many parents and children to form connections and collaborations with global communities, to feel increasingly curious about new places and people, and to think beyond themselves in ways that would have been unheard of even a decade ago.
At the same time, global strife and changes in the political climate in many parts of the world has led to an increase in “othering.” While our kids have more opportunities to empathize with others in a global context, they are also receiving messages that the world beyond what they know—whether it’s thousands of miles away or right next door, is something to fear.
So what does this all mean today when we travel with our kids? I think it means that if we want to increase our family’s intercultural agility, traveling in an intentional way is vital. Below are some ideas to consider.
Involve Kids in Travel Planning—to the extent they want to be involved
Let your kids participate in planning, but recognize what that might mean for them, in particular.
My daughter wants to know, a long time in advance, where we might go and what we might do there. She really likes to hear about possibilities, and then yeah or nay things. Sometimes it takes her a long time to warm up to the idea of visiting a certain place, but once she decides, she gets so excited that she could easily star in commercials about the place. My son, on the other hand, gets stressed out if he hears too much before we travel. Just a wee bit of information can lead him to say that he would rather stay home. We know now that, at least at this stage, he just wants to stay more than one night in a place that isn’t our place. And he always has a ball wherever he is.
Encourage your kids to tell you what they might need to make a particular journey a success. Especially if you know that weather, insects, foods, or other experiences have made them uncomfortable in the past, help them think about how to manage those situations. Or if there are particular people or experiences they might miss while you’re traveling, can they create small keepsakes or rituals before they leave that will help them feel more at peace?
My daughter, who was born in the tropics but has always loathed feeling hot, has taken to stashing a supply of paper fans in our luggage. And she is crazy about those scarves that you can rinse in water to keep you cool. Traveling with her is much more fun when she has these items.
Rest and nurture yourselves when kids (or parents) are tired and grumpy
Does this seem obvious? Maybe. But in an era where, even while pumping gas, we are bombarded by someone talking at us on a screen, I think it’s easy to forget what rest looks like. And kids are usually even more sensitive than adults to all the sights, sounds, and energies coming at them. And when they’re done, you know that they’re usually really quite completely utterly done. So before they get to that stage, take a break!
Think, before you travel, about what rest means for your child. Maybe there are particular snacks that your child loves. Essential oils or other remedies might help your child feel calmer and renewed. A favorite book or toy can bring solace.
In our house, we have a running list of what helps each family member feel safe and calm. That way if one of us is on the verge of losing it, someone else can say, “Hey, you said that X helps you calm down. Do you want to try it?” Usually these things are portable—getting a hug, singing, holding hands with someone and jumping, and writing or drawing are some things that have been on our lists. Before traveling, ask your loved ones what helps them to feel calm.
Watch the world together
Particularly with kids, it’s fun to imagine what your lives might be like if you lived in a certain place. Sit in a park and just notice what’s happening. How do people here interact with one another? What seems to make people here laugh?
You can make it a game to be quiet for three minutes, and then share three things you each observed.
Being still and watching unfamiliar surroundings can help you understand the energy of a place. It can also help you connect more fully with the people you meet there. And of course, it can help you and your kids feel more calm, grounded, and ready for the rest of your travel adventure.
Plan scavenger hunts.
Seeking something out in a place encourages you to delve more deeply into that place. A scavenger hunt is a game in which individuals or teams need to collect certain objects. In my family, we sometimes plan physical scavenger hunts, and sometimes we have photo scavenger hunts, where the idea is to take pictures of the objects we’re trying to find. It occurs to me just now that, during our next journey, I want to try a “belief scavenger hunt”—where we’ll see if we can hear or see examples of beliefs that are different from our own, or beliefs and ideas that we’ve never even thought of before. We could write them down, draw about them, or take photos that represent them.
Anyone in your family could decide what it is that you have to find on your scavenger hunt. You could have themes, like “all blue,” or a number specific items like “a street sign, a coin, and someone walking a dog.” Different time lengths will yield different results—five minutes, a few hours, or your whole trip will change what you notice. Afterwards, if you’ve collected physical objects, you can make keepsake bottles. If you’ve taken photos, you can print and collage them or create photo books as mementos of your journey.
Ask your kids to take photos, and then talk about them afterwards.
This idea can go along with a photo scavenger hunt, or it could just be asking your children to take photos of whatever strikes them as interesting. This practice, and the discussions that happen when you look at the photos together, can deepen your travels–and your relationship, on so many levels.
First, taking photographs gives your child a sense of autonomy, as well as the ability to honor what he or she finds interesting. Photos give kids something tangible to share with their friends. And later, when their memories of a trip have faded, seeing photos they’ve taken can help them recapture their stories. When you talk with your children about the photos they’ve taken, it lets you begin to see through their eyes. It also encourages both of you to think differently about the place you are visiting.
Above all, practice Wabi-Sabi in the journey
The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, the art of finding beauty in imperfection, has buoyed my traveling family many a time. Akin to mindfulness, a wabi-sabi approach means that you can not only handle cultural confusion, disrupted plans, messes, and general travel grumpiness, but that you find yourself enjoying things that would have frustrated you in the past. Wabi-sabi will help you remember to listen well and laugh more often. It will let you and your family ride the complex waves of any journey with grace.
What intentional travel tools and perspectives have helped your family absorb more travel joy?
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