Travelling with your children is a wonderful experience: it is a great time to bond as a family, and it is also a fantastic way to help your children learn. Our children got their first passports when they were only a few weeks old, and since then we have travelled extensively with them, and spent time living overseas. My new book Road School tells the story of what happened when we took our children out of school to learn ‘on the road’ for six months, and what we learned about travelling (and about the world) in the process.
It can be stressful travelling with children, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the easier your children will start to find it. The very best way to teach your children to be at ease with travelling, and to understand more about the world in which they live, is by taking them to lots of different places. Think ahead before you leave, to make your travel experience as positive and beneficial for your family as possible.
1. The journey itself is likely to feel stressful for your children (and for the adults), especially if you’re travelling long distances. They will have to learn how to cope with change, with noise, and with disruption to normal routines, but most children are much more adaptable than you might expect. When you are planning your journey, think ahead about how you are going to keep your children occupied en route to wherever you are going. Pack a mix of books, games, technology and snacks to keep them entertained. With young children it works well if you can travel at night, to capitalise on sleep time.
2. Take some familiar items with you, to help your children feel ‘at home’ wherever you go. Take a favourite teddy or toy (although whatever you do, don’t lose these). Encourage your children to pack and unpack their own suitcases when you arrive at and leave your destination, to help them develop independence and responsibility. Give your children a wallet and some currency of their own, to help them learn how to handle cash in real world situations. Encourage your children to speak a few words in another language, by insisting that they purchase any ice creams by themselves.
3. Think ahead about the opportunities you are likely to have for learning, and pack accordingly. On our Road School trip we took books related to the places we were going to visit. Consider the history, geography, languages and culture your children will be able to learn about in the places you visit. Travel guides are great for background reading to help you explain more what you are seeing to your children. Lots of tourist destinations have a shop where you can buy extra books related to the place you have visited.
4. While you’re busy focusing on what your children might need, don’t forget to take account of your own relationship as well. Consider how you can go about creating a bit of private time for yourself and your partner. Wherever possible during our Road School trip, we booked accommodation with two bedrooms, on the basis that happy parents make for happy children.
5. Don’t get too hung up about perfect packing. Unless you are going somewhere really remote, most of the things you need will be available where you are going. Leave a bit of space in your suitcases to bring home lots of lovely souvenirs of your trip. Your souvenirs will bring back the warmest of travelling memories on the coldest of winter days.
Sue Cowley is a parent, author and teacher trainer. Her book Road School is published by Crownhouse. Find out more at her Road School website: www.roadschool.co.uk.