This fall our family is taking a trip to Spain and Portugal. We have been thinking about this trip for three years, we put it on the calendar over a year ago, we have been planning it for the past six months, and finally we are in the days leading up to our departure.
One of the things that we like to do as a family is build anticipation for upcoming trips. While it is always fun to surprise the kids from time to time (we did that a few years ago with a trip to Disney World), we prefer to get them excited about our future plans.
The first way to get the kids excited about trips we are planning is to study. As the itinerary-maker, I spend a vast amount of time online and in travel books figuring out what we need to see, how much things will cost, and deciding the best way to lay out our days. But that is too much information for the kids. Instead, we talk about the geography, the things that we are going to see, and the people we will encounter.
Whether we are traveling domestically or internationally, we always spend time in front of our map. We have two maps permanently displayed on our wall – a U.S. map and a world map. Both are laminated so that we can draw with dry erase marker all over them. We look at (and trace) the route we are taking, the place we are going, and the borders we are crossing. There is always time spent talking about the length of time that it will take to get someplace – it’s helpful if they understand going in that we are looking at a two-day road trip or an 8 hour flight.
The other thing we do is we study some of the things we are going to see. We watch documentaries or travel shows on the places we visit. Rick Steves is a great resource for European travel. We prefer his travel books, and he has every episode of his travel show on YouTube. The visual medium really helps the kids get excited about the things we will see.
We also spend time as a family looking at the artwork we will see, the architecture we will encounter, and the things we will do. Before we went to Paris, we learned about why the Arc de Triomphe was built and where it is situated on the Champs-Élysées. This gave them an understanding of the history and the experience they would have when we visited. A child who has never heard of Thomas Jefferson will be far less impressed with Monticello than one who has spent time learning about that American founding father.
Culture is a big topic of discussion before we travel, as well. When we travel internationally, we make it a point that all of us learn the most basic phrases of the countries we are visiting. Being able to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in their native tongue goes a long way to show respect to the people you encounter on your travels. Additionally, we talk about the foods we will have the opportunity to try. Both kids tried haggis in Scotland, crepes in Paris, and Tim Horton’s in Canada. Sometimes they love the food, other times they don’t care for it – either way, they embark on our travels understanding that part of experiencing a new place is being willing to try new things.
The last big thing that we like to do as a family is have a constant countdown. We have made paper chains, used a dry erase board and changed the number everyday, and used apps on our phones. Being able to see the length of time slowly dwindle makes every member of our family eager with anticipation.
The number of times that I have heard, “Will we go into the Sagrada Familia?” or “Does Lisbon have a subway system?” has only been an indication that they are as excited about this trip as we are. And, really, that is the heart of why we travel as a family – to get them fired up about going out and discovering the world.