I love taking my two kids with me when I travel – in fact, they’ve featured in several of my TV segments and newspaper articles. Their genuine enthusiasm renews my own and gives me an unjaded and fresh perspective of what I’m experiencing. But it’s not without its challenges. Little people have less patience and are more prone to big reactions when they’re not happy. Here are my top tips for making your next family trip more enjoyable.
Build the excitement – You’ve saved long and hard for this trip, why wouldn’t you want it to last as long as possible? Start a countdown #58sleepstogo and start learning about where you’re going. If it’s overseas learn greetings and thank you in the local language, investigate the customs and local legends (Singapore Merlion). Even if we’re travelling within New Zealand, the kids and I spread a map on the lounge floor to look at where we’re going and check on TV weather maps each evening what the weather is like at our destination. #packanumbrella It’s not just a practical exercise to know what clothing to take but it’s also teaching kids about geography and where they are in the world. Have “kids’ choice” activities that they’ve picked. One rule: no one’s allowed to hate it. It’s also smart to temper their enthusiasm with a good dose of reality. There will be queues to wait in and the flight or car ride may be long so prepare them and challenge them coming up with their own ideas of how they might spend the time.
Make the journey enjoyable – road trips are notoriously boring, but by preparing ahead of your trip you’ll start your holiday with everyone smiling. I play the “Landmark Game” with my kids. Print out images of landmarks along the route as well as a map of the North or South Island, arm the kids with crayons and a glue stick in the back seat. They’ll keep an eagle eye out the window along the way #avoidtravelsickness AND will get a good sense of where they are in relation to home and the destination. I also mark on their maps where we expect to stop for a bathroom break and where there’s a cool playground. They could even make note of how long it took to get to each landmark so on the way home they know when they can expect to get home. Car Bingo and Alphabet Scavenger Hunt are other games we’ve used to pass the time as well as “Who Can Sing The Most Out Of Tune” … oh, wait – that wasn’t a game? If you’re going international, why not make a “teddy bear passport” for the favourite toy that will join them on the adventure. They could draw the stamp after you are through customs and they can see what yours looks like … or it might become a record of their holiday with a different drawing each day. My kids get their own wee bags as well with snacks, water and whatever they want to keep occupied.
Small surprises ease boredom – The excitement has worn off and the foot kicking has started. And you’re only half an hour into a nine-hour flight. My British parents became masters of long-haul flights with small children (myself and my brother) and used to have several small “gifts” for us to unwrap when we started huffing about being bored. I treasured my ‘little doll inside a peanut’ for years. I’ve taken a leaf out of their book and pick up little nick-nacs or books as I see them in the weeks leading up to a long trip. The novelty of a new book or small toy can keep them busy and renew their enthusiasm.
Be Prepared for Disaster – Those spills, leaks or unexpected messy explosions #orangedrinkeverywhere may one day become hilarious dinner party anecdotes but at the time they can potentially turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. I always carry a waterproof (leak-proof … I don’t have to say the “v” word do I?) bag and SeaLegs dissolvable tablets in case of nausea, spare undies and a t-shirt for each kid and a wet flannel inside a zip-lock bag.
Take a Break – Holidays can be intense. In our normal life, we don’t spend every second with each other. We have mini-breaks by getting out for a walk or reading in our favourite chair. #dontburstthemummybubble Allow for some downtime – the kids need a break from being amazed and awed by their different surroundings as much as you do. It will renew your enthusiasm for your trip rather than leaving you feeling jaded by it all.
Be a Junior Travel Writer – If your kids love to write, encourage them to capture their memories on paper (or ipad). Familytraveller.com runs an annual competition for kids aged from 3 to 16. Even if your children don’t want to enter, having a read of the previous runners up and winners is great inspiration. Lonelyplanet.com now has a kids’ zone with junior bloggers, family travel articles, pictures, photos and great ideas for future travel.
Reserve some time to reflect – Whether it’s over dinner or as you tuck in your little darlings each evening spend a few minutes thinking back over the best and worst bits of your day and most of all, the people you’ve met. Holidays can easily slip into a blur #memoryofagoldfish and there’s nothing more infuriating than getting home to find everyone’s forgotten about the Koala Cuddling on Day One that you’d been so excited about before your holiday. It’s also a chance to laugh about the worst moments – they will, after all, become your family’s hilarious anecdotes in the years to come.