Robert Benchley famously said that there are two kinds of travel: first class and with children. But family trips are often among the most beloved memories and inspire many permanent family references, in-jokes, and traditions. The Travel With Kids series is a good way for parents and kids to plan their vacations. It has explored exciting destinations including Hawaii, Mexico, New York, the Caribbean and Paris, inviting families to travel with the Roberts family to faraway locales and learn about customs and cultures from around the world. The DVDs are a great resource for preparing kids and getting them excited about seeing new sights, trying new food, and learning about history, geography, and art.
Travel With Kids features money-saving tips, topical pop-up facts, advice for traveling with children and fun segments and it is entertaining to travel along with the Roberts family. I interviewed Carrie and Jeremy Roberts about how to make travel safe, comfortable, and interesting for kids.
What’s the best way to avoid “are we there yet”-itis?
Mom Says: It really depends on the ages of the kids. Give the kids a digital watch and tell them what time you will be there…then they can be in charge. If they are old enough you can give them a real watch and they can learn to tell time too. Also, give smaller landmarks along the way. For instance on a flight to Jamaica that crosses the U.S. then stops in Miami, you might say at 10a, we can look for the Mississippi River, at 12p, we land in Miami, at 1p we can watch the coast of Florida disappear and at 2p we can start looking for island in the Caribbean Sea. Give them a checklist of things to find. This works on smaller trips too. In the car you can make it more detailed…find a cactus, an orange truck, a Coca-Cola sign, snow, etc. Give them bonuses (trip money) for finding everything.
How do you get the kids excited about a destination that is new to them?
Mom Says: We talk about the place before we go. We go to the library or bookstore and get books about it. But we also figure out something that would be interesting about the place for kids and get books about that topic to take with us…like pirates in the Caribbean or knights in England. I also rent movies that were filmed in the destination and make a family movie night…we fix some foods from that destination too.
Dad Says: The amazing volume of popular culture now (that we didn’t have when growing up) that references history and other countries is huge. Harry Potter, A Night at the Museum, National Treasure, Indiana Jones. Any movies dealing in Knights, Pirates, Castles, Adventure, Treasure, WW2, Ancient Cities and Lost Tribes will sure to spark interest and allow the kids to play along on a trip. We also put music on their Mp3 players. Movie Theme songs like Harry Potter while on a train in England, or the entire Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack while on a boat in the islands is pretty cool (I’ve put on the ear buds listening to the Pirates soundtrack while on a small ship in the Bahamas where Pirates was filmed.. its fun!)
How can you help the kids cope with travel hassles like security checks and delays?
Mom Says: Prepare the kids ahead of time. Tell them what they will need to do and that it is busy and people are in a hurry. When you get to the front of the line remind them again. But don’t worry too much, most security agents are very patient with the kids and help them out and even kid around with them while you are trying to get all your stuff done. One thing I might suggest is that kids wear slip-off shoes in the airport…Crocs are good. Because un-tying and re-tying shoes can get stressful when you are in a hurry, especially if you have one that wants to do everything themselves.
Dad Says: Let’s face it. Parts of traveling these days just aren’t that fun and there’s not much you can do about it. Sometimes it’s actually good for the kids to deal with these issues for themselves and not always find some easy way around it. A Gameboy or other diversion can’t fix every situation. They have to rush through the security line and be bumped and hurried and unload their pockets and take off their shoes just like everyone else. Of course for small kids in strollers, this isn’t a lesson teaching time, but for the older kids, it’s some real world experience that can help them listen and behave better. Especially when it’s a TSA security guard barking orders at them, they snap to attention faster than when mom or dad is telling them what to do. As for delays in the airport, again, there’s not much you can do, so they have to learn to deal with everything not being perfect (another benefit of traveling and teaching kids.) However, we do recommend always getting travel insurance in case you really get stuck. Travel insurance will pay for hotels and food when delayed or stranded. This helps with the stress factor for mom and dad.
What do you recommend for helping kids create memories through journals or scrapbooks?
Mom Says: Thanks to the Internet this is easier than ever. I am a big believer in having the kids document their trips. Our kids are young and they already have a digital camera. You’ll be amazed at some of the perspectives they take on things. The other nice thing about digital cameras is you can erase the ones they don’t want. When you are on the road, you can go to Internet cafÃ©s and upload your pictures to a place like Shutterfly.com – have them printed and ready for your return home or make a scrapbook online. Michael’s also has a great scrapbooking section and offers workshops on how to create the look you want. Do this with your kids and it’s a great opportunity to keep the bonding from your trip going once you get back home.
Dad Says: Digital cameras and memory cards are so cheap these days – it’s definitely worth the expense Also, if your child is missing school, a teacher may give credit if they put together a presentation on the country for the class using the pictures and stories. Cheap-o digital cameras, and notebooks so they can draw out the cools stuff they see if fun, and creates great memories. Please remember to upload your memory card to yourself during your trip. Go to any internet cafÃ© and setup and Shutterfly or similar account and upload your photos. I lost our small digital camera in Mexico at the end of the trip with 350 pictures on it. Those can never be replaced. Bring your camera’s USB cable on your trip to do the upload.
How do you get kids comfortable with trying new kinds of food?
Mom Says: Lie. Just kidding. We do have a sort of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tel” policy though…if they don’t ask, we don’t tell. For instance, when we were in the Everglades, we ordered frog legs and just kind of dug in saying things like “Mom says it tastes like chicken”. The kids ate them thinking they were chicken and thought it was pretty funny when we told them it was frogs. But, this could backfire if you have a sensitive kid; they may decide to try nothing once you pull a stunt like that, so it really depends on the kids. We try to encourage the kids to at least try one bite of everything. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat anymore.
Dad Says: This is a hard one. We find meal times with to be the most “difficult” on our trips, just like at home! It doesn’t matter if we are cooking for ourselves in an apartment rental, or at a fancy beachfront place or a local cooked meal in a hut on the sand. They still don’t eat their dinner or sit at the table. We use the usual incentives and bribes. I figure they won’t be eating only chicken nuggets and cheese crisps when they’re 18, but sometimes I’m not sure. When on vacation, it is a vacation, so we let rules slide, and luckily pizza and chicken nuggets are the universal food found anywhere in the world.
What’s the best way to get them excited about cathedrals, museums, and other tourist attractions?
Mom Says: Kids get it. Lots of people think kids are too young to get a lot of traveling, but you will be amazed what they get. Before we get to an attraction I read up on the history and then translate it into their terms…re-telling it on their level and emphasizing the parts that will be interesting to them is important. In large museums, I look online to find their most famous exhibits and print out pictures of them. When we get there, I give the kids the pictures and we have a sort of treasure hunt through the museum.
Dad Says: Lots of museums nowadays have Kid Audio Tours…some even take it so far as to have cartoon characters as part of the Audio presentation that virtually lead the kids through the museum. Again, the popular culture really sparks their interest. They have seen the talking “dum dum” head from A Night at the Museum film, walked the ramparts of Fort Charles in Port Royal where Jack Sparrow roams, sped up the elevator of the Eiffel Tower like Lois Lane in Superman II. Cities with iconic images; Paris, London, New York, never get boring for kids.
What’s the best ages for children for family travel?
Mom Says: There’s no right age…all ages bring something different to the table. Babies are easy and cheap…you don’t have to pay for airline tickets and you don’t have to chase them all around. Toddlers are a bit more of a challenge, but seeing your two-year-old’s face light up when they see something for the first time is worth every ounce of frustration spent along the way. Grade schoolers are great because they have the foundation of some history and geography so they can learn right along with you and you’ll be amazed at what they end up teaching you. Teenagers…well…they’re teenagers, but get them out of their element and you may get the chance to actually talk to them.
Dad Says: I’m always amazed at the amount of people who say “I’ll take my kids traveling when they’re older… they won’t remember anything now.” We don’t see how that really matters. Our kids remember everything. Will they remember it all when they are 30? Probably not. However now, when it matters and for many years to come, they will remember all the places they went and, more importantly, all the times spent with mom and dad. Just mom and dad. No work, no phones, no email, no blackberry. The point is, a 6 year old will remember the family time spent well into their teens on some incredible adventure trip. Sure, it will start to fade as they get older (If you’re 35 do you really remember a trip you took when you were 12, other than the photos?) Our 5-year-old still talks about the things he did and experiences he had 2 years ago. The impact it has on them now is immeasurable. Why forego this magical time for kids when castles are actually castles, and pirate forts come to life for them and everything is funny and exciting and adventuresome. Sure it’s more convenient for the parent to head out with older kids, but older kids tend to have their Ipods on, texting in hand and not to happy that their not playing video games with their friends back home. Please take this time to enjoy the perfect (and imperfect) years of traveling with kids when they are full of imagination and awe… even if you have to put up with tantrums and getting takeout McDonald’s in Paris and going back to the room to see SpongeBob. When you watch them as they first lay eyes on the Eiffel Tower, It’s worth it.