How to Prepare Kids for First-Time Travel

by wired2theworld on November 21, 2010

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When discussing the pros and cons of having kids, I always thought that showing my children the world through travel would have be a big plus in the “pro” column. Yet so many people tell me one of the reasons they don’t travel is because of their children. Reasons include; the kids are too young, they won’t appreciate it, or the parents are just overwhelmed (and scared) at the prospect of taking their children to a foreign country.  

Personally, I believe travel is a way to broaden children’s experience in the world, regardless of age, and can only help to foster an open mind as they grow. This belief is probably why my favorite travel quote is from Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”  

Since I don’t have any wee ones of my own, my friend Myra of the blog restlesstoroam.com has graciously agreed to share her experience of preparing to go to Paris with her husband and three young children for the first time. Make sure you check out her blog in the coming weeks to see if the trip lived up to her (and the children’s) expectations, if she lost one of the twins on the Metro, and if all of her preparation paid off in the end.  

Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you have any other tips for preparing kids for travel.  

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How to Prepare Kids for First-Time Travel
Guest Post by Myra Beebee
  

My husband Aaron and I are about to take our first trip to Paris. This isn’t a romantic rendezvous in the City of Light; we’re bringing our kids: six year old daughter and 4 year old twin boys. Three kids, ages six and under. Not feeling so envious now, right? I love to travel and tend to go at what other people consider crazy moments in life. In the last five years I’ve been to Italy twice: once when my daughter was a toddler and again when my husband suggested I leave the three kids with him, and return to Italy alone.  

Soon after we booked our tickets to Paris – I panicked. Taking our kids anywhere reminds me of herding cats – meowing, sometimes hissing cats. What was I thinking confining them on a plane for 14+ hours? How will I prepare them for Paris? Better question, how would I prepare myself?  

What I did know after years of reading family travel websites and blogs, was that Paris was full of breathtaking parks, many of which included cool play structures, fountains, pony rides and puppet shows. I mapped out “must see” parks and then began searching for an apartment.  

An apartment is ideal for families because the ample space and cost (most hotels have a four person maximum per room, meaning we’d have to book two rooms).  Most importantly – it comes with its own kitchen, a Godsend when traveling with children.  

With a rough itinerary and a carefully chosen home base, it was time to tell the kids. However, my “we’re going to Paris!” announcement was greeted with, “What’s Pear-his?”  

We had work to do. We needed to educate them about where we were going and prepare ourselves on how to survive getting to Paris and how to wrangle our herd once we arrived.  

  

The Library
The library’s children section is bursting with books that take place in Paris.  I slipped them into our bedtime reading, talked about the pictures and explained we were going there.  Soon my kids could pick out the Eiffel Tower and became curious: What’s that big, white dome? I wanna go there! –That’s called Sacre Coeur, and yes we can.
They also loved my Paris (Eyewitness Travel Guides) book. I caught them huddled around my guidebook, talking about these colorful, crazy looking statues.
“Those are at the Pompidou Museum. Want to go there too?”
Can we? Cool!”
When I brought home the DKEyewitness Impressionism and Monet, to my surprise my boys’ flipped through the pages, asking questions about the paintings.
“Do you want to see them in a big building called a museum?”  

“You mean the paintings of the naked ladies? Yes!!!”
Before we could let our kids ogle at naked ladies, we needed to get to Paris. 
 
The Plane
Family travel sites have sections dedicated to keeping kids (of all ages) content and parents sane for “The Plane.” I watched what quiet activities my kids do at home and then attacked the $1 section at Target.  My carryon bag will be full of the following:
  
  • Activity books and crayons
  • Books
  • Stickers and sticker books
  • Matchbox cars
  • Small containers of Playdoh and pile cleaners
  • Small toy (Transformers for my boys, My Little Kitty Place Set for my girl)
  • Uno Card game (for 6yr old)
  • Ipod Nano loaded with children’s music
  • Portable DVD player with 5 hour battery and two DVD’s
  • Low sugar Snacks!

The key is giving them only one item at a time or they’ll plow through all the goodies in an hour. Whatever isn’t used on the plane to Paris, will be used in the apartment and for “The Plane” ride home.  

  

Once we arrive, it’s time to tackle my next fear: my kids disturbing people.  

Restaurants
Afraid of the potential chaos, I’ve avoided bringing the kids to a sit-down restaurant. But this trip to Paris forced me to conquer my fear. We took baby steps and began with a family-friendly diner.  While they didn’t run through the restaurant screaming, they did a lot of squirming and loved sliding out of chairs and under the table. It wasn’t relaxing and we finally used the promise of dessert to keep them in line. But after several attempts at different restaurants, their behavior did improve and I learned to relax. Last week, they quietly ate muffins at a café while I read the newspaper.  Success!  

In the Apartment
Parisian apartments are notorious for their thin walls – what happens when one kid throws a roaring tantrum? Or when they run through the rooms like a herd of elephants? I don’t have an answer for this yet. My general plan is to keep them focused on activities and physically tired from sightseeing. Plus our portable DVD player works wonders in emergencies. And finally, if nothing else will stop a cat tornado, I’ll have to use the ultimate: if you don’t quiet down, they’ll make us leave and then where will we sleep threat.  

My kids pull luggage through the house pretending their on their way to the airport. Their excitement is growing. And for the most part, so is mine. 
As reality sinks in that we’ll be herding our cats through Paris, I’m a mix of emotions. I’m thrilled, yet anxious that perhaps I bit off more off than I can swallow. No trip is ideal and traveling with children is always messy. At least if I’ll choke, it’ll be on a croissant au chocolat.  

Practice makes perfect!

 

All photos in this post by Myra Beebee.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ayngelina November 22, 2010 at 8:21 am

I’m always impressed with parents of well behaved children while traveling, some just do it really well. I have enough issues with myself without trying to keep children entertained 🙂

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2 wired2theworld November 22, 2010 at 9:12 am

I agree. I don’t know how they do it and that’s why I love Myra’s description of herding cats!

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3 Dorothy November 22, 2010 at 9:22 am

Love it! ‘Can just feel the exhuberance and determination of those kids ~ especially love the photos of the kids “practicing” pulling the carry-all bags down their street and of Ada delving into the DK Paris travel book… what boldness and self-confidence of the parents to do such an adventure with their young children!!!

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4 Lucy November 22, 2010 at 10:44 am

Sounds like you’re on you’re prepared!

We started traveling with our kids when the oldest was five weeks old- Hawaii to San Diego for a wedding, then at four months we took her wandering in Japan for a month. We covered a lot of the globe with them in the 25 years since then.

My advice on choosing sightseeing activities: alternate indoor with outdoor, quiet with noisy, and stop often for snacks. Carry snacks, but also stop in little shops and let the choosing be a mini activity. Even 7-11s are fun to a 6 year old.

Do some advance conversations on where you will be heading each day. Kids can behave more easily if they know they’ll be heading somewhere else in a while.

Don’t turn your nose up at “tourist traps”. Kids love the tacky or weird, and some of our favorite travel memories involve restaurants with cliff divers or local carnivals.

Take buses and subways. They are fun, kids can pretend they are commuting on their own, (have a secret signal when its time to get off) and if they get in a short snooze, all the better. At the end of the day, when feet and psyches are tired, take the taxi.

Take an old sheet with you. Cover the kids on the plane when you pull out that Playdoh, use it for a picnic, spread it out on the icky floor if you are delayed in an airport. We had a printed sheet so we knew which side was “up” and it was pretty thin, so we could wash it in the sink of a hotel as needed.

Don’t forget extra earphones for all the devices, and buy a couple of “splitters” if more than one kid might want to hear the action.

There is nothing that will draw the wrath of fellow passengers faster than seat-back kickers or seat pocket/tray table “jigglers”. Our kids were told that seats AND the pockets were totally off limits.

Have fun!

PS: I don’t see “Madeline” in your book pile. Please tell me you’ve all memorized it: “In an old house in Paris all covered with vines…”

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5 wired2theworld November 22, 2010 at 11:54 am

Hi Lucy! Thanks so much for such a detailed reply. It really adds to the conversation and I’m sure many parents will find your tips helpful! The old sheet sounds like a particularly good idea.

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6 Myra November 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Lucy, excellent advice!

Yes, we did read Madeline, a must have forgotten to include it.

On the plane, the only device we brought that I instantly regretted was the Ipod. That’s when I learned that Ethan likes to sing. Loudly.

And I agree about doing touristy things. We did a hop on/off bus tour — something I never would’ve done in the past. But I was pleasantly surprised! The views from the open top gave me a perspective of Paris I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

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7 Julia Trow November 23, 2010 at 10:48 am

Yes Myra, I’m still following your adventures!

Gosh, it brings back so many memories of travelling with mine when they were young.

I never had to do the long flight thing though – fortunately!

But several times we drove to France. I learnt to avoid the long ferry crossings/shorter drives in favour of a short ferry crossing and a longer drive, if that makes sense. Sea sickness is a real killjoy. Once if rears its ugly head you absolutely cannot escape it until you are off the ferry. At least with car sickness you can stop the car!)

I first flew with all my 4 as a single parent, when the boys were 7, and the girls 9 and 11. We flew to Alicante in Spain, where we picked up a car – the first time I’d driven on the right and not in my own left-hand drive British car! That was scary, being doubly on the wrong side! Then we drove north to a villa I’d rented from someone who was a friend of a friend of someone I barely knew – and this was in 2000 before I even had a computer, so I had no idea what I was renting! Anyway, the villa was near Gandia, had a huge swimming pool, a loo that we spent most of the week flushing with buckets of water from said swimming pool, ants in one bedroom, and an impossibly small place to park in down a narrow track (my screaming attempts to park are what my kids now remember the most from that holiday!) but we did have a great time!

Keep on with the travelling, it is easiest when they are young before they start to form real opinions!

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