Whether you are taking your kids across the country for a summer vacation, or simply planning a trip to the museum across town, learning to make the most of each adventure can make a big difference in what your preschoolers remember about the experience. And I know that you want them to remember the experience, or you wouldn’t be doing it! In my family’s travels through 15 states with a five year old and a two year old (including a long-distance move from St. Louis to Boston), I have gathered a few travel tips that I’d love to share:
1) Build connections (and excitement) before you go. Don’t you always look forward to visiting a place more when you have some kind of” connection” to it? Perhaps you know someone who lives there. Or maybe you have seen it in history books or in a movie. Being a child of the eighties, I was most excited about my visit to Astoria, Oregon because it was the town from the movie, “The Goonies”…and I got to see the actual house where Chunk did the “Truffle Shuffle!”
Well, put yourself in your preschooler’s size 8 Crocs. They are freshly hatched. They don’t have connections to most of the places that we take them to, unless we provide some for them. A great way to do this is to read a book about the place that you are going to visit several times before you go. For instance, I read the classic, “Make Way for Ducklings” to my kids before we visited the Boston Public Garden and rode the Swan Boats. When we went, my five-year-old daughter was thrilled to see live duck families along with the statues of the ducks from the book. She felt like she already knew them. More recently, we just read “Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl,” as part of our preparation to visit Plimouth Plantation.
If there are no books about the place that you are going to visit, let your child look through the brochure or travel guide. Another fun trick that I have tried is letting my daughter cut out pictures of things that she would like to do in the area we are visiting and paste them on a collage. Then, when we actually get to see and so some of those things, she is super excited about them.
2) Give the kids a camera. You know that old digital camera that you stopped using because the battery wasn’t holding a charge as well as you’d like? Give it to the kids! If you don’t have an old camera, get the kids a disposable one just for the trip. Keep in mind that you are not doing this because you expect four-year-old Mason to capture stunning Kodak moments of a sunset in all its splendor. You are doing it because it will encourage Mason to be engaged in everything that he is seeing, and will help prevent him from getting “BOOOORED.” It will also provide huge amounts of entertainment for you later, when you upload the photos and see your family adventure through your preschooler’s eyes. It will amaze you what they deem to be important. (For an example of this, check out this brief slideshow of my daughter’s photos from our first house hunting trip to Boston when she was four. It is pretty funny.)
3) Pack like a visionary. You’re going to a museum downtown and you’re riding the subway to get there. Did you pack a swimsuit and a towel? That’s right…I said, pack a swimsuit! For your kids to really appreciate life’s adventures, you have to learn to be more adventurous yourself. Don’t just think “museum.” Think…what might happen beyond the museum? What if, on the walk from the subway station to the museum, you encounter a glorious city fountain with children scampering and playing in it? And it’s 95 degrees. And your children are panting like dogs, looking at the fountain like they are hikers lost in the desert. Will you have to pass by because you weren’t prepared and don’t fancy the idea of taking soaked children into a museum? Or will you be able to “seize the day,” heroically whip out some swimsuits, and let your kids enjoy what will probably become their most memorable moments of their trip? Be a visionary. Imagine the possibilities that each adventure holds…and then pack for them.
4) Be ready to bribe. Ooh. Bribery is such a dirty word. I know that some parents are strictly against it, and that’s fine. I, however, have a more lax bribery policy. Never bribe for good behavior at home; however, bribe liberally when travelling. Sometimes your preschooler is just on the verge of a meltdown that will ruin the rest of the day (you totally know what I’m talking about). And somehow, being able to whip a piece of candy out of your bag and offer it to him in exchange for not making an embarrassing scene, makes the day turn out so much better. I honestly never leave home without a bag of Smarties in my purse. SweeTarts and DumDums also make good bribery options. Avoid chocolate, because it will make a melty mess (guess what…M&M’s DO melt in your hands!). Or, if your kid is a fanatic for stickers, small trinkets, or Hot Wheels, those would work too. You know what your child stops in their tracks (or tantrums) for. Be armed and ready.
5) Seal the memories with a self-made memento. So you followed steps one through four, and had a fantastic family adventure with your preschooler. Now, how do you make sure that this magical journey won’t be forgotten along with their journey through the birth canal and other memories from the first few years of life? Make a trip memento! If you scrapbook, create a few scrapbook pages together, making notes of any really funny or adorable moments from the trip. Be sure to include some of the photos that the kids took themselves. Or, if you really want to go the extra mile, log on to a photo service web site like Shutterfly and create an actual hardbound book that you will be able to treasure forever. You can get super creative with these. Here is an example of a story book that I wrote for my kids about our first family trip to Chicago. Note…I said STORY BOOK. I wrote a rhyming story like you would buy in the store, “illustrated” it with pictures from our trip, and came up with a bedtime read that has allowed my daughter to remember a trip that she took when she was three years old like it just happened yesterday.
Being able to introduce our little ones to the world around them is an extraordinary privilege. In my opinion, it’s also one of the most fun parts of being a parent. Every time I spend a day “teaching” my kids something new, I feel like I learn just as much from them as I view the world through their fresh perspective. May you and your family learn much from your summer travels, create many happy memories, and treat every day like the adventure it was meant to be!
Kate Hayes is the author of www.adventuresinparenting.me, an award-winning blog about the everyday (and out-of-the-ordinary) adventures that come with being a parent. She is a former TV news journalist and public relations/marketing manager currently contemplating her next career move. If you have any brilliant suggestions for her, feel free to visit her website and leave her a comment!