This guest post comes from Jessie Voigts, a White House travel blogger and one of the top 50 travel bloggers in the world. We’re so lucky that she’s created a series of posts for Leap Little Frog readers. And the world is richer with her Wandering Educators site, an invaluable online library of travel articles from educators around the globe.
Travel can be stressful – especially with kids – and it can also be joyful. When you travel with your kids, you have the opportunity to learn so much – what the world looks like to them, new and interesting things to experience, and always, a sense of exploration that infuses the journey. Here are 6 ways to intentionally make family travel easy and joyful – and create fun family memories.
1. Shift your Mind
How to be a joyful traveler? Approach travel as a joyful experience. Don’t bemoan packing – think of all the fun things you’ll do while you wear each outfit! Worrying about taking your toddler on long hikes? Reframe the long hikes into meanders with breaks (ice cream is always welcome). Look forward, think about what your family likes and what your kids can actually do, and shift toward joy and away from scheduling what you think you ought to see and do.
If we spend all day clambering around an old fort in Ireland, in the mist, amongst the sheep, and are happy time travelers, then that’s a fantastic travel day. If your kid brings a stuffie and wants to take photos of it everywhere, sit down and enjoy their creative play:
You don’t need to do everything. You should do what brings you joy, even if you miss the big attractions. I’d rather have a nutella crepe in Paris and enjoy playing in the gardens than stand in line at the Eiffel Tower. What does your family love to do? What makes your kids happy? Let go of preconceived notions about travel, and see what happens.
2. Pack Snacks and Eat Creatively
The best way to make travel easy? Plenty of food. Trust me on this one. If you have snacks, no one is hangry. Visit a local grocery store or convenience store to explore local snacks – and buy plenty. Often, our snacks extend to meals and picnics, wherever we are.
We also love to find new foods – local specialties, or family favorites. Cannily, we can spot a dumpling restaurant from far away (thank you, yelp and hotel concierges, for additional help). What do you love to eat? Try that in various locations and compare how they are different (we found much better dumplings in Montreal than Toronto – who knew?!).
3. Look for the Unusual
Kids love funny things! (I do, too.) Look for the unusual – and give your kids a digital camera or a phone. Ask your kids to show you the most unusual things they’ve seen each day. At an art museum that day? Ask them to take a photo of the art they love, then the sign about the art for reference, and then a closeup of a detail that intrigues them. It’s a great game to JUST show the detail, and then guess what it is from.
Or ask them to find things they might see in their favorite fandoms, and snap a photo (this is especially relevant for Doctor Who fans, ahem). Purposely looking at photos that your kids took shows them that their experiences are important and interesting. This is also a fun way to while away the time while waiting in a restaurant, or close out the day as you’re all winding down. And, it makes art, museums, history, and culture more interesting the closer you look.
4. Get Outside and Play!
Whether you go on a whale watching expedition, as we did in St. John’s, Newfoundland, find cool playgrounds, or explore nature in your own way, it is really important to get outside and play. Why? Besides the clean air, and the importance of moving your body, it’s so much fun! Playgrounds are different, nature is always changing, and you and your kids can run, hop, jump, swim, hike, pick-your-verb to your heart’s content. Our family remembers outdoor playtime as the best parts of our journeys.
5. Leave time for Serendipity
Don’t overplan or overschedule – that’s the easiest way to have a tiresome, crabby trip. Make it easy on yourself and your family, and plan one big thing per day (max!) and let the rest of the day unfold before you. You might discover a local park and playground that is awesome, or a carnival, or a series of food trucks, or fall in love with a museum and never want to leave.
When you have a full day free and can follow things that interest you, serendipitous things will occur. You might talk to a fisherman on a beach and learn how to go shrimping with a net. Your kid might fall in love with a place, and never want to leave (we closed down the Culloden Visitor Centre in Scotland, because Lillie wanted to keep learning). Who knew?
6. Embrace the Problems
While we prefer joyful to stressful, each experience is important in its own right. And often, the worst experiences to get through create the best memories. Waiting for some construction traffic took hours. Luckily, there was a dog in the car in front of us to entertain and distract us from the fact that we were late for the ferry.
Then there was that one time when we got lost, and the gas stations closed at 11pm, and it was 10:55 and our gas gauge was on E. Yes, we finally discovered a lovely gas station, and the hilarious and friendly people in it, talking about which flavor of local chips were best to buy us for a late night locally-made snack. While we WERE stressed about running out of gas in Nova Scotia, we found locals who not only gave us travel tips and great snacks, but also some stories and phrases that we used our entire trip and still talk about to this day. And yes, we learned to fill up whenever possible in places where gas stations don’t stay open late.
When you drove in a blizzard, missed a flight, had to wait hours for a meal, had a child crying in family photos – we’ve all been there. Embrace all aspects of the journey – even the problems. Family lore, more stories added.
Jessie Voigts has lived and worked in Japan and London, has traveled the world, and has a PhD in International Education. She is constantly seeking ways to increase intercultural understanding and is particularly passionate about study abroad and international education. She founded and directs the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program for teens all around the world. And she’s published three volumes of short stories by young globe-trotting teen writers (Chronicles of Avid Travelers).
Her acclaimed books about raising intercultural kids, navigating The Philippines and moving to Cambodia – as well as her online travel library, Wandering Educators – connect educators and lifelong learners around the world. Jessie also publishes Journey to Scotland and i8tonite.