This blog post has been originally written for ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. It has been re-produced on the Author’s blog with permission.
Google “Travel with Children” and all that will pop up is an information overload about what precautions you can take while traveling with children, or children-friendly places, or immunizations. So much has been written about how to make the journey safe for children. How to ensure that you have all you need when you travel with children.
A vital aspect of traveling with children is child safety and preparing for the same. However what we fail to realize is that all the prep directly contradicts the very essence of traveling. Travelling is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. Getting out and doing precisely all that you wouldn’t do at home. In your real life. You are probably wondering how all of this is connected to parenting. Traveling with children is pretty much the same as traveling alone. In fact, more vital for the child’s learning process. Getting out of the comfort zone and doing what you wouldn’t normally do. How do we prepare ourselves or our children to get out of our comfort zones?
Imagine yourself take a train journey with your children. For most parents I am aware of, this would be a nightmare. The only thought that comes to mind when we think of trains and children is noise, running around, disturbed co-passengers and bad unhygienic food. A different perspective is lots of story-telling, learning to make friends, enjoying the ride, catching up with conversations, sharing personal moments with your child, card-games and realizing food can taste different from what is served on our dining table.
Planning a trip, packing for it. Parents plan, parents and maids pack. Does that sound vaguely familiar? Involving children in the planning stage sets the expectation right. Try planning with your children. Enjoy the animated conversations that string from the poring over the maps, googling for information, planning on the rooms! Share with them the pictures of where they are going, stretch their imagination and talk to them about the food!
Where you go, matters. Obviously, it does. If I look back upon my own life, a lot of my life-skills and the learning of those came from the road trips we took as a family. This instigated the thought and connect between travel and the growth of our children. Where are the learning points in a child’s life when he travels? Can we weave in experiencing situations, be a part of his learning process during traveling? The first question to ask is what are the essential life-skills we want our child to learn? What are the critical skill sets we need him to learn? A few that generically popped up when I spoke to a bunch of mothers was – Grit, Resilience, Adaptability, Empathy, Kindness and the list goes on. How do you focus on all or some of these when you travel?
Adaptability is immediately taken care of, isn’t it? Traveling in a train, sharing a berth with one of the parents, sleeping in small spaces, eating “train food” is the beginning of learning to adapt to changing environments. Keep that up throughout the journey. Changing routines during travel, waking early, sleeping late, catching up with a nap could be some methods of learning how to adapt.
Grit and Resilience. This one is particularly interesting because a simple hike or a walk up the mountain and loads of conversations during the walk helps a child push himself to do more. Climb higher. Reach out to the skies.
Empathy and kindness. How does a child feel any of these emotions, recognize it with the same set of people he sees every day? When he steps out and meets new people, interacts with them even if it is only to order meals, he observes the subtle changes in himself and them. Free conversations with locals will help him understand there is a whole world out there, that is not him.
The idea is to get out into the sun and step out of our comfort zones. Vacationing within a controlled environment will offer very little leeway to learn. Very little leeway to nourish curiosity, just more structure. What children should feel when they travel is a lot of freedom and the will to explore.
So tomorrow when you plan your family vacation, sit down with them and talk about various geographies. What interests them more. Explore each, one at a time. Take notes. Help them make a travel diary. Use those memories to build more. And most of all – connect with them in a whole new way as a family.