|Author Lisa Littner, along with her husband, Rob Littner, and their daughters, Adelaide (left) and Evelyn (right) in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland.|
By Lisa Littner
Traveling internationally with children can often seem daunting and overwhelming. However, with some planning and preparation traveling to another country can be enlightening for children and fun for parents.
Children of different ages have different needs when traveling. Thoughtful packing, planning and researching child-friendly activities can lead to a successful trip. Here are some tips and strategies to help make traveling with children fun and enjoyable.
Toddlers: Toddlers love having a few small toys from home and a comfort item to take on trips. A blanket from home can be used for warmth on a plane ride and also serves as a source of comfort. Bringing a pillowcase from the child's bed at home does not take up much space in a suitcase and can be a source of familiarity that can be especially useful when staying in different hotels throughout a trip. Night lights can help reduce fears of sleeping in a different place.
Researching nearby playgrounds is also beneficial as a daily playground visit gives kids a chance to release some energy. Playing at playgrounds in a different country can often offer a cultural experience for the entire family since both parents and kids can interact with the local families. Kids can hear different languages spoken, but still experience the commonality of play with other kids. Parents may be able to talk to other parents and gain information about restaurant recommendations and other family friendly activities while at a playground.
|The authors' children in the southern area of Iceland.|
School-age Children: Children who are school-age can be involved in the planning process for an overseas trip. The more involvement that they have, the more that kids will gain from the trip. If wanting to surprise the children about a trip's destination, a scavenger hunt around the house could be done with questions/clues featuring fun facts about the destination with the destination's location revealed at the end. Giving children a choice of several different activities when trip planning can allow them to feel more empowered and engaged in the process. Families can spend time before the trip reading about the history of the country, the geography, geology and learning more about the culture. Having these educational opportunities beforehand makes the trip so much more impactful when kids experience it.
If wanting to do a guided tour, having a great child-friendly tour guide can add entertainment and deepen the education for children. Having a guide tell entertaining stories and having kids interact with someone from a different culture for an extended time period adds to the memories made.
Collecting souvenirs as a family of things from nature (like rocks, dirt and sand) from each destination can serve as fun travel mementoes. Families can keep a travel journal during a trip. The journal can be electronic and be video clips taken of children talking about what they thought of each destination while there. Children can also take their own videos and pictures on a phone so they can have their own perceptions of trips to recollect on. Families can also collect such things as postcards and brochures to paste in a book. A journal can also include stains from foods tried during the trip or smears of dirt from a hiking trip (which kids will find fun to compile).
Teens: Having teens involved in the planning process for a trip can keep them engaged during the vacation. Having a teen design part of the itinerary and allowing them to pick attractions that match their interest is helpful. If possible, allow teens to access the internet at times during the trip. Being able to keep in touch with their friends may be a huge plus for a teen. Allow teens time to sleep late and have down time during the vacation. Including activities that offer new and adventure-filled experiences may also attract teens' interest. Teens may also appreciate some time exploring a destination on their own as long as both parents and the teen feel safe about that option.
|Adelaide Littner and Evelyn Littner playing in the sand in Mousehole, England, a village in the Cornwalll area.|
Travel bargains: Traveling overseas can be costly, but with some research and planning costs can be reduced in certain areas of one's travel budget. Staying in an Airbnb is a very family friendly choice. They are often cheaper than hotels and offer amenities like having a full kitchen and washer/dryer. Children typically do not enjoy eating out in restaurants as much as adults do. If staying in lodging that offers a full kitchen, children can have more choices on the foods that they would like and money can be saved on meals not eaten in restaurants. With some research, one can often find Airbnbs that have toys, a swing set or are in close proximity to a playground. Airbnbs can also offer a unique experience with lodging and add to the adventure of traveling.
If interested in flying to Europe, utilizing the low-cost carrier Wow airlines from CVG can offer options for various countries. If willing to drive to Chicago and park, families can often save a significant amount on flights by taking a direct flight to Europe from Chicago and a layover in another city can be skipped. Lower-cost airlines like SAS (Scandinavian Airline Systems), Iceland Air and Norwegian Air fly directly to many countries in Europe from Chicago. There are also parking garages near O'Hare airport that cost $10 a day to park if booked in advance and even with that expense it is still much less costly to fly to Europe from there.
Traveling during Thanksgiving week is costly for domestic flights, but often a good time to find a bargain flight to Europe. Traveling to the Caribbean or to Europe during spring break can offer reduced crowds and costs compared to the high seasons of winter for the Caribbean and summer for Europe.
Traveling with children can slow down an itinerary, as more downtime and rest time are necessary. However, it can deepen the travel experience for the whole family. Children that travel overseas are given the chance to see the cultural differences as well as the commonalities when visiting another country. They are able to receive a first-hand education about history, geology and geography as it applies to the destination visited. Many memories that last a lifetime and impact a child's development in a positive way are made through travel.
|Adelaide Littner in Puerto Rico.|
Recommended Travel Products:
Car Seat Travel Cart: If wanting to use a car seat during the plane ride (which can be helpful for naptime), toddlers can ride in their convertible car seats through the airport using this cart. This is especially helpful to use during a layover.
Kids Sleep Mask: A cute mask that helps with napping on the plane and can be a comfort item too.
Headphone Splitter: If kids are in agreement to watch the same show, having a headphone splitter while traveling can preserve the battery life of iPads and tablets by having kids share instead of watching something individually.
Blanket/Pillow Combination: Since airplane blankets are often hard to come by these days, kids will enjoy this soft blanket in multiple color choices. The blanket's cover is a pillowcase and it includes an inflatable pillow.
|Evelyn Littner in old San Juan Puerto Rico.|
Recommended Family Travel Websites:
Ciao Bambino: A website with information on family friendly destinations around the world.
Suitcases and Sandcastles: A blog with information about family travel in Europe.
Lonely Planet Kids: Information on activities, guidebooks and destinations around the world for kids and families.