I received my first passport when I was five, before my family moved to Naples, Italy, for three years. While there, my parents planned countless family trips, taking advantage of our proximity to new places, cultures and people. We explored Italy; took weekend jaunts to London and Scotland; and traveled around Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and even Egypt.
When we moved back to the United States, it was important to my parents that we continue to travel as a family. They wanted to show me and my siblings famous landmarks — like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument — and let us experience different areas of the country, from the hills of San Francisco to the lakes of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.
As I grew older, my parents gave me opportunities to explore without them. I revisited London and Paris on a high school trip, and my sister and I rode a bus from south Georgia to Houston with a choir group. Not every trip was life-changing, but each one further contributed to my love of travel.
While some people are surely born with the wandering spirit, others need it to be cultivated. My sister is a prime example of a true nester — she was always a bit more hesitant to take off on a journey, but was happy when we arrived in our vacation destination. For many kids like her, home is comfortable: There are the usual toys, consistent meal breaks and reassurance that the best peanut butter is on hand. But with a little bit of prep work, you can help your children grow a love of travel that stays with them forever.
Practice, practice, practice.
Learning to travel requires practice, just as is the case with learning a language, sport or musical instrument. In this context, it means taking your kids on all kinds of trips from a young age. My parents started with shorter-distance jaunts and helped us feel comfortable by answering some basic questions before we left. How long is the drive? What will we do when we get there? Where will we sleep? Regardless of destination, we went through the same questions, and the process soon became routine; the more we practiced traveling, the more comfortable we became.
Even small trips can become adventures, if you present them that way. Camp in the backyard, or check into a local hotel and take a stay-cation in your own town. Every experience builds on the one before.
Prep for the trip.
Before each trip, my mom would bring my siblings and me to the library to check out books about our destination. When we were planning a Paris vacation, we read books about the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, looked at pictures of the Champs-Élysées and discussed what we’d see in the Louvre. By the time we arrived in France, I knew what to expect. There were still surprises and it was still exciting, but I wasn’t nervous about every little thing.
When my mother, sister and I took my five-year-old niece, Evaline, to Chicago, my sister went through the same process. Evaline had been on a plane before, but my sister reminded her that flights can be long and that unexpected things, like delays and missed connections, can happen. She also talked through how to act on planes and in busy airports. The trip was a success: Evaline wasn’t thrown off when our flight was delayed, she had a great time, and she now counts Chicago as one of her favorite places.
It’s easier when you have a plan while traveling with kids — and that means prepping before you leave for the trip, as well as for each new day while you’re there. Take some time before bed to talk about what you enjoyed that day, and discuss what will happen tomorrow.
Cherish the memories.
The journey doesn’t end when you return home. With digital photos and smartphones, it’s easy to let the vacation pictures languish in the cloud; but it’s worth it to print hard copies. My parents made sure to create albums of our trips and placed framed photos around the house, so we could always go back and remember the experiences.
As for my niece, Evaline, she enjoys looking at pictures from our Chicago trip, as well as from earlier vacations. She was only 13 months old when we went to the Florida Keys, and she doesn’t remember much, but she often looks at the photo book from that trip. She loves to see herself as a baby — it reminds her that she’s been traveling for almost her entire life. I hope that excitement continues to grow.
It’s easy to create photo books online — with some services, all you have to do is upload the pictures, and the layout will be created for you. Try to create a book as soon as possible following each trip, while you’re still motivated to do so.
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