I’m of the belief that children need to start traveling while they are still young. The mere act of going to a place that is unfamiliar in terms of landscape, food, culture, history and maybe even language encourages children to develop organizational skills, a sense of independence and greater responsibility.
This was put to the test this summer when, armed with one rollaway bag and two backpacks, my 9-year-old son and I went on a seven week trip through four countries: Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Scotland.
Given that he had already traveled to more than eighteen countries (this wasn’t his first rodeo as they say), my concern was more about how he would fare being constantly on the move for an extended period of time.
You’ll be reading all about our adventures in the coming weeks, but since we’ve come back to the United States, some readers have asked about the travel skills that he learned (or better said that I tried to teach).
1. Know Some Words (and Local Phrases) Before You Go – I explained to my son that people appreciate it when you take the time to learn just a few words in their native language. For example, they are more likely to respond to – good morning and thank you and my name is… and more likely to help you if you ask – where is the toilet? or how much is this? or what came to be the most helpful expression for my son when he would come across a pickup soccer game can I play with you?
2. Pack Light & Be Prepared to do Laundry – The old saying goes when packing for a trip to take half the clothes you’ve set aside and twice the money. Given the 40 degree difference between our hottest destination (Cyprus) and coolest (Scotland), packing was a challenge. But, the skills I endeavored to teach were being able to work with layers, plan ahead, do more with less, and (the fun) of hanging our clothes out to dry in the sunshine.
3. Take Lots of Photos & Keep a Journal – My son had his own digital camera that wasn’t fancy, but it was small enough so that he could easily handle its functions and take a quick photo of whatever interested him. Between the two of us, we took more than 3,000 photos and videos. As for the journal, admittedly, I wanted for him to keep a daily journal to note his likes, dislikes, observations and questions. However, in reality, the journal was filled in every 4 or 5 days, which turned out to be fine because after we got home, he opted to make a large poster (one for each country) filled with photos and observations from his trip as a permanent memory.
4. Have a Loose Itinerary & Enjoy the Diversions – While I think it’s important for children to have structure to their days, I wanted for my son to also appreciate the unexpected opportunities that come up when weather changes a planned activity, trains stop running or you feel like exploring unhurried through a village. For example, just in Croatia, we met a shop owner in Hvar who specialized in locally sourced products and talked to him about his challenges for marketing “green”, met another family in Dubrovnik’s Old Town while the kids played soccer, came upon the most beautiful sunset in Rovinj, listened to the sound of nature after a fierce rainstorm in Split…all by accident and all remarkable.
5. Keep Track of Your Stuff – By far, the biggest lesson! Over the seven weeks, he learned:
a. how to organize his things in a hotel room so that you don’t lose anything – namely take one shelf for the clothes you plan to wear during your time in that hotel, lock your passport and electronics inside a safe (if provided) or tucked away in your locked rollaway bag, and keep all toiletries in a clear bag hanging on the bathroom door,
b. how to keep his backpack from getting stolen during the day – namely keep his camera attached to one of his pant loops and only take the very necessary items such as a travel book and extra layer so if the backpack is taken, it won’t be more than just a hassle, and
c. how to clear a room before checking out – namely by clearing out a bathroom first and working around the room clockwise until you’ve checked through each closet, drawer, bed (including within the sheets and under the bed), and desk. He’s a professional at this point!
Have you taught your child another specific travel skill? We’d love for you to share ideas with our readers!