Raising Good Travelers

My five year old daughter, Beatrix, is an excellent traveller. I knock on wood a bit every time I mention it for fear that it will suddenly change. Yet, every long road trip or flight we take reassures me that it likely will always be the case. This past trip was no exception. In the car and driving all day, there was none of the impatience, squirreliness, or “are we there yet” that I’ve seen so many other parents report.

I thought a lot about it on the drive this time. Reflecting much on what makes her such a good traveller. And, though I’m sure a bit of it is because of just-who-she-is, I believe the main reason is one I can justly take far more pride in: We raised her this way.

Raising a good traveller was an intentional act on our part. As people that love to travel and try to do so as often as we can, having a kid that also understood the value we placed on it was important.

So, how did we do it? How did we raise a kid that is a joy to travel with?

  1. Start them traveling young and keep them traveling. By young I mean as soon as you can. Beatrix travelled to Denver, Norway, and Cancun before she even learned to walk. She has been to D.C. and upstate New York. We have taken her on long road trips to Boston, New Orleans, and Asheville, NC (we live in Minnesota). In fact, we have counted at least 18 states that she has visited or passed through. We plan on some more long intercontinental flights soon. Traveling is just a part of life to her. It is something that people do.
  2. Teach them appropriate etiquette (and model it yourself). There is a way one behaves that is situation appropriate. Want your kid to behave well in a theater? Take them to theaters often and show them how to behave. Want them to know how to behave in a restaurant? Take them out to eat (especially nice places) and show them how to behave. Want them to know how to behave on a plane? Well… You get the point. Which all goes back to item number one above. Take your kids places.
  3. Plan plenty of stuff to do along the way. Especially on long trips like road trips. Make the time to frequently stop at rest areas for a few minutes. Stop to read a historical marker or take in a scenic overlook. Do things like jumping jacks or two minute wiggle dance parties before you get back in the car to get the legs stretched, blood flowing, and laughter rolling. Certainly, iPads and the like have made the passing of time easier. But there are plenty of traditional road games (I spy, 20 Questions, Slug Bug, Find Five Things, etc.) that I would argue for many reasons are even better.
  4. Surprise them along the way. Find a nice playground near your lunch stop and let them play for a half hour. Bring a bag of brand new, yet inexpensive, small toys or books (dollar stores are great for this kind of stuff) and dole them out slowly over the course of the trip. It does not have to be a big deal. Just a “Oh yeah, I got this for you in case you were bored” sort of thing.
  5. Involve them. Let them know what to expect next. Tell them the major towns/cities that are between here and there in order that they know the milestones to look for (which answers the “how much further” questions before they are asked). If they are of reading age give them a map too (my little girl LOVES maps — just like her Mother). Give a few options for mealtime and let them choose. Give them a job or responsibility like making sure such-and-such is packed or cleaning the windows at the gas station. Make them an equal partner in the travel experience as much as you can so they will feel ownership of it too.

I could probably come up with more but these are some of the major things that I feel have made long journeys with Beatrix such a pleasure. She really is an excellent travel partner who we are comfortable taking along almost anywhere. I don’t know how many other parents of small children can say that but, hopefully, the above will help.

Bonus Packing Tip: For Beatrix, I pack each individual outfit into a gallon sized ziplock bag. For instance, a top, a bottom, pair of underwear, and some socks. I squeeze out the air and seal it tight. This way, I can lay a few bags out for her in the morning and she can choose one and know everything needed is in there and matches. Previous days worn clothes go into the bag the fresh ones come out of (and I keep the dirty and clean bags separated). This not only keeps things super organized and allows the kid to have a choice, but allows one to pack in half the space needed otherwise thanks to squeezing out all the air.

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