My kids and I recently watched Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” During one musical number, I said, “Someday, we’ll go to New Orleans together as a family. It’s an amazing city. Music fills the streets night and day, and it has a lot of French history (they know mommy is a francophile).” My love for the city must have come through, because they seemed captivated by the idea of visiting The Big Easy after that.
If you’re planning a family trip, it may help build your kids’ interest if you can start building a connection to your destination into your lives in the months prior to the vacation. The goal is to have fun, get excited for the trip and maybe learn a little—not to turn your getaway into a school-ish lesson or “one more thing to do” for the parents. There’s nothing wrong with watching Yogi Bear as a silly connection to a trip to Yellowstone National Park! Here are a few other ideas:
Films: As in my example, movies can really bring a destination to life—anything from Disney cartoons to documentaries can help educate while entertaining. Use Google searches, IMDB.com and Common Sense Media to help you track down relevant, appropriate and engaging films.
Music: Will you be traveling somewhere with a distinctive musical legacy or tradition? You can usually dig something up, whether it’s the Grateful Dead and San Francisco, bluegrass and Appalachia, or jazz and blues in Chicago. If you’re traveling abroad, look for both current and traditional music for your destination. Pop music is a whole new experience in a foreign language! Your local library or independent record store (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) should have knowledgeable staff that can help provide recommendations.
Speaking of libraries… Take a trip to your local library and tell a reference librarian about your upcoming trip. Ask them if they can help you identify good books and other resources. Most librarians are in the field because they love research, helping people and digging through information to find answers. I’d be shocked if you don’t come away with at least one or two great suggestions. I’m not just talking about travel guides. There may be great children’s books or young adult/historical fiction that would help inspire young imaginations. You can also visit the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library online.
Art: Do any of your local museums feature art related to your travel plans? You may need to make a few phone calls and do some legwork online, depending where you’re headed. The art department of a nearby university may have some suggestions for you as well. If you are traveling in the U.S., check out the Smithsonian American Art Museum online.
Friends: Use social media to let friends know of your travel plans and ask for recommendations, suggestions and travel tips. (It’s usually wise not to broadcast the specific dates of your travel online, just to be safe.)
Food! Aside from love, the international language may well be food, and what could be more fun that tracking down a nearby restaurant focused on your destination’s cuisine? This might be a nice family outing to celebrate booking your flights or otherwise cementing your travel plans. On a practical level, it may provide an introduction to new foods or methods of serving and eating—most kids love trying out chopsticks, for example. You can also track down some recipes online and bring the meal home.
Personalize it. Does your kid have a passionate interest or hobby? If so, connect it to your trip somehow. Do an online search for “reptiles of Australia,” “French princesses,” etc. and see what you can find out together. If there’s a way to build your kids’ interests into the itinerary, so much the better.
I personally view travel as an investment. Instilling a love of travel and discovering new people and places in your kids can help put them on the path toward a lifetime of learning and adventure.
Karen Witham is the mother of two great kids, ages 5 and 7. She works full-time as an editor and writer in San Francisco and lives in Oakland. A transplant from the East Coast, she spent ten years living in Boston and also loves New York and, most of all, Paris. Karen has a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from Emerson College. She blogs at Thoughtstream. Connect with her on Twitter at. @kewitham