My advice for parents planning a trip with kids is to remember the Three As: Adventure, Animals and Activities. It works for my four boys and I suspect it is the same for girls. ‘Animals’ is obvious (from critter-hunting in tidal pools to feeding kangaroos). ‘Adventure’ is physical (hiking up the tallest sand dune or learning to ski). And ‘Activities’ is more mental or manual (from learning a few key phrases in Japanese to making a clay shisa lion-dog).
A lot of the things adults plan a trip around – culture, food, history, religion – are of little inherent interest to most kids. I’ve often heard a well-meaning father declaiming to his kids from the history section of the Lonely Planet while his disinterested brood writhed. Kids often aren’t that pumped to visit local markets or try local dishes. They don’t care about the origins of the Sunni/Shia split. They are not going to remember when this country gained independence.
But this doesn’t mean that kids can’t learn important things when they travel. First, remember that they are already learning a lot just by being there! What is the climate like? Is it flat or mountainous? How do the people dress? Do they speak a language I recognize? What is the name of their money? Is it more like Thailand or Germany? You don’t always need to teach them; they are observing and absorbing.
Second, it’s one of your many jobs to make ‘boring’ subjects like Geography, History or Biology interesting – and using the Three As really helps. If you are always looking for opportunities to educate your kids, you will find thousands of fun ways to do it! Remember that there are so many resources available for.free online – from maps to phrasebooks to activity sheets!
Kids learn to be adventurous, curious and brave by watching YOU. Do you encourage them to test their physical limits, to try new things, or to do what scares them? Boys especially crave ‘pushing the envelope’ and shared adventure with their parents is an excellent way to get them hooked on exploring the world. Tell adventurous stories from your past when you put your kids to bed. Or look for adventure stories with a learning angle.
Even history becomes bearable if it’s adventurous: I doubt our boys will ever forget seeing the mummified remains of “Frozen Fritz” in Bolzano, Italy. And they love to hear stories of about great battles and heroes. Conn Iggulden’s Dangerous Book for Boys has some excellent tales. But I think Susan Wise Bauer deserves a Nobel Prize for her kid-friendly but information-rich “Story of the World” books. My boys asked if there was another chapter on the Black Death!
- Taking the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was a very memorable experience that the kids kept asking to repeat.
- Exploring and playing around the Khmer ruins in Buriram Province, Thailand. “This is like Indiana Jones!”
- Climbing to the top of the highest sand dune near the Qasr Al Sarab resort in Abu Dhabi
- Wading into the ocean at night on Koh Rong island, Cambodia, to see phosphorescent creatures.
- Renting bicycles to explore Kuro Island in the Yaeyamas, Okinawa.
- Hiking up to amazing vistas at Padar.Island, Komodo National Park. Also jumping off the boat into strong currents and swimming wildly for the ladder.
Kids love animals, from naked mole rats to whale sharks. Sure, you can visit a zoo, but it’s much more fun for kids to find animals in their natural habitat. One of the first things I do when we’re planning a trip is to research unusual, and ideally endemic, species of animals, bugs and even plants! We often bring bird or fish cards to help us identify what we’ve seen, or we look them up together on the Internet later. Besides Wikipedia, a-z-animals.com and factzoo.com have got great information and photos.
- At the Qasr al Sarab hotel in Abu Dhabi, the boys spent hours learning to sketch oryxes and honey badgers from templates I found on the Internet (WeDrawAnimals.com or DrawingTutorials101.com). The next morning the boys came screaming into our room – there was an oryx crossing the sand right below our window!
- In Komodo National Park we trekked to see Komodo Dragons in the morning and snorkelled with Mantas in the afternoon. An unforgettable Animal experience! And there were many pages online listing “Amazing Facts about Komodo Dragons” that the kids loved.
- In Okinawa, we visited the amazing Churaumi Aquarium and saw whale sharks and many other amazing creatures
- Nearly everyday in Bintan, Indonesia .the boys go ‘critter-hunting’ when the tide goes out (crabs, shrimp, gobies, sand dollars etc.)
- In the Anambas the boys swam with guitar sharks and released green sea turtles into the wild. They also enjoyed visiting a big fish farm.
- At Ras Al Jinz in Oman, we did a night walk to see nesting sea turtles
- We’ve done dolphin-watching cruises in Oman, Thailand and the Maldives.
Kids love to make things, to get their hands dirty or covered in paint or flour. Look for places that offer courses for kids. Also check out relevant activities on Pinterest or YouTube. Find local recipes online and get the kids involved. If you plan ahead, there are so many activities that you can do that will keep your kids engaged before, during and after the trip. And these activities will also help your kids remember the countries they visited better.
- After returning from the Maldives, we made a Lego stop-motion video of how an atoll is formed.
- In Naha, Okinawa, the boys made clay shisa figures at a pottery workshop.
- In Thailand, the boys made wax sheep candles in Suan Phueng
- In Batam, Indonesia the boys were quite captivated by the tour of the hotel’s spice and fruit garden.
- A 4-day ski school in Austria was one of the boys’ favorite trips
- In the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Oman, I showed the boys how Muslims pray, pointing out the mihrab (semicircular niche) that indicates the qibla (direction) of Mecca.