Traveling to a new country can be a bit scary for anyone, no matter how exciting it might be – and it’s often particularly scary for kids. Most kids are great travelers because, by nature, kids are pretty adaptable to new things, but a new country with new sights and sounds can be a little intimidating for even the most experienced little traveler.
Our kids are 4 and 12-months, and while we’ve taken them on numerous trips, this year will be our first time taking them to a country that is new for both them and us, where we don’t know quite what to expect. I’ve been working hard on getting the kids excited for this trip, and trying to find ways to prepare them for traveling to a brand new country where things will be different from what they’re used to. Take a look at some of the things we’ve been doing to prepare kids for international travel.
How to prepare kids for international travel
Buy a guide book and learn about the country before you go
I’ll be honest, even in the age of online everything, I prefer a physical copy of a book to anything I can read online – and this goes for travel guides too, even if I’m the only person still buying them! I love flipping through a guide book to find the best places to eat and sights to see, and I especially love looking at pictures of the places we’ll be visiting.
This year I’ve bought three travel guides (and it’s only April) for some of our adventures this year, and I’ve made an effort to share them with my 4-year old, Harrison. I’ve let him look at pictures of some of the cool things we might see, and tried to answer his questions on things that look different to him. This has opened the door to talking about different cultures and the different ways people do things, and I hope that by learning a bit about this in advance, it will seem more familiar when we are in those countries.
Another great option for kids are the Good Night books; these books are written for specific states and countries, so you can find the corresponding book to the place you visit before you go. We get the book for the place we’re visiting a few weeks before our trip to read about some of the fun new places we’ll be seeing.
Watch YouTube travel videos on the country
I am a little bit addicted to travel videos on YouTube, and I’ve managed to pass that addiction on to my kids! I love watching videos of families enjoying the places we’re going to go, getting a real idea of what a place is like and what we might expect. Travel videos are such a great way to really get a feel for a country, to see what it’s actually like, and I especially love videos with kids exploring new places, as it gets Harrison excited for activities he might like too.
Our personal favorites are the fabulous members of The Bucket List family, who are traveling the world and documenting it all for us to watch – if you haven’t watched their videos, they are such a great way to see what a new country might be like, and find out some cool ideas for things to do when you get there!
Try the food
Traveling with a very picky eater, and a baby whose taste buds change daily, I’ve been more than a little concerned about traveling to new countries where food might be totally different than they’re used to. I have no desire to spend my vacation in restaurants begging my little ones to try something they’ve never even seen, let alone tasted, before, so we’ve been researching the food in advance.
I’ve tried making some of the dishes ahead of time so that they’ve at least seen something similar to what they might be eating on their trip. I don’t expect to transform my picky eater overnight, but my hope is that if we’ve tried some of the foods ahead of time, they won’t be so unfamiliar when we’re in the new country. Read this post for other tips on traveling with a picky eater.
Learn some of the language
I am a firm believer that, when traveling to a foreign country, you should learn a little bit of the language. I think it’s important to be able to say the basics such as please, thank you, excuse me, hello, and goodbye, and if you’re traveling with kids, it might be a good idea to expand that a bit. I always try to learn the word for ‘bathroom’ since we might need to find one in a hurry, and I try to learn some basic words about food and transportation.
Kids often have a much better ear for languages than we do as adults, and Harrison has found it really easy to learn certain phrases so he can at least have a (perhaps very short) conversation in a new country. I have always found that locals appreciate that you’re even trying to speak their language, and are often incredibly helpful in trying to understand what you need.
Involve them in the planning
When making a list of things we want to do when visiting a new place, I try to involve my family in the planning as much as possible. We’ll all talk about hotels, flights, activities, and meals as a family so we can decide on everything together, and I’ve found that this helps everyone feel included and gets everyone excited.
If we’re torn between being able to do two different activities, I’ll ask Harrison what he thinks and let him weigh in on the options. I’ve found that allowing him some input as to what we do not only helps him feel like he’s helping us plan – but if he then whines when we do said activity, I can remind him that it was his idea!
It’s also pretty cool to see him light up when he sees something in person that he’s seen during our planning, and it means he has an idea of what we’re actually going to do when we get to our destination.