Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Traveling Tricks for Kids

Our summer trip to the States is just around the corner which means it's time to dust off the suitcases along with all the best travel tricks to keep everyone happy and organized!  This year will be much easier to manage; 5 weeks in 1 country verses last year's 10 weeks and 4 country tour.
i think last year earned us a gold exploration badge as we traversed thousands of miles on planes, trains, boats, and automobiles with 2 children and limited luggage.  i'm brushing up on all my mental notes of what to do again and what not to do.   i wish i could say the following tips are all my original ideas but alas, i am the master of stealing and tweaking ideas a bit.  Here are our top 10 survival tips.

10.  Pack, Wrap and Roll  
i have NO IDEA why this is true but it is.  If you roll your clothes like cinnamon rolls you can fit WAY more in your suitcase.  (Can someone explain this phenomenon?) This technique has been a life saver while sharing suitcases.  Cardinal Packing Rule: Every top MUST match every bottom to allow for lots of mixing and matching.  i also roll outfits together so when i pull one bundle out i don't have to search for its other half.  All underwear and socks are stashed in a Ziploc bag which make it easy for locating undies without having to dump out the entire contents of the suitcase all over the hotel floor in a desperate search.  

Re-fashion cloth wine bags into shoe bags.

They have perfectly sized dividers for sandals and flip flops.

9.  Kids are Responsible for their Portion  
The kiddos are completely responsible for packing and carrying their own backpacks.  They are allowed to bring whatever toys they want as long as they are capable of carrying it the entire time.  We do a test drive at home before we leave.  They have to wear the packed backpack around the house for 10 minutes without complaining.  If they pass that test they advance to the second round where we go through the bag make to sure they wouldn't be devastated should any of the said items decide to stay in the country they are traveling to.  So far all stole aways have managed to find their way safely back home.  

  8.  We Research Before We Go
Sometimes i pity my kids for having to be under the care of a mommy who was a teacher in her previous life.  The good thing is they really don't know any different so they seem to actually enjoy and benefit from all the books we read prior to our trips.  Whether we travel to Thailand or Texas, we try to read up on where we are going so we know what to expect and anticipate in the adventure ahead.  

7.  A Happy Kid is an Occupied Kid That Knows What's Expected of Them
We try to always lay out clear expectations for our kids.  Our 2 main travel rules are short and sweet:

1. Think of Others.
2. We won't listen to tantrums...EVER!
They know the 16 hour flight will be long and we will all probably be grumpy and tired by the time we land.  We have to do our best to deal with it so we are ready for fun when we land.  The plane is a time warp and the ONLY time they are allowed unlimited electronic and movie time.  Kyle starts the video marathon the minute his buns touch the seat.  Ry prefers to use other devices of distraction first.  With over 200 movies to choose from, tons of video games, camera views from the plane and never ending service of food, the kids stay relatively busy.   They also know that they are required to participate in family nap time which is where we all make an attempt to fall sleep somewhere around the 10th hour.  
Key word: attempt!

Once off the plane and at our destination the video games get packed away pretty much never to be seen again until the flight home.  It may sound harsh to some but the kids have easily adapted and rarely request it.  Too much fun to be had out in the world to be stuck behind a video screen.

HOWEVER...  i confess there are times where i am in desperate need of an electronic babysitter so our solution is the basic black and white Kindle.  It's light and easy to fill with tons of books for all 4 of us.  We load up our backpack with Kindles and snacks so when we need to spend 45 minutes sorting out train tickets and there is no where for the kids to run around they can pick up a book and read.  LOVE that we can check out Kindle books instantly on our laptop from a library in California no matter where we are.  

  6.  Write Out Destination 
Goals/Plans in Pencil and Throw ALL Expectations Out the Window.

We try to remember life can be messy.  Sometimes our best laid plans end up in shambles so we try to be flexible and enjoy the little moments.   Sometimes we arrive at some fabulous destination only to find 2 sick travelers or the train we planned on taking just left.  We try to look for fun in the ordinary.

i had all intentions of taking a picturesque walk around a quaint Switzerland village with "beautiful panoramic views of the lake."  10 minutes into our walk we stumbled upon a sign reading Kinderspielplatz.  Had it been only written in German, we could have walked right past it and on with MY plan.  However for the benefit of non German speaking tourist (and her insightful children)  there were very clear graphic visuals announcing, "AWESOME PLAYGROUND THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS!  THIS WAY!!!  i never did get to take that walk but the kids loved spending the entire day swinging on contraptions i am sure are considered a safety hazard in California while i lounged in the shade with a good book.

If i had been set on accomplishing my list, we would have missed out on a day they still say was one of their favorites.

5.  Be Respectful of Different Cultures.
Obviously cultures vary from country to country and even state to state.  Although we may not agree with everything within a particular culture we are trying to teach our children to be thoughtful and respectful of all people.  One recent example is modesty, in Dubai people are typically more covered in their clothing while in Europe my kiddos had to play in parks amongst little children running around naked.   At one point Kyle whispered to me, "Mom, why does everyone have to be so naked around here!?"  As Americans we fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes of nakedness running all over the park and shrouded black abayas.  However, this is one example where we get hands on practice of showing kindness and respect even if at times it is a bit out of our comfort zone.      

 4. If at all Possible Hang out with the Locals

Spending time with locals allows us to ask question of their culture, learn some new vocabulary and find out what regular life looks like for them.  (Riley is working on a deal to see if she can score a day at work with this gentleman 'cause his job for the last 20 years is para sailing tourists over the Alps!) 

They introduce us to bits and pieces of their country we never read about in the books.  

3. Sample New Foods

Of course there are the obvious foods we KNOW we love but the conversation between 2 milk connoisseurs about the difference in richness and flavor between Switzerland milk, California milk and camel milk was priceless. 

Part of experiencing a new culture for us is sampling it's local flavors.  We have discovered some new favorites that are now weekly staples.  (Passion fruit is a favorite afternoon snack.)  Thankfully, both kids are open minded and willing to try ANYTHING.  
We know that breadfruit is great if served in a restaurant if we don't have to smell it being cut because it's so foul.

 (picture taken from wikipedia)

Maybe it's because we can't find ripened snake fruit that we don't like it.  We are told it is delicious but we prefer to look at it rather than eat it. 

  Riley asked after her second bite, "So what is fois gras anyways?!"

2. Let Kids Manage and Spend their Own $$$.
i think i stole this from someone else so i can't take credit but i do know that it works like a dream.  We gave each of the kids a set amount of money to last them 4 weeks of the European vacation (say $100 dollars each.)  It is theirs to spend however they choose (snacks, souvenirs, activities) but when it is gone, it's GONE.   The ultimate goal is to teach them wise spending.  They discovered 100 US dollars was suddenly "reduced" to 77 Euros upon arrival.
"Mom, can i have that really hideous stuffed animal for 20 euros?"
"Sure! with your money."
"Oh...well no, i guess it's not really what i want."
"Mom? Can i have an ice cream cone?"
"Sure! with your money."
"Oh, well how much is it exactly?"

After about two day of this they no longer asked for everything they laid eyes on.  We  started off by gently reminding them if they spend all their money the first week they would have nothing left to spend when they got to another country.  It didn't take long before they were wisely shopping for the best deals for treasures that meant a lot to them  

Swiss Army knife with initials and music box

They learned about the loss that occurs when converting currencies and how prices and value vary from place to place.  While in Thailand we have them 600 baht to last them a week.  You should have seen their jaws drop and their eyes gleam at the number 600!!  For the first few seconds they were ecstatic at the amount they were holding.  It didn't take long for the light to dawn.  

"Hey, wait a minute... How much is this in US dollars?!"
"20 dollars."
Kyle raced into the nearest shop to inspect local prices and realized $20 would be more than enough to last a week in Thailand.  

We no longer have to say "No" all the time to silly purchases and hopefully they are learning  something in the process.

We quickly discovered who was a spendthrift and who is frugal.

Drum Roll... Our Number one favorite tip

1. Show lots of Love and Have lots of Fun

We are goofy on the swings

Dance in fountains

give lots of Love 
because without that everything else is meaningless!