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10 Tips For Raising a Smart Traveler


Just like you can teach your kids to cook or make their bed, you can impart the essential skills that make a savvy traveler. Here's what they need to know.

1. Teach Them to Pack Early

Happy family mother and child daughter suitcases packed for vacation

Traveling with kids can be extremely stressful, but preparing in advance can help alleviate some of that stress. About a week before the trip, have your kids start the packing process. They can’t take their whole room with them, but let them pack a few (smallish) special items they can’t live without, alongside the essentials. Over the week as they give packing more thought, they can add or subtract items until they’ve struck the right balance. Packing early helps avoid last minute power struggles, and gives you plenty of time to explain why an item may or may not be a good choice.

2. Make Lists

Family preparing for road trip

Just like adults, kids can compile lists to declutter their minds and avoid forgetting a crucial item. Help your kids create a packing list, making sure they include basics like “toothbrush” and “underwear” along with their cherished DS or stuffed animal. With enough teaching and encouragement, your child will be able to manage the packing process on his own, keeping you from going insane trying to remember every single thing for every single person. Just be sure to double-check her lists the first few times you try this—you certainly don’t want to get halfway around the world to find your kid didn’t pack any underwear.

3. Plan for the Unexpected

Winter soaking by the sea

You may be off to sunny Florida, but even Florida has clouds and cold spells. Show kids that when traveling, it’s smart to plan for unforeseen circumstances. After they have the essentials in the bag, make sure your kids pack for a chilly day, a rainy night or an unexpected pool in the hotel you find along the way.

4. Review the Itinerary Together

Girl using digital tablet while sitting with parents on sofa

It’s not just you who’s anxious about a big trip; your kids might be worried about departing from their routine, too. Help alleviate their concerns by revealing the full game plan in advance. If you plan on leaving at 7 a.m. sharp, then the kids know to get ready first thing rather than lounging in their pajamas in front of the T.V. If you don’t plan on reaching Disney World until the second day of your trip, knowing what to expect will keep the kids from bouncing in their seats asking to see Mickey five minutes after you’ve pulled out of the driveway.

5. Memorize Important Information

Boy playing with digital tablet

Before the trip, review important information with your children. Older kids likely know their home address and phone number, but it’s important younger children commit this information to memory, too. Make sure everyone in the family knows mom’s cell phone number in case anyone gets separated. If your kids have a difficult time remembering this info, or if you don’t like leaving anything to chance, find a way to have them wear the vital information. You could buy metal tags at a jewelry store, for example, and have them engraved with your number for your children to wear as necklaces so they always have the number with them.

6. Read Road Signs

Boys on the road

Having kids search for and identify road signs is not only a way to entertain them but also gets kids accustomed to observing their surroundings, a vital travel skill. Tell your children the name of the road you’re currently on and what street you’ll be turning onto next. Sharing what exits or signs to look for actively engages them in travel and gets them excited about making progress toward their destination rather than becoming bored. There’s no better way to avoid the the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”

7. Appoint a Home Base

Happy family trowing coins at Trevi Fountain

Although they may be tremendously excited, teach your children the importance of paying attention and sticking together during a vacation. In the event they do get separated from you, however, you’ll want a pre-arranged spot for them to return to and wait for the family to come get them. Once you arrive at your destination, select a distinctive location, like a fountain at the entrance of a park or a hallmark ice cream parlor on the boardwalk.

8. Develop An Emergency Plan

Prepared and Unprepared

If they’re prepared with a plan of action in case something goes wrong, kids are more likely to handle an emergency wisely. Prepare them for certain situations and give them concrete actions to take. For example: “If you get lost in a huge hotel or resort, go to the front desk or ask a hotel employee to call Mom’s cell phone.” In the more likely event that kids get separated from you on the street, teach them who is safe to talk to and which streets are safe to walk on: “If you get lost in a crowd, ask a police office for help, and stay on well-lit streets with lots of people around.”

9. Give Everyone a Map

Consulting city map

Whether you’re visiting a theme park, a national park or a major city, get a map of the area for everyone in the family. Review the map with your kids so they can gain a sense of location, begin to learn the cardinal directions of North, East, South and West, and learn to look for trail markings or street signs. Understanding how to read a map is a building block for a lifetime of seasoned and successful travel, even in our era of GPS devices.

10. Encourage Kids to Trust Their Instincts

Children balancing on tree trunks

Even adults have trouble practicing this sometimes, but we have instincts for a reason: to protect ourselves. Planning a trip with your children is the perfect occasion to teach them this valuable lesson. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t, so let your kids know it’s OK for to go with their gut and walk away from a person or situation that seems unwise or dangerous.

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