Are We There Yet?
By Lori Barrow
International Travel with kids: “I want to go home”
Being a missionary family, we’ve done our share of international travel with our lovely offspring. Whether you’ll be traveling with 1, 2, 3, or 4 (or more) children across the open waters, here are a few of my go-to tips and tricks for making the whole trip go a bit smoother and not hear those dreaded little words every other day, “I want to go home!”
- Stir Up Excitement
Going overseas can be a bit overwhelming for kids to imagine and a little scary when they don’t know what to expect. I try to stir up excitement for our upcoming trip in a couple of ways.
- Research with your kids. Google the country to answer questions like, what does it look like, what do they eat, what do the people look like and wear? I also like to check out geography books in the children’s library so they can look over it in the weeks prior to our trip. Watch videos on the travel network or even movies that take place in your destination country or a similar culture. This really helps create a sense of expectation in your children and will also help them feel more familiar with the culture once you land.
- Go to a restaurant with that type of food if possible. Going to Thailand? Hit up your local Thai restaurant. India, China, Mexico, etc - most of these are fairly common restaurants you can find all over the country. A benefit of this is sometimes you may even meet someone from the country you are going to you can talk with and ask questions! Try making a local dish at home as a family activity if you don’t have the restaurant available.
- Learn a little language. Knowing how to say ‘Hi’, ‘Bye’, ‘Thank you’, and a few other simple phrases will go a long way. I’ve found people love it when you know how to greet them in their own language, and I haven’t met a child yet who doesn’t love learning how to say a few words that sound so different from anything they know. Expect a lot of giggling during these lessons.
- Bring a piece of home along.
Kids need some sort of stability even when gallivanting around the world. Bring along that favorite blanket, stuffy, lego set or toy, book, or even pictures of loved ones they can look at when they start feeling homesick. My kids each pack their own carry on bags (with supervision so nothing is left behind) and it includes one or more of these items plus activities to do while traveling. It won’t be home, but it’s a little anchor to home for their little hearts. (I do this for myself too!)
3. Familiar Food
Depending on where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone, familiar food is a huge deal to kids (unless you have ones with adventurous palettes). For shorter trips, I will pack a Costco size amount of instant oatmeal packets, granola bars, and fruit snacks. Nut butters are good to bring along and can be really expensive overseas depending where you go. On longer trips I also budget to buy staples they like which may not be standard in the culture we’re visiting. You’ll be surprised how much plain cheddar cheese can be, so make sure you have a bit of a bigger food budget for your kids than you would for yourself, counterintuitive I know, but super helpful for times when they flat out refuse to eat one more noodle dish or rice and beans.
4. Establish a Rhythm
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during longer jaunts, is to try to establish a rhythm for our days and weeks. As chaotic as our homes are with our precious babes, they actually need structure and stability to be able to function well as little humans. Our family traveling is usually for ministry purposes rather than vacation, so if you’re on vacation, this may happen more naturally anyway. Our time though, is often filled with meetings, coffee dates to debrief other workers, outings for ministry, etc. It is important for our us to give the kids a slower schedule, have a routine in the mornings and set aside time to connect with one another. They are little people with big emotions, and living in a constant state of transition (ie. traveling) can be upsetting and make those emotions go on grand display. We make sure to schedule in family down times and also incorporate outings the kids are able to choose to make sure they feel included in our whole time abroad. There are still quite a few rocky moments, but the more the kids know what to expect of our day and can rely on certain things always happening, the more peace our kids have within themselves and with each other.
International travel often means long plane rides and most of the time, lots of waiting. Many other cultures operate at a much slower pace than we do in the west, and that can be hard for kids to adjust to. Being prepared with things for them to do will save you from the constant chorus we all know so well, “I’m bored!”
If you haven’t yet, read part one of this blog post: http://www.ywampismobeach.org/are-we-there-yet/. Several of the activities we prepare and use for road trips, are also great ideas for long plane rides. Some don’t take much space and can be used in multiple ways, very handy when you only have one carry on bag each!
For kids who can read, I make sure to download our local library app and Hoopla, and have them choose as many e-books as they can to put on their Kindles. We also allowed them to download a few new games. I spaced out the when they could play a new game to help the time go faster and keep the newness of the games last longer. (*Side note: I do set time limits for tech normally, but when we’re on the plane it’s free for all).
Small Toys: For in country bribery, I mean fun, I bring along several new small toys for each child to pass out as I need. Small things like lego sets, puzzle books, figurines, and play-dough, are easy to travel with and can bring great joy and hours of entertainment when the world is falling apart and there is absolutely “Nothing to do!”.
All in all, I’m a huge fan of traveling, and a firm believer that travel helps our kids grow into more well rounded humans with a larger view of the world than we can give them through the travel channel. When you get the opportunity to go, don’t let any fear of traveling with children prevent you from taking that leap and experiencing something only a different culture can offer you. With a little preparation and a lot of deep breathing and patience, it will be an experience you never forget and so very worth all the momentary trials that come along the way.