Many parents dream of far-flung lands, of hearing foreign tongues and eating exotic foods, and of ways of life that have nothing in common with how they are currently living life. But how do you instill that same excitement towards travel in your kids? True, kids are born into this world with their own personalities, and it seems that some are predestined to be travelers and others not so much, but there are things that can be done to light a spark in any child to want to know more about the world.
Make the world seem smaller
For this, my family participates in Couchsurfing. (www.couchsurfing.org). We signed up to host travelers who want to interact with locals. As a host, we can choose to invite the traveler into our home to stay, or we can invite them to dinner, or meet up in town to share a meal or to show them around. Over the years, we have hosted people from over 30 different countries, and now my kids feel as though they have friends all over the world – because they do. Uzbekistan seems real to them now, because they know people from there and learned how to count in Uzbek. A friend from Paris sending us recipes online after staying with us makes Paris seem super easy to connect to. A future school exchange program to Portugal or to Norway is more enticing if they already have contacts there that they have met in person, and they have already heard amazing things about the country from someone who grew up there.
Engage their senses
Make one night a week ‘foreign food night’, and make a point to try out a different foreign food each time if possible. Search out restaurants (you may be surprised what your town offers), or get cookbooks from the library or recipes online to cook at home. Keep it fun – they should not realize that it is can be so educational – but look up some strange facts to share about the country or region. Download music from that area and listen to it while eating or on the drive to the restaurant. For those who say that their kids won’t touch foreign food – give it a chance! Not every time will be a hit, but let your kids surprise you with what they end up liking. My kids’ favorite food of all time is Ethiopian, not only for the flavors but also because traditionally it is eaten with no utensils, off of one communal plate made of a giant fluffy/sticky pancake of injera flour. It’s about as kid-friendly and relaxed as a meal could get.
Help them travel in their mind
I still remember my favorite book from when I was little. It was called ‘Parrots and Monkeys’, and was a thriller that took place in the Amazon outside of Iquitos, Peru. The first chance that I got as an adult to travel, guess where I went to? Straight to the same area. I had the image of the place in my head for so many years, wanting so badly to hear the screech of the monkeys and feel the damp heat of the jungle on my skin, that I knew I would never get it out of my system until I actually went. So share books with your kids that take them to far-off places in their imaginations, and you may be planting a seed that can’t help but come to fruition down the road.
Make travel fun
This one might seem obvious, but to many it is not. If, for your annual vacation, you spend the week before stressing over packing, and you spend the entire time on vacation stressing over what (or what not) to do, and you spend the entire time after the vacation complaining about how much you spent…travel does not exactly come across as fun for the kids. Unconsciously (or consciously), they may just come to see travel as the thing that makes mommy or daddy stressed. Invite the kids to help you plan, let them see your enthusiasm for the trip, let the kids dictate some of the itinerary, and make a point to have fun. Not forced fun, just the kids of fun that you can have when you drop all of the usually unnecessary stress.
Teach them that travel is accessible
I grew up thinking that travel was out-of-reach expensive. That it was something that was supposed to wait until after one retires. That work was much more important, and that travel was pretty much as self-indulgent as one could get. I grew up with dreams of being an exchange student in Italy, of postponing college a bit to go teach English in Prague – but I ended up doing nothing with travel until years later (and I became a travel writer – hey, if work was supposed to be my priority, might as well make traveling my work!). In the back of my head, I think I grew up thinking that travel could not be educational in and of itself, it was merely frivolous and for the rich. I didn’t come from money, and I certainly did not want to appear frivolous when there was my ‘real’ education to attend to. Now, I teach my kids that travel is a priority, and that no matter how little we may have in savings at certain times, we will make it happen. Not every family trip has to set you back thousands of dollars, and there are resources out there to assist financially on some trips. For example, if the kids want to study abroad, there is the Rotary Club that can assist with expenses. If we can’t afford to fly, we can take a train or a bus. If a hotel is out, we can always Couchsurf or camp. But, come hell or high water, we will not make excuses about why the dream is impossible to realize. It’s always possible with huge doses of desire and creativity.
How do you inspire your kids to love travel? Where do your kids dream of going, and why do you think they chose that place? Do you have a child who is very resistant to travel? Please, share your stories and insight by leaving a comment below!