Many adults are overwhelmed when planning a vacation two hours away, let alone heading to a country half way across the world. Imagine how a child feels when then are told they will be traveling to a foreign country. Children thrive on routine, and can experience anxiety when they are told they will be leaving the comforts of home to visit a new place where people don’t speak their language, and live a lifestyle different from their own. There are many ways to prepare your children for what they will experience, hopefully allaying their fears well before heading to the airport.
How to Prepare Kids for Travel to a Foreign Country
1. Find the destination on a map
As soon as you have your destination in mind, show your child the destination on a map. Show them where you live. Discuss the distance between the two places. How will you get there? How long will it take to reach your final destination? What modes of transportation will you use? Is there a time change? Start a dialogue and answer as many questions as you can.
2. Involve your children in planning
Head to the library and research the country (or countries) you will visit. Check out non-fiction books from the library about the countries or find fictional books that are set in that country. Headed to France? Read Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Visiting Greece? Try Hour of the Olympics by Mary Pope Osborne. Kids love to hear stories of fictional characters that take place in cities they will be visiting. Talk about the people, food, landscape, climate, and landmarks you will see. Use the internet to answer questions as needed.
3. Purchase foreign currency and discuss it with the kids
We find it helpful to have a small amount of local currency upon arrival at our destination. It also provides a good teaching opportunity for the kids. We teach them about exchange rates, what things will cost, how we set a budget for the trip. Basically, a math lesson without complaints!
4. Expose your children to the language
Before you leave, look for opportunities to teach your children a few key phrases. There are several ways to do this. Our children have taken language classes at the local language school where they could enroll on a monthly basis. We found classes through our local school district. If you have relatives or friends that speak a foreign language ask them to teach the kids a few words. You can also find bilingual Bingo games, flash cards, or a bilingual picture dictionary. You can even make your own flash cards by looking up words on the internet.
5. Learn about the cuisine
Find recipes or food from the country you will visit and try out a few recipes at home before you travel. When you expose children to new foods in the comfort of their own home, it seems they are more willing to sample the food when they finally encounter it on the road.
6. Watch travel shows
There might be a variety of travel show DVDs available at your local library. You may also be able to find some shows on television. Our children happen to be partial to “House Hunters International”. The show doesn’t matter as long as it exposes your child to life in another country.
7. Listen to music from that country
Most kids love to listen to music and this is a great introduction to a foreign culture. Let them listen to what you can find on the internet. If a country has a particular style of music that is special to that country, for example: “Fado” in Portugal, find some examples of Fado music and share it with your children. Discuss the history of Fado in Portugal and its importance to the Portuguese people.
As with many things, children need reassurance when faced with the unknown. When you prepare your children for traveling abroad, you are helping to make the unfamiliar, familiar. Travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, but adequately preparing your child for the adventure of a lifetime is a gift for everyone.