International travel with children and/or grandchildren defines a different kind of trip than going solo. You’ll need to rethink almost all your typical planning options.
If this is your first family foray to Europe, the temptation is to visit as many capital cities as possible and take in all the sights: the Tower of London, the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower, the Prado, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Parthenon. The more countries the better.
You might want to reconsider.
A family trip is about building bonds and making memories. This can best be done in an environment with low distraction and high interaction. And, at the same time, reap the richness of an international experience.
As a child, your family may have enjoyed summer trips to a cabin on a lake. There was connection with nature, family storytelling around a campfire, boating and swimming, shared preparation of meals, day trips to local attractions. Over the years, trips to the same cabin on the same lake strengthened these memories and bonded generations together.
They are the stuff of endless “remember when” stories.
How can you plan the same type of experience with an international destination?
- Visit only one country. Go for quality of experience rather than quantity.
- Stay in a remote village/town where you can live with and get to know the locals. When you’re invited to participate in local events, festivals, outings, you experience it as an insider rather than an outsider. (When you are invited into a home, wow)!
- Rent an apartment. This provides more space and flexibility than staying in a hotel. It allows you to eat “in” and gives you the option for group meal prep. And, if the weather is bad, you aren’t spending a restless day crammed into small hotel rooms.
- Stay in one location at least two weeks. It takes time to integrate into the local community and make the experience your own.
- Take day trips to learn about the country and its culture. There will be ample opportunities to explore a new country from the radius of a home base. Plus you reduce the tedium of endless packing/unpacking and travel.
- Intersperse kid-friendly fun (hiking in search of trolls, pony trekking…) with learning (visiting a castle or village museum, observing cheese making…).
- Prepare the kids prior to taking the trip. Use maps, videos, books, photos, history to learn about the country. Learn to speak a few words of the language.
- Record the trip in photos (taken by both you and your children/grandchildren) that you jointly design into albums when you return. Writing captions for the pictures helps anchor the experiences in memory.
Once kids sample the differences experienced in a foreign country, they will return. Later they can visit the must-see sights. That’s assuming, of course, that they rank these sites above those they shared with you – experiences of unique connections with real people in real places doing real things.
Ah, the memories.
Janet Dieman © 2018