How to prepare your kids for traveling abroadAs we’ve been developing our plan for our year abroad we haven’t forgotten about how this major change in our lives will affect our kids.  Our kids are young (4 and 7) and to some extent thrive on an environment that is relatively stable and without the addition of a lot of unknowns.  Rapidly forcing them into a completely different and foreign environment will undoubtedly cause some undue stress.  At their age they are probably not able to process the changes the same way an adult would be able to.  So in light of our concern as to how they will respond we came up with several things that can help prepare them for the transition and get them excited about the adventure.  If you are planning a sabbatical and you have kids definitely check these out and start getting them prepared and excited as early as possible.

  1. Watch videos about your destination – chances are if you have young kids they have no idea about what your destination will be like.  Heck, you may not either!  Find and watch some videos that show your destination, the culture, the food, some exciting areas to visit will show them what they will be seeing and experiencing.  We’ve discovered several National Geographic documentaries on Indonesia and I’m sure they have others on various destinations around the world.  Watch them together and make a big deal about it so that it really captures their interest.  Our oldest son has been to Indonesia several years ago but our youngest has never been there.    We often show our 2005 travel videos to the kids and they enjoy seeing other parts of the world.  There is nothing like being able to visualize what a place will be like.
  2. Teach them some of the local language – Any amount of language they can pick up now will greatly enhance their transition into their new environment.  They can also surprise their friends by speaking a “secret” language.  Learning a language at a young age is also much easier to do than when one is an adult.  Not only will this be great for their cultural adventure but being able to speak a second language will serve them well throughout life.
  3. Using Google Earth we were able to pinpoint the grandparents house in Indonesia.

  4. Look over maps – Looking over maps of the areas you plan to visit or live in is a fun activity with your kids.  Depending on what kinds of maps you have you can point out where you will be living, different activities in the area, where the beaches are, how tall the mountains are and all kinds of other cool things.  Kids love looking at maps.  It makes them feel like they are real explorers…which they will be.  Paper maps are the most fun for kids but you can also get on Google Earth and scope out the aerial view of where you are traveling to.  Using Google Earth we were able to pinpoint the grandparents house in Indonesia.  Now that is pretty cool!
  5. Find a restaurant that serves food from where you are going– If your kids are anything like mine they are probablyvery picky eaters.  Find a restaurant in town that serves up ethnic food for the area you will be travelling to.  Try and find a place that is authentic.  Order up a selection from the menu that you think your kids would like and tell them this is what they can eat all the time when you start your journey.  Let them select a few items on their own as well.  This gives them a taste of what the food will be like and what they can expect.  Maybe they can even try out their new language skills when ordering.  The fact is living overseas is going to introduce a whole new diet to you and your kids so it is important to get them acquainted with it now so it’s not so much of a shock for them.
  6. Help them make a list of items they want to pack – My kids love to plan for the trip.  They usually get their backpacks out and stuff them with all kinds of things they think they will need.  They get so excited about it and talk about it to the point of driving us completely crazy.  It’s so great to see their enthusiasm though.  Sit down with your kids and make a list of all the things they will need to bring with them.  Look at each item and ask them why they think they need it and what they plan on doing with it.  It’s great to get a child’s perspective on travel and you will probably learn a few things about yourself.  One thing our kids have been really proud of (and frequently brag about) is their passports.
  7. Help them make a list of places they want to visit – So by now hopefully you’ve had a chance to watch some videos and look over a few maps, maybe even get on

    Check out some photos of places and watch your kids faces light up.

    Google Earth for a birds eye view.  Now sit down with your kids and make a list of all the places they want to see.  You may have to give them some ideas but really let them take the lead as much as possible.  Maybe it’s an ancient monument like Borobudur, or a water park or a wildlife safari.  Once you get a list together go out to the Internet and check out some photos of those places and watch your kids faces light up.
  8. Plan fun trips with them – OK, so now they have their list of fun places they want to see.  It’s time to plan out an itinerary of actually doing it.  The thing about actually planning something out is that it becomes more real and that is important to a young child.  It has to be believable to them and letting them plan out a trip is a great way to do that.  Sit down with some paper or even on your computer and let them describe exactly what it is they want to do and when they want to do it.
  9. Teach them the history of the area – I think it is important to teach kids a bit about the history of wherever it is they are going.  Spend some time talking about fun events in the history of the country, important cultural aspects like any national holidays that celebrate things like Independence day, religious holidays etc.  This information can help them have a much better appreciation and understanding of their surroundings when they get overwhelmed with sensory input.  When they see something strange on the street now they will have the historical background to understand it better.  Traveling the world is the best classroom your kids could ever be in so give them a head start before they head out.

Using these techniques will hopefully make traveling more enjoyable and exciting for your kids and provide them with a greater appreciation of the world around them.  And the simple fact is if your kids are happy, you will be happy.

Have experience traveling with kids?  What techniques have you used to prepare them for the adventures?

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