Taking a child out of the country is no small feat. Heck, taking a child to grandma's house for the holidays can be exhausting! Not only is it important to prepare logistically for your trip—plane tickets, passports, itineraries, etc.—it is important to prepare your child emotionally, physically, and awesomely. Your mini-me is about to become a citizen of the world, and you are already nailing it.
Before you go:
Get them stoked.
Kids know more about the world now than we did then. But they still need to realize why going to another country is a big deal. When we were preparing our little one, aged seven, for her first European extravaganza, it was our duty to light her fire for travel abroad. We gave her macaroons whilst looking at pictures of the Eiffel Tower. We talked about the Queen of England and the fact that princesses are a real thing! By the time we boarded the plane, she was out-of-her-mind excited to see this magical land of yesteryear (and thriving metropolitan of today).
Teach them key phrases for languages they don’t speak.
I feel as if this is incredibly important for going to countries that do not speak your native tongue. It shows respect and that you are trying. Also, communication is SUPER key in life—especially travel. I tried to buff up my French by listening to tapes with the family in the car, on the way to and from school. Hearing El say, “Puis-je avoir une baguette si'il vous plait?” was almost as great as seeing the pride on her face when she was understood.
Run them through safety drills.
This may seem a bit intense, but while your children may know a few key phrases, they aren’t fluent speakers. The foreign metropolis you’re visiting can be packed, fast-paced, and chockfull of tall adults. At home, you may have taught your kids about stranger danger, but you need more tools once you’re abroad. Before we embarked, we ran through drills of what to do if someone grabbed our little one. When we asked her what she would do, she said “Scream.” Great. But then we asked to hear it. She let a small squeal out of her mouth. As a born-and-bred Midwestern, I know it is hard to use your voice, and this was an important time for her to do it. We had her scream as loud as she could and told her THAT was what to do. We talked about kicking shins, and where to go, and what to look for if we were separated. Knowledge is power and we all must be prepared.
Have them memorize key facts about themselves.
Yes, your child may know her name, address, and phone number, but does she know her country code? Refresh and expand. It will give you peace of mind and make her feel confidently empowered.
Once you are there....
Fit in the big stuff, but don’t go crazy.
You want to share the world with your little one, and now you are. Get in the Arc de Triomphe, the Spanish Steps, the Royal Palace, and/or the Uffizi Gallery. But remember, kids have shorter legs; they move slower and need more rest. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you shouldn’t see it that way either.
Expand their palettes.
DO NOT ORDER HIM A HAMBURGER AND KETCHUP BECAUSE HE IS A PICKY EATER! Your kid is not a picky eater. You are allowing him to be. Surround yourself with the sights and sensations of delicious eats. Escargot? Oui! Shepherd’s Pie? Heck yes! Paella? Si! Give them all a try. They don’t like it? Fine. They TRIED. They will not starve.
Let their imaginations open up yours.
Kids have a zest and love for life that is vast and untainted. That is why it is called “childlike wonder.” When we took El to Paris, she fell in love with every street vendor and pop-up performance artist. This often wasn’t on the time travel itinerary. But stopping to watch and look and listen to the real city happening around us led us to some of the best memories (including a skating rink with penguins and a dancing marionette master) and the most delectable eats of the whole trip. Stay open and see it all through their eyes too.
Lose track of time and plans, but not each other.
Yes. Wander and delight and laugh. But keep a close eye on each other. Hold hands in the tube. Roll call when getting out of the Chunnel. Safety and sanity first. Fun and frivolity after.
When you get back:
Retell your adventures.
Chances are you will be happy to be home, tired from the journey, but thrilled to share. Recount your child’s favorite moments, places, foods (they will have some!), and experiences—right when you get back, then six months later, then one year later, then six years later. These memories will last a lifetime. Relive and relish together.
Create a special box, scrapbook, photo journal, etc.
To help with the above point, make a special time capsule that commemorates your time. I am not much of scrapbooker, so what we did was decorate an old show box with drawings, pictures and love. Inside we stored ticket stubs, fliers, receipts, photos, key chains and other little mementoes. It didn’t take much time, didn’t cost a thing and now it will live on—just like our memories.
Anticipate another trip.
This may not happen soon, but it will. It’s almost guaranteed that the travel bug will bite your child. Ours is now obsessed with going to China when she is 13 (a long time from now!) and riding an elephant in India when she is 16. The point is she is thrilled about the unknown and wants to explore it. She is excited for our next trip overseas—even though we don’t know when it will be. First international travel mission accomplished! Parenting check plus.