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I view travel as an investment in my family and my kids. The preparation work is taxing, it’s costly, and it’s always worth it. However, there are ways that you can get your kids excited, involved, and well-prepared for your next trip so that they are invested in the travel and learning alongside you.

Sippin on some sizzurp after a pineapple tour in the Azores. We read how pineapple made its way to the US after we left.

In the weeks leading up to our recent trip to France, the kids and I would climb into bed together and read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a magical book about an orphaned clockmaker’s son set in a Parisian train station.  We’d dream of what Paris would be like, make predictions, and anticipate the upcoming trip. As I write this, a month post-travel, those ‘tuck ins’ were just as special as the trip itself.

For this post I enlisted the help of Mandy Wallace, mom of three, and full-time RV homeschool extraordinaire. Her family is 15 months into their adventure and has explored 32 states, Canada, Mexico, and 23 National Parks.

If you’re like Mandy and myself, we want our kids to suck the marrow out of each trip, so how do you make your trip fun and meaningful (dare I say *gasp* educational) but low-stress at the same time?

We put together a list of some ways to add a deeper sense of understanding and excitement to your travels with your family. The great part: You can invite your kids to do these before, during, and after your trip. Here are our favorite resources and activities (for reference, we’ve used these with 2-9 year old age set):

1. MAP PLACEMATS.

This is a simple, interactive, and cheap. Learn longitude, latitude, opposing seasons, and have “name that capital contests” over bowls of Frosted Mini Wheats. If you buy the plastic placemats, let the kids write on them with dry erase markers. Here’s my favorite set of 4 placemats from Amazon We used these for years and they saved our table too:)

2. THE “WHOS WAS..” BOOK SERIES

I was so grateful for this little paperback when I was trying to get my son to understand tea taxes and the Boston Tea Party. My 7-year-old was enraged with my pathetic understanding of the subject so I turned to these books. They have kid-friendly autobiographies about famous figures from the past and present (ex: Jane Goodall, Malala Yousafzai, the Dalai Lama, Harriet Tubman, and much more.) Using illustrations and about 100 pages – this book series tells is great for grades 2-5. Find them on Amazon. The series also explains historical events like the Holocaust, Titanic, Twin Towers, and D-Day. If you need convincing – go ahead and try explaining the Great Depression to a 6-year-old and let me know how that goes for ya.

They also have an AMAZING App and printable quizzes/worksheets that can be found here.

3. MAKE A MODEL.

Geography a huge part of your trip? Get your hands dirty and make a salt dough map (here’s the how to from a family that made the state of Alabama.) Architecture more a focus? Make a marshmallow and toothpick model of the Parthenon or Eiffel Tower. Famous artist, piece of art, or collection in your sights? Google the gallery you’re going to and make a piece inspired by a piece in the gallery – then find the real one when you get there!

4. ALL THINGS NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.

There’s a lot of downtime during travel and you will be tempted to give out too much screen time during long layovers, car rides, and while eating out. Make kids “earn” screen time by reading.

Kate allows her kids: 1 lovie, 2 books, and 2 activities on trips and her favorites are…Nat Geo! Here are just a few: Ultimate US Road Trip and the Little Kids First Big Book of the World. These include maps, games, and activities for hours of plane or road-trip backseat fun. Another great gift idea.

5. LOCAL WEBSITES:

Check out the local Chamber of Commerce, National Parks, and Library websites in your destination city. You can usually find a list of upcoming festivals, historical points of interest, and events.

Citymomsblog.com has a local syndicate in almost every US city they typically have seasonal lists or “staycation” ideas for their local audience where you can grab ideas. Often googling “family tours [your destination]” or “[your destination] family fun” of “[your destination] with kids” will get you a solid list of places to check out (and some blogs from local parents who can give you the scoop.)

6. JOURNAL.

Buy a cheap small spiral notebook and write down a few prompts:
– What was your favorite memory from the trip?
– What did you learn?
– What made you laugh?
– What is something you will never forget?
– What was your favorite city and why?
– What did you discover?
The kids answers will surprise you. It’s fun to read, easy to pack, and more special than any souvenir. You could also do this with prediction prompts before your trip as a fun plane or road trip activity.

7. LET KIDS PUBLISH THEIR FINDS.

Grab your kids an Instagram handle and let them take pics and publish them with captions of facts they’ve learned or the journal prompts aforementioned. Share their ‘gram with family and friends. (If you’re worried about kids getting obsessed too early with likes and comments or wanting your phone all.the.time., pick a time of day that they’ll post and check their feed.) Mandy’s kids post about their creations and discoveries on the road which has been a great way for her reluctant writer (who thinks that journalling is about as fun as swimming in quicksand) to get his observations and experience the power of writing to an audience.

8. YOUTUBE IT.

Believe it or not, YouTube actually has some content that goes deeper than ladies opening boxes and describing how excited they are to try the contents. Mandy’s kids are riveted to the storytelling of documentaries through narration, interviews, and video (like this vid of the Mt. St. Helens eruption eye witnesses from A&E.) They love videos made by other kids who are doing similar things. Granted, this comes with the caveat of you probably wanting to preview the videos before showing them to your kids (the descriptions in that Mt. St. Helen’s piece are pretty gruesome!) and definitely de-selecting the autoplay function.

9. TOURS.

Before you take off, do some preliminary research about the place your destination and what they are known for. Coffee? Chocolate? Pasta? Rice? Tea? What factory or field could you tour? Specifically, what places allow you a ‘behind the scenes’ experience or tasting? Our favorite resources for tours are: AirBnB Experiences, Withlocals (in Europe), and Viator. These tours can also be gifted…wink wink grandparents;)

*Pictured: A private baking class in a French home. We made Madelines, chatted about French customs, and ate on Anne’s rooftop with this stunning view of the Sacre Coeur. We left with a new friend and bags of warm treats that we made! Use my Withlocals link for 30 euro off of your first experience. Withlocals offers a variety of private and affordable tours all over Europe.

10. LANGUAGE.

Check out an interactive app like Duolingo to help your kids get some basic phrases down before you go. It’s really like playing a game and you can work with each other to use the phrases around the house before departure. Or, head to YouTube again for some kid-focused basic language introduction. Maybe watch an episode or beloved movie in your destination’s language.

Maybe even have the kids make labels and tape them around the house with common phrases and useful nouns (bathroom, I’m hungry, my name is, water, etc.)

11. MAPS and MARKERS

Before you go or the day you get there, buy a tourist map or atlas. Find your destination together. Find your hotel or campground. Highlight your route. If you’ve got every day planned, use different colors to mark each day’s adventures. While you’re there or when you get back, retrace your steps on the map with your markers. Then hang up the map as a visual reminder and memento of all the places you discovered on your trip. Retell your story and fold it into the narrative of your family’s adventures.

This is a lengthy list and by no means should you look at these activities as “one more thing” to do. Have your kids pick an activity, app, or book months in advance or weeks after you’re home. It’s not about doing it perfect – it’s about augmenting the learning and reflecting on all of the amazing things that you get to experience together!

*About Mandy: She’s a witty blend of practicality and vulnerability. I can rely on her feed for gorgeous pictures and great book recommendations. Mandy’s creative homeschool lessons range from poetry tea parties to treasure hunts. Check her out on Instagram: @mandy_adventure_wallace & @themagichomeschoolbus, and grab more RV family travel ideas from her site: Now Take Off!, or check out her travel journal from their first six months on the road at Outside the Slides.

 

Tell us what you do to maximize learning and engage your little ones. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

 

Kate and Mandy

Because 85% of parenting is yelling “GET IN THE CAR!!!!”, this one’s for all the parents that pack their suitcase last.

Most of us parents don’t struggle with the packing part, it’s all of the “other” stuff. Here’s a free printable to make sure that you can enjoy your trip without worrying about things you forgot on the home front.

Download and Print the PDF: MOM’S TRAVEL CHECKLIST

 

As far as the packing goes, don’t pack for your kids. Tell them how many nights you’ll be gone and let them have some ownership of the preparation process. Ride out the excitement and anticipation of the trip!

I always ask the kids to lay everything out as outfits and then call me when they think they’re ready. Usually, I’ll make a couple adjustments to their choices and explain why so that they understand the rationale behind the decision. If you do it for them, they’ll never learn. If they argue with me, I explain that I will not buy them a _____ on the trip because they chose not to pack it.

Another packing hack I like is with medication and/or vitamins. Instead of bringing a gnarly plastic bag where pills go to die a dusty and unidentified death – I made this handy pill box with labels. It allows me to pack a variety of medication in a neat way. I ordered this little case off Amazon and I printed off the labels, cut them out, and brushed Modge Podge over them. (My PDF matches this linked pill case only – not sure the sizing will be right on another one).

The only thing I bring beyond this little case is a few bandaids in my makeup bag. Here’s the downloadable PDF Travel Medication Labels of the mini logos for my pill case below – a label maker or sharpie will do just fine though!

**Remember if you’re going abroad – you’ll need all prescription medication in it’s original bottle with the prescription name on the outside matching your own;) You’ll be forced to throw away that medication if not – including birth control. Vacation conception is a great story….buuuut

Happy vacay prepping!

Mama Hickey

 

I’m always hesitant to download an app because I so rarely use 90% of the clutter that’s already on my phone. However, the following 3 apps not only made the cut – they are too useful not to share:

  1. My favorite and I’d-be-lost-without-it app is TRIP IT.

Thanks to my Mom for this one. It’s the easiest thing ever and all of your trip details are stored without you ever having to upload them – yahtzee!! Whenever you make a reservation and receive a confirmation email, this free app will recognize that the reservation is travel related and will organize it for you. You do nothing.

When you look at TripIt, you’ll see that each hotel, flight, excursion, rental car, and anything else you want to upload is all there, in order by date with the full details of the reservation. No more searching  your inbox for confirmation numbers, TripIt has the phone number, addresses, and full location or flight details in a neat little timeline.

For my longer trips to Peru and to the East Coast, I was able to have all my train tickets, hotels, flights, and excursions in one place for all members of the family. I would have been printing out and carrying with me a folder or sifting through screenshots without this handy lil guy. I’d wake up every morning and check out what we were going to do without having to remember anything. Vacay mode: On.

If you want people to be able to keep track of you while you’re away,  you can send them your itinerary in 2 easy clicks. No-wifi? No problemo, it’s already uploaded in the app so you don’t have to worry about loosing access to anything.

There’s also “TripIt Pro” which keeps track of your flight status and will send you alerts. The Pro version also has a seat tracker to notify you if there’s a better seat on your flight as well as a reward points tracker. I’m too cheap to spring for the $49/year but I bet it doesn’t disappoint.

Also, it counts down how many days until your trip!! Nothing gets me more pumped than a good countdown.

Finally, the app stores all of your past trips so that you can reflect and recommend places when you get home. Download this now. You’re welcome.

 

2. MOBILE PASSPORT

 

This app is another winner for $Free.99! Mobile Passport is officially authorized by the Customs and Border Protection and processes at most major US international airports and some cruise ports. If you don’t have Global Entry, then Mobile Passport is the next best thing.

 

It will save you from finding a pen on the plane and filling out the paper customs form for you and your kids. This will be your own little family VIP moment because you’ll get your own security lane at the airport and you’ll jet past people scanning their passports with the classic confused traveler face (usually accompanied by my favorite: the “under the breath grumbling about processes” mumble).

 

Put yourself in a Benadryl coma on the plane, ignore the stewardess announcements, and once you start to taxi into the airport make about 3 clicks on this app for each family member and be done.

 

Keep your passports out and your QR code from Mobile Passport and boom, the whole family back in the US of A.

 

More Info on Mobile Passport

 

 

3. XE CURRENCY

 

 

“Wait… 1800 Costa Rican Colónes – what the whaaaat?! Oh that’s like 3 bucks.”

 

This app will make shopping easier as it’s up-to-date with the market exchange rate for almost any conversion you’ll need. Forget mental math, I need to know how much is this 100% alpaca *hat is going to set me back!

 

This will also monitor conversions and  you can set up to 10 currencies that you want to follow. Never have to say “How many dollars is this?!”

 

CNN Travel has a great list of other handy apps to help you find bathrooms, pack smart, map a run in a new city, and more. Check it out here.

Any “must have” travel resources you use? Please leave a comment.

*Sadly, I did not buy this amazing hat. I did buy an alpaca rug that I covet.