The Golden Years of Family Travel
Better-behaved older kids (aged 6-9) are a joy on vacation
Once your child is a big kid, travel gets a whole lot easier. No more hiding out in hotel bathrooms until junior drifts off, no more heavy baby equipment to juggle, no more melt-downs in seat 17C, no more potty emergencies as you pull away from the rest stop.
What you get is a better behaved, less messy, and more independent travel companion who is eager to help, learn and savor new experiences. Easier logistics mean reduced stress, and so new activity, destination and accommodation opportunities open up to your family.
This is a ripe age for active theme parks, camping trips, international exploration, wilderness adventures, resorts and cruises with children’s programs, and trips that involve sports like snorkeling or snow boarding.
Coordinate With Your School
The one area where it does get a little more complicated is you now have to factor in school schedules when making travel arrangements. You’ll be relegated to the peak times around school breaks and holidays, where unfortunately crowds are thick and rates are high. You’ll have to plan in advance as popular destinations book up well ahead. Missing the odd school day or week here or there is probably not going to academically stunt your child for life, but if you have a more substantial trip in mind or want to take off during exam time, this does present a dilemma that’ll have to be worked out between you and the teacher/school board.
Get Kids Involved
“Middle age” kids start to have their own agendas and are no longer content to tag along passively to wherever their parents dictate. Your child is bound to have some opinions on how the day should unfold, so ask for input. Better yet, give your kid some responsibilities that instill a sense of pride and contribution to the trip.
Your little navigator can help plot your route on a map, placing stickers on it as you pass milestones along the way. Your official time-keeper can announce how much longer the flight is or watch the clock so roadside pit stops don’t go into overtime. Your trip treasurer can manage a travel budget for snacks and souvenirs. Your junior archivist can collect brochures, ticket stubs and memorabilia along the way for a scrapbook project when you return. Your trip photographer can be in charge of saying “cheese” and capturing all those special moments.
If you have more than one child, divvying up these responsibilities or alternating them from day to day is a great way to make everyone feel like an important member of the family team.
By this point, your child has a grasp of your expectations for good behavior and so long journeys, restaurant visits, extended family gatherings and other public outings should flow more pleasantly. Big kids are still impatient and cranky from time to time (aren’t we all), but “entertainment director” and “mood manager” are no longer a parent’s primary role on the road (if you have more than one child, “referee” or “mediator” is no doubt your new title). Rewards for good behavior work better than punishments, so have a few new books, puzzles or craft kits in your bag for special treats.
Fantasy and pretend play start to wane at this stage, but big kids are still imaginative creatures. Ask yours to draw some pictures of the trip and be amazed at the insights and perceptions that will shine forth. Coloring books and crayons are old-standbys to have on hand for the younger set, but as reading skills and problem-solving abilities develop, brainteasers and activity books with mazes, dot-to-dots, word searches and puzzles can help keep your child stimulated and self-occupied for quite some time. Of course, don’t leave home without a few new books for your child to read – the best all-ages travel activity around.
This is a great age to inspire your child to keep a travel journal. It can be a simple notebook to diarize the day’s activities or a more elaborate scrapbook with room for drawings, postcards, brochure clips and other mementos from the trip. An audio journal is another fun project for kids to undertake. A recorder and microphone can help pass hours of idle time as your child reports newscaster-style about the events at hand, interviewing other family members or fellow travelers along the way. This makes a priceless keepsake for years to come.
Don’t stifle your child’s natural drive to collect things – shells, rocks, local crafts, even tacky souvenir novelties may bog down your bags but they can be prized possessions that’ll conjure up warm memories of the trip once you’re back home. These years also tend to bring forth a desire to shop, something you’ll have to keep in check. Agree in advance upon an allowance for snacks and trinkets, as kids are notorious suckers for beach vendors, market stalls, souvenir shops and ice cream trucks.
Now that your child is old enough to follow basic rules, game playing can help pass the time on a trip. Board games like checkers and scrabble come in travel sizes and can be a fun family travel tradition. Pen and paper games like hangman and tic-tac-toe can make a restaurant visit fly. Alphabet, counting, guessing and word games are enjoyable for all ages – brush up on classics like 20 Questions, I Spy and Buzz and they’ll never be bored in a car or plane again (well, maybe that’s stretching it). Whether it’s telling jokes, singing songs or making up silly stories, keep your child’s mind moving and the lines of communication open. Family togetherness is half the fun of travel from a kid’s perspective.
Handheld electronic games are excellent time-passers for today’s plugged-in generation. Many are educational as well as engaging (check out Leapfrog or VTech). You don’t want your child to spend all day thumbing around a screen, but for idle time in transit or chilling around the hotel room for an afternoon, it’s a worthwhile bring-along that’ll keep ‘em content and quiet for hours.
Speaking of worthwhile bring-alongs, portable DVD or CD/MP3 players and other such video/audio devices are de rigeur for big kid travelers these days. Try not to let these suck up too much of your child’s time and focus as they tend to tune you out while they tune in – and that’s not a recipe for family bonding. However, for those tedious in-between times or an occasional relaxing diversion, you might want to give in to the gadgets.
Don’t forget to pack the headphones, batteries, a recharger and a dual jack if you have more than one child to contend with. And brace yourself for continual power struggles over who’s in control of the device.
The educational value in travel is undeniable. Big kids have a genuine interest in the outside world, fueled by their blossoming knowledge from school, books and TV. An intense curiosity means their focus and appreciation of things like wildlife, people, culture, history, music and ancient artifacts is strong. Lots of museums and places of cultural interest have kids’ info packs that make exploring these seemingly dull places more on their level. This is a brave and hearty stage characterized with an openness to adventure and a sponge-like curiosity, so feed it well. Any travel experiences you share with your over 6 child will form concrete lasting memories and a closer family bond.