By Katie Greulich
Parents who love travel often want to share their passion with their children: afterall, kids and adults alike benefit from the flexibility, perspective, gratitude, and resilience that traveling can teach. But teaching a love of travel can be difficult, and not only because a 14-hour road trip or flight can be demanding on little bodies and minds. Teens, kids, toddlers, and even infants have their own (strong) opinions about how they want to spend their time and where they want to spend it. How can parents encourage kids to share enthusiasm for an upcoming trip? To flexibly engage in new experiences on the road? Practicing curiosity, both at home and on the road, is an affordable and attainable way to spark wanderlust in little and older kids, while making traveling easier and more fun for parents too.
Practice Curiosity at Home
Curiosity is celebrated for how it encourages positive risk-taking, an openness to difference, and the ability to create innovative questions and means of answering them: all fantastic traits of life-long travelers who explore to understand our world from a diversity of perspectives. Developing the habit of being curious as a family at home is a valuable practice for helping your kids enjoy travel throughout their lives. Even if you don’t have your 2021 or 2022 “revenge trip” booked post-lockdown, you can sow the seeds of wanderlust by:
- Building in time for diversions and adventures in everyday routines.
- Paying equal attention to the common and charismatic things in your child’s world, and creating questions or stories about them.
- Encouraging multi-sensory exploration, and especially tactile, hands-on experiences: interest and curiosity are often associated with our sense of touch.
- Reading and watching content that feeds your family’s current fascinations.
- Talking and dreaming together about shared travel experiences on a regular basis.
- Mapping out your next family trip as a team.
The takeaway: Engaging curiously with everyday objects and experiences teaches the whole family to value experiential learning, so that when you do leave for your next trip, kids and parents alike are primed to make the most of their journey.
Let Kids Lead the Way
It goes without saying that children are intensely curious. And children's’ curiosity makes them good travelers. For one thing, they notice more about their surroundings than adults. Goal-oriented parents, intent upon getting promptly from A to B, can be frustrated by their kids’ wide-ranging attention spans. But indulging their seemingly-trivial fascinations can create a richer, more nuanced understanding of a place for everybody. I have often balked at my daughter’s intense scrutiny of every tiny rock, leaf, or weirdly, picture of a fish, but these diversions have also often led us to a deeper historical, social, or architectural understanding of the location. Letting myself be diverted by her attention is one of the most joyful things about traveling with her. For my daughter, I plan at least an extra 30 minutes into any experience, and more if I know we are visiting a high-interest location.
The takeaway: Practicing curiosity is easy for kids, but can be harder for parents who often put it aside for the sake of checking items off a bucket list or sticking to tight timelines. Especially if traveling with younger children, budget extra time not only at experience venues, but in transitional spaces like airports, hotels, and restaurants: you never know when or where they will become inspired.
Engage Kids in Trip Planning
One way to help satisfy or prompt curiosity before departure is to build in space for it during trip planning. Embracing curiosity in planning and embarking on travel can result in more receptive, engaged, and cooperative kids because their interests and questions are accounted for in the itinerary. You don’t need to plan the entire trip to align with your child’s interests, but you should have at least one daily activity that appeals to them or which they helped to choose. Have a budding botanist or zealous zoologist in your home? Ask your child about the plants and animals they want to see, and seek out these species at national parks, zoos, aquariums, or museums. A music lover will never forget the evening they helped organize at your destination’s local symphony hall. You might be surprised at how willing they are to do something that you want to do the next day: I have found that when my kids are invested in decision making from the outset, they are more motivated to experience other entries on our itinerary and to stay focused on mundane goals like making a flight or bus on time.
The takeaway: Encouraging curiosity before you leave for your trip by involving kids in planning can cultivate enthusiasm. It can also limit diversion when sticking to a schedule matters.
Be Willing to Adapt to Kids’ Changing Interests and Moods
Kids’ curiosity can be fickle, which is a playful, creative feature of their intellect, if also a point of frustration for parents. Satisfy your child’s interests and your travel budget by suggesting and booking free or inexpensive activities that can be easily extended, cancelled, or postponed. Requiring a kid to do something they absolutely do not want to do is a sure-fire means towards a meltdown. Especially when traveling with very young children, it is necessary to be willing to change or cancel plans if the kids aren’t feeling it--or if they are having too much fun to leave! I have also found that allowing my kids the time and space to indulge their curiosity can often make travel easier, even on boring days spent in airports or in the car: asking a question or making an observation that piques their curiosity can flip the switch on a bad mood. When minds are busy, there is less room for irritation and complaint.
The takeaway: Save heartache and money on the road by keeping kids’ experiences low-key until they understand the importance of showing up at specific times and places. And use curious habits in tough travel moments to keep kids happily engaged.
Like so many adults, kids are also looking forward to romping through locations they have been virtually exploring for the last 20 months. As families begin to travel again, empowering kids with opportunities to entertain their curiosity--at home and on the road--can lead not only to unforgettable experiences, but to the development of a mindset that keeps young travelers excited for their next family vacation.