Children take cues from their parents for most aspects of life. That applies to travel and behaviour in new situations, too. We can ensure our children become good travellers who respect the people whose countries they’re visiting by teaching them a few basic rules of travel.
There are four tips, easily applied to any situation or country, which will go a long way to guaranteeing a fun and memorable trip:
Do a bit of research about the country you’re visiting. When booking direct with an operator they will be well versed and able to supply you with any information regarding customs and expectations for the destination. On a solo trip? Check with local tourism offices and once you’re on the ground take some time to look around. If you learn that shorts are frowned upon, wear long pants or skirts. You’ll be more comfortable if you don’t stand out unnecessarily.
Make children a part of the pre-trip learning process. Their excitement for the upcoming vacation will increase the more they get to know where they are heading. Customs, such as removing shoes prior to entering a Buddhist pagoda or greeting a shopkeeper in France with a, “Bonjour Monsieur (or Madame),” are important to know and will help children acclimatize quickly on the trip.
When travelling, listening is a valuable skill. Encourage children to notice how people speak to one another. Tone transcends language barriers and in certain countries, people express themselves in less boisterous ways than in others. This doesn’t mean shushing ourselves (or kids), but occasionally adjusting our volume. There’s a reason visitors to cathedrals speak in hushed tones; it shows respect for fellow travellers and those who are there for spiritual reasons. The same when dining out; know when to sing out loud — in a beer garden in Germany — and when to speak quietly — in an intimate restaurant where tables are closely set.
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Keep An Open Mind
Children are generally non-judgemental and open to new experiences, so there’s not much to teach them in that regard. It might be worth reminding them that people live with different circumstances and that we can all learn from one another. In some countries, children finish their schooling young. In others, boys and girls have different societal roles. Left to their own devices children will find a way to communicate with each other and some of the best travel experience they will have is unstructured, unplanned play time with other children.
Greet new experiences with enthusiasm and your children will too. There will be times during a trip when plans derail — it happens — and nothing will take the joy out of a vacation quicker than not being able to adjust and move on. Children generally feel at ease with certain structure and knowledge for what is to come, but that isn’t always possible. When they see their parents calmly adapting to unforeseen situations, it will ease any trepidation they might feel. Flexibility in travel equals enjoyment in travel.
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It is a privilege to discover the world as a family. The planet is huge and there are so many nooks and corners and people to discover. Family travel is like mom and dad going to school with their children, but without textbooks to lug around and dates to memorize. The value of learning about the world and its diverse cultures cannot be measured and can only happen if we model respect in our own behaviour. Adults know not to run around airplanes, shouting and disturbing other passengers, and children can do the same. It’s simple, really. There’s a traveller’s code of conduct and it is spelled R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Teaching children to appreciate customs and different cultures has multiple benefits: it opens young minds to the beauty in differences and allows the people whose countries we visit to feel valued and understood. Any success in parenting young travellers will be measured in how well children can adapt and fully live every experience.
Written by: Katja Wulfers
Katja Wulfers is a freelance travel writer who’s visited four continents so far and has been carting her children around the world with her their entire lives. She’s taught her kids how to pack lightly, order a meal using elaborate miming techniques, and sit on a plane for 15-hours. Now they’re flying off on their own and she couldn’t be prouder.