We are in full family travel mode here at Costa Rica Expeditions. For the past few weeks many of our guests have been children traveling on Spring break, and we are starting to plan trips for families with children during summer vacation.
So I thought this would be a good time to pass on my take on traveling with children.
1.The key to getting the most out of traveling with kids is striking the right balance between the challenging and the comfortable, the strange and the familiar. A good place to start with kids is strange place; familiar food. With most kids from the U.S., the majority of our guests, you can achieve a lot with pasta and peanut butter and jelly.
2. Getting everybody packed up and moving is often the most stressful part of the trip—especially when a favorite toy is left behind at your last destination. Unless everybody in the family is experienced travelers, pick one or two places and stay put.
3. Game boys, disc men, iPods etc are invaluable for keeping kids entertained at airports and on long flights. However, once they are at the destination the experience will not be very nourishing if they shut out the sights and sounds of where they are with the portable sights and sounds of home. Make the deal before you leave, digital distraction ends when you get there. It will cause serious withdrawal for some kids—which is not such a bad thing.
4. Replace the digital toys with binoculars. One of the great benefits of travel is that it shows you new worlds. Binoculars show you new worlds within new worlds. Binoculars are on virtually all “What to Bring” lists for nature travel, but they are almost as valuable for other kinds of travel as well. They are not of much use inside the Louvre, but they are great for seeing the details of the molding above the cornice on the exterior of the Louvre. The same binoculars that work for bird watching work for people watching. You do not need to get your kid $800 Swarwarskis, but $20 specials are worse then nothing. Nikon 7510 Travelite 10 X 25 mm V Binoculars available on Amazon for 80.99 are a good choice for starter binoculars for general use. For a serious nature trip step something a little bigger like Bushnell 10 x 42 Natureview Plus Binocular, $125.49 on Amazon. Finally binoculars are not hard to use but there are a few tricks. Find someone to teach them to your kids—and to you for that matter.
5. If the purpose of the trip is for you and your kids to learn about a culture, natural or human, other than your own, try to find a really good guide. I am not talking about the kind of guide who gives canned speeches. I am talking about the kind of guide who asks the right questions: For example, “How do you think families in ancient Rome were different from modern families in your country?” And then, “How do you think families in modern Rome are different from modern families in your country?” Really great guides who can transform a perfectly good vacation into an extraordinary magical experience are trained professionals and they do not come cheap. If money is a factor, skimp on hotels, but don’t skimp on the guide.
6. If you want your kids to truly love and savor travel, schedule your family trip for a time when school is in session. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that because they will not be distracted relating to all the other kids from their country and class who are traveling at the same time, they will be much more able to appreciate where they are. The second is that unless they are fortunate enough to go to one of the roughly five percent of schools that are worthwhile, they will appreciate it that you rescued them from school.
Reading these over I see that they apply to adults as well as kids, but the suggestions are much more important for kids because they are in general more sensitive and more malleable than adults. Many adults are a lost cause.
For a much better explanation than I can give on why I have a jaundiced view of schools watch this 18 minute talk by Ken Robinson. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
Changing the subject: I am surprised that there were not more comments on tipping. I thought it would be a hot topic.
Catherine Donnel, good friend and guide extraordinaire, you have more insight on tipping than most. Please weigh in with a guest post.