This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Of course, actually traveling with your children is the best way to raise little travelers, but money and vacation days are scarce, and we want to make sure we are properly preparing them for both the trips we take as a family and the travel they will do as adults.
If we start by defining the goal, a great traveler (at any age) is:
- Kind and Respectful
- Curious and Inquisitive
So, what can we be doing the other 51 weeks per year to raise kind, respectful, adaptable, curious, inquisitive, and adventurous little people? Keep in mind that my children are 2 and 3.5 and some of these I’m doing and some of these are goals. I don’t claim that my children are the best travelers right now, but I truly hope they will grow up to be!
#1 Read about the world
The importance of reading to inspire wanderlust cannot be overstated. Reading broadens the mind and sparks the imagination, and you need both those things to be a great traveler. Reading also exposes children to those who are different from them, in a way that teaches them differences can be wonderful. I will do another post on some great books to inspire wanderlust, but a couple of my favorites right now are:
0-2 years old
10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes, This is a cute rhyming book that talks about the difference of children around the world, but they always have something in common.
Global Babies, This is a beautiful picture book with a short rhyming message that no matter where they live or what they look like, all babies are loved.
2-5 years old
Madeline, This is a classic story of a French girl living in a boarding school who has wonderful adventures.
Tikki Tikki Tembo, This is a fun Chinese story that will leave you out of breath after reading it to your children!
#2 Teach them how to read maps
We have “It’s a BIG BIG World Atlas” and my children just love to look at it. We’ll point out where all their family lives, where Mommy and Daddy have traveled, where they travelled when they were in Mommy’s belly, etc. It’s a wonderful way to talk about the world, the different people in it, and distances. The super size makes it silly and fun for the kids.
Whenever we’re out and about and see a map I like to point things out to the children. Even if it’s just showing the 3 mile loop we are about to walk I’ll explain it to the kids and then recap when we return (“We walked this whole way! Remember when we passed this little lake?”)
#3 Travel around the world, with food!
Food is so central and critical to cultures all around the world, and appreciating local cuisine is a huge part of traveling. Fortunately this is one of the easiest and most fun things to introduce to your children! We are fortunate to live in an area with a lot of cultural variety and that means there are many ethnic restaurants nearby and lots of opportunities to shop at ethnic markets. Ethiopian is my favorite right now!
A good number of people may read this and laugh because their children are such picky eaters, and I don’t really have an answer for that. I do think we should just keep trying though, one day my daughter will tell me she can’t eat anything but macaroni and cheese but the next day she might be sampling the candied ginger at a sushi restaurant. We just try to set a good example and keep presenting different options.
If you’re on a strict budget (like me) and need to do most/all your eating at home, try out some exciting new recipes! Remember to have a conversation with the kids about where the recipe comes up, maybe even look it up on the map or involve them in the cooking.
#4 Local festivals and cultural celebrations
This is not one I’ve committed to as much as the others, but as part of writing this post I have set myself a goal of researching the festivals in my area and marking my calendar for the whole year. I love a good international party or cultural celebration and I’m definitely going to be searching for a good Greek festival! Festivals can be an especially good way to expose children to other cultures because they are always so fun and happy, which will make sure your child’s earliest impressions are good ones.
#5 Encourage language
This is a big one for me. My kids have been learning Spanish since my daughter was 4 months old (first from our nanny and now from a 3-morning a week Spanish immersion preschool). They’ve also been learning Mandarin (first from a Mandarin immersion preschool in NC, and now just once a week at the Los Altos public library’s Mandarin story time). My dream is to build up an unshakeable Spanish foundation by Kindergarten and then send them to a Mandarin immersion elementary school, and continue with Spanish education after school and on weekends.
At their ages they can soak everything up like little sponges and I firmly believe it is building a strong foundation for language acquisition that will be critical for their future travels, and open doors I cannot access as a monolanguage speaker. Not only are they learning the language, but they are learning from people with different cultural backgrounds, and I truly hope they are coming to appreciate the rich world we live in.
But you do not have to go the route I’m going! In the early years language can be introduced in a variety of ways, even if you aren’t lucky enough to have multiple languages spoken in your home!
- A babysitter or caregiver who speaks another language
- Swap babycare with a local international family; you watch their kids in English, they watch yours in Swahili (or whatever).
- Immersion preschools or summer camps
- Library story times (I’ve seen Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, and Russian. You might be surprised what is available in your area!)
- Organic exposure visiting Chinese markets, Mexican markets, the laundromat, ethnic churches, etc.
- Foreign language podcasts (Check out Internationaltales.com on iTunes for some free options in several languages)
- Computer and phone games (We have Duolingo, Gus on the go: Mandarin, and Gus on the go: Spanish, but are always looking for new options if you have any suggestions!)
- TV (I try to minimize this one, but my go-to is purchasing Disney movies on iTunes and then toggling them to Spanish. )
Am I missing anything? Please comment with anything else I should be doing!
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I just signed up today so this is my first time trying it out, the books I reference above are linked to Amazon.