Travel season is upon us – and if you’re anything like me you are itching to get away this summer. But then you think about the stuff. The hauling. The naps (or lack there of). The over-tired toddlers. If you’ve done it before, you know that traveling with kids is an experience. It’s amazing and exhausting, and entirely different than traveling like you did before you were a parent but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible! I’m part of the ‘bring the kids with you’ camp – while I also totally vouch for solo trips both with your partner and with friends, too! Today, Ashley Viola, veteran traveler and founder of Meridian – a social enterprise that sells beautiful handmade goods from around the world is here to share her tips for making the most of your family vacation and how to bring that vacation back home with you. So many great ideas I can’t wait to implement this summer!
One of the best aspects of traveling as family for me is finding ways to make the feeling of a vacation last, even when we’re back at home and in our normal routines. My husband, young son and I have traveled a lot thanks to my job as Founder and CEO of Meridian, a social enterprise that sells home decor handmade by global artisans. Our home in downtown New York City is filled with things we find on our travels.
Very early on, I have encouraged my son to feel a part of our process, particularly when we’re on a sourcing trip and purchasing a lot for Meridian. To include him in all of the fun, I’ve come up with a few favorite ways to encourage a child to bring a vacation home. I hope you’re able to do the same on your travels. Comment below and tell me what are some of the favorite things you’ve brought home from a trip!
Provide a Small Budget
Ever since my son was 6, we’ve given him a small budget ($10, for example) that he can spend on anything he wants on a trip. You’d think this would end with a lot of junk but actually he’s been really careful with how he spends it. I love empowering him to make his own choices, and it’s been a great opportunity to teach the value of money. This is in fact how we ended up with a Guatemalan dog collar!
Give Them a Challenge
Games are fun! My son gets engaged very quickly when there are appealing stakes on the line. On our recent trip to Mexico City, we decided that the first person to see a churro vendor could decide who got to eat the churros. My son was very quick to spot these tasty snacks and thankfully was happy to share!
On one of our trips to Morocco when my son was in preschool, we gave him a challenge of counting all of the cats we saw. In any other place, I would say this would be a slow game, but in the medinas of Fez and Marrakech, there are literally thousands of cats. At the time his preschool class was making charts using tally marks, so we encouraged him to count the cats this way and he did it throughout the whole trip. On one day alone he recorded 79 kitties! He was thrilled, and the tally mark chart is now safely tucked away as a special memory from this incredible trip.
Taste the Flavor of the Culture
Street food is a great way to engage with the locals. Obviously be careful about what you eat, but you’ll find the accessibility of food carts to be a memorable and fun experience for kids. Freshly squeezed orange juice in Morocco, a ripe and juicy mango sliced right before your eyes in Mexico, or even a collection of all of the colors of tiny packages of gum in Guatemala is an exciting way for a child to build memories and embrace the local language.
Make It a Learning Experience
If you’re visiting a place with indigenous crafts, I love finding ways to encourage children to participate in the process. Whether that’s opening an oyster at a pearl factory in Hawaii or trying your hand at block printing in India, you’ll end up with an heirloom souvenir and a gazillion memories that will last into adulthood.
Let Them Be Themselves
Interacting with locals and letting their culture take the lead is fun and rewarding. Many cultures adore children and will pay more attention to them over adults! I was at first apprehensive when a family-owned carpet store in Fez encouraged my son to stop coloring and run around. I thought a young boy with endless energy would be a disaster! Instead, they encouraged it, playing chase, doing somersaults off of stacks of folded carpets, and topping it off with a “magic carpet ride” by gently swinging him in a (gorgeous, vintage) rug. This is one of the few memories my son has kept from this trip and the photos of him diving head first into a room of carpets are priceless!
Keep It Well Documented
I take a lot of photos on our trips. I’ve been known to come home from a long weekend with over 3,000 photos! My son wanted to be part of the fun and for his most recent birthday, we gifted him with an inexpensive digital camera. (Disposable cameras work nicely too, and are awesome stocking stuffers!) The photos he’s taken are incredible – low vantage points, with details we’d never notice as adults. He’s also captured moments of our life and how we interact with each other that feel truly behind-the-scenes.
Printing these photos is a must. Kids love to look at photo albums! We also have volunteered to come to his classroom and talk about our experiences. Grandparents, too, love video slideshows. These are all relatively easy ways to bring memories home and include others around you.
Value the Experience Above All
Travel is what it is – a fleeting moment where you get to get away, explore another place or culture, and do things you wouldn’t normally do at home. While bringing home souvenirs is fun and a part of the experience, the collective memories we share have been the most valuable way to bring our travel home as a family.
Giving a child the ability to explore unencumbered and having a “long leash” give all of us great joy. These are the moments that make the hassles of travel truly worthwhile.