Summer vacations are in full swing and it’s high time the youngest travelers in your party start carrying their own weight, don’t you think? If you’re committed to traveling with your kiddos, it’s a good idea to start as early as possible and find ways for them to help out from Point A to Point B and all the adventures between. Where do you start? How do you get your littles to be helpers as you travel?
Make kids carry their own bag.
This may require some patience on your part, but kids can maneuver a suitcase on wheels younger than you might think. They’ll need help with escalators and trains and such, but let them try. And even before they’re able to help with a full-size suitcase, they can be responsible for a carry-on. A water bottle, book, and a snack is really all they need to carry in a small backpack. When you’re out for the day add a camera and a rain jacket. None of it weighs much, and it will introduce them to the concept of packing smart — and light!
Give them a job to do.
Find tangible ways for kids to be helpful. One of our go-to jobs for Colt is “Outlet Check!” Before we leave a hotel room, he’s responsible for sweeping the room and checking every single outlet for charging cords. We donate far fewer chargers to hotels since he took up this job!
Packing is tricky for kids because they’re not sure where to start. If you want their help packing, be very specific. They won’t know what to do if you say “Pack your suitcase.” But they can help if you break it down to “Lay out your swimsuit and goggles.” and give them one step at a time.
In general, be on the lookout for things they can do themselves. Let them hand their own boarding pass to the gate agent before a flight, encourage them to order for themselves off the menu, and if they have a question during a tour — have them raise their own little hand and ask. Let them be a traveler instead of just a passenger.
Make it a game.
Yes, they can even help entertain themselves! If your kids are collectors or writers — keep your eyes open for kid-friendly projects as you travel. One of my favorites is the passport offered by the National Park Service that lets kids collect cancellation stamps from park rangers and it gives them an incredible keepsake of their travels. (This is not just for kids! I’m actually super jealous and wish I’d started myself a passport years ago!)
Another example we discovered was at Mount Vernon last fall. On the iPod touch that served as our audio tour guide, there was an app for Colt to play a spy game — he collected clues all over the property and answered trivia questions about the area. He was into being there anyway, but the spy game was a nice cherry on top of the experience. It kept him engaged from start to finish.
Give your kid a camera.
On top of the benefits they will enjoy by having their own way to document the trip, this is a sneaky way to get a fresh perspective on your destination. I have been amazed by the photos on Colt’s camera at the end of a day of sightseeing — the details he noticed and the perspective he captured. Sometimes he snaps away and other times the camera stays in his bag, but giving him the responsibility of his own camera has taught him about storytelling and even given us opportunities to talk about tourist etiquette a few times.
The earlier the better when it comes to teaching kids that travel is a fun adventure but there are ways for everyone to chip in so the trip is safe and fun for the whole group. Think of your kiddo as a fellow traveler and he will rise to the challenge.