Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel for a Child

I was reading a couple articles in the Chicago Tribune, each talking about family travel, the best places to go and how to make the trip enjoyable for kids. One of the pieces discussed a family trip to Rome, where the writer's 13-year-old daughter had most wanted to visit. She provided a couple tips on what worked and what did not when traveling with a teenager. And while the advice certainly seemed helpful to a parent, I found myself thinking about the kid's reaction.

I traveled a lot when I was younger, mostly because my father is from England and my mom, New York, so we would go on vacations to visit our extended family a lot. I consider myself very lucky to have left the country at a young age, of course many of those early trips I cannot remember at all. And in all honesty, what was there to remember, being so young, nothing has much of an impact on you. However, it was when I started grasping the importance and significance of places I was visiting that travel became a real experience for me. And I give my parents credit for their methodically planned vacations, it made for a more enjoyable trip. But as everyone knows, pre-teens and teenagers can be some of the most difficult people to travel with. I had my fair share of selfish moments, temper tantrums and rebellious comments, despite my parents' efforts. So when I read about this woman worrying about keeping her daughter happy and entertained, I felt sympathetic for her. Because many parents have the same concerns, the fear that their children will not have a good time, or, God forbid, get bored. It happens, it's inevitable. But there are ways to avoid perpetual whining, complaining or sulking.

I agreed with ideas from the article, in fact, some of them I wish my parents had adopted as protocol for our numerous family trips. But I digress. The first thing she mentioned was the rooming situation. Since it was just her husband, her and her daughter, they opted for a suite-style, which gave the girl space of her own to sleep, relax and steal away from her parents--if only for a couple minutes. This was smart, because 13 is usually the age where kids still like being around their parents and rely on them, but they begin to seek independence, too. And let's face it, sometimes parents can just get annoying.

Another part of the trip she talked about was getting a special visitors pass to skip many of the long lines at popular tourist attractions, because what kills a child's spirit and enthusiasm more than having to wait for hours in a line? On top of that, she said they decided not to get a guide or sign up for tours--the one they did do was horrible. I was a little mixed on this, mostly because I enjoy taking tours. I feel that a tour guide can provide you more insight on a place than some brochure or automated tape can. In fact, I have learned a lot of fascinating things about places through a guide's anecdotes. I realize that not all tour guides are great, and sometimes you get one that sounds like he or she would rather be eating cardboard than talking to you. However, if you are lucky enough to land a guide that has passion and vigor for what they are talking about, you will get so much more out of a place. Where I do agree with her is the fact that her daughter is young, and sometimes teenagers compare a guide to a teacher, and they do not need to be lectured while on vacation. They would much rather look at things on their own and saunter from one artifact to the next at their own leisure.

One final point I want to mention from her article was the fact that they allowed time to just wander, no agenda, no schedule. That is one of the best things you can do when traveling with a child or teenager, because it gives them the ability to call the shots once and a while. If they want to go right instead of left, they can; and if they feel inclined to step into a store, they can. Most of the time, my parents had things planned out for us, whether it was a tour or a visit to a certain museum. But, they also left whole mornings or afternoons open for us to do whatever we wanted: shop, explore, relax, eat, etc. Having every single moment scheduled can make a vacation feel like a chore, which no child likes. Plus, when you give yourself time to just walk around a city, you might just stumble upon something unexpected, something not mentioned in a guide book.

I know many parents worry about making sure their kids have a good time on vacation, and it is a legitimate concern, especially with teenagers. But just think about how you were as a child, what you would have liked to do or see while traveling. If you imagine yourself in you kid's shoes, just for a moment, you will realize that it is the simple things--giving them their own room/sleeping space, avoiding circumstances that will cause them to complain--that will make the trip enjoyable for everyone in the family.

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