The last thing any parent wants for their family trips is to be on one with an incessantly whiny or complaining kid who doesn’t want to be there. The trip gets started off on the wrong foot, and that irritability is contagious to everyone within a ten-foot radius (on a plane, that at least includes everyone in your tribe).
This scenario must be avoided at all costs if you want to actually enjoy family trips!
Austin has gone on many trips with us by plane and by car. One of our most valuable forms of preparation is building up excitement for the trip itself. This is key when traveling with kids and trying to avoid the discontentment that easily sneaks in.
While logistical preparation is often necessary, I find getting kids EXCITED for family trips is even more important. Build excitement and engagement long before you leave the terminal or the driveway! Especially with little ones–if they are excited, they will be far more pleasant to travel with…most of the time. Let’s be real…no kid (or parent–like Bo below) is happy ALL the time.
1. Watch Videos About Family Trips
Don’t make your kids wait until the trip to catch a glimpse of what they will encounter on your family trip. Show them a preview of what they can expect.
There is such a wide variety of video media available at our fingertips. It’s so simple to utilize it and show your kids what it looks like to travel to your destination.
Youtube is one of the best places to start. They have a wide variety of sources to choose from. Everything from professional companies producing videos to a mom documenting their personal family trips.
I always start with Youtube when I’m searching for videos about an upcoming family trip. We watch videos of families traveling together to a particular destination, informational travel guide videos, or Austin’s personal favorite–commercials! (Even the 15-second promos for SeaWorld get him all excited!)
I don’t know what it is about commercials, but Austin LOVES them! They seem to instantly capture his attention and entrance him. Commercials are a great option, especially for younger kids, because they tend to have a lot of highlight information packed into a short amount of time. Your toddler may not want to watch a ten minute video of a family traveling somewhere, but he will watch five separate two-minute commercials back to back.
You can also find kids movies that take place in a particular destination. They are not always going to be the most accurate depiction of what to expect, but they can feature a few characteristics of your destination. Ultimately, it will build excitement for your child to travel to the place he saw in the movie
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Here are some Disney movie ideas (all available on Disney+) that can give your child a little glimpse into a destination, their culture, and their way of life.
- Brave – Scotland
- Coco – Mexico
- Moana – Hawaii
- Cars 2 – Tokyo, Paris, Italy, London
- Mulan – China
- The Princess and the Frog – New Orleans
- The Lion King – Africa
- Ratatouille – Paris
There are also a number of National Geographic shows (also available on Disney+) that showcase places all over the world. Watch these with your child for stunning views of the nature and beauty of places you plan to visit on your family trips.
2. Remember, A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Since kids love seeing things, give them another great visual option–pictures! Use still photos to show your kids where you will be going. Austin eagerly hovers over my shoulder as I browse pictures on Instagram, Pinterest, or Google when I am planning our family trips.
Make photo viewing an interactive experience like show and tell. Show them a picture and describe the details of specific places you plan to add to your itinerary.
This also provides kids with a great opportunity to ask questions. “What is that? Why does it look like this? Who are those people?” Let them be a part of the discovery and planning process too. Plus you can use this as a chance to purge them of their unfiltered questions that create awkward situations in front of people.
On the flip side, you can harness your child’s inquisitive mind and ask him questions about a particular photo or group of photos. “What does this remind you of? What does the weather look like? What do you see? What do you like most?”
One of the most important life skills we try to teach Austin is to think for himself. Helping him visualize our future situation and generate questions on his own allows him to practice his critical thinking skills in a fun and (hopefully helpful in the future) kind of way.
3. Listen to Related Music
It is so easy to focus only on the visual representations of travel, like videos and photos. But listening to music sets the atmosphere for your trip! I’m convinced that nothing builds excitement in Austin more than listening to music.
Depending on where you are going, you can listen to songs that originate from a region. If you have Amazon music, Apple music, or Spotify, you can search for a playlist or station full of music in a particular genre or by artists from your destination country.
If you are taking a local trip or going somewhere that doesn’t have a particular music genre associated with it, you can find music that supports the vibe of your trip (ie beachy, country, urban, etc).
If you are going to Disneyland, Disney World, or another theme park, look into their themed music. Not Disney music from their movies (although that could be a great option too). I am talking about the magical music that you hear throughout the park and on their rides. It completes the experience and feel of a ride, and you can listen to it in your own home.
Austin LOVES listening to Disneyland music (and singing along)!!! He would listen to ONLY Disneyland music, on repeat, every day if we let him! He visualizes the rides as he hears the songs and is transported onto the ride from the middle of our living room. It is amazing to me how he knows exactly which part of the ride happens at any given moment just by listening to the music.
4. Read Relevant Books for Your Family Trips
Reading is one of the main ways to absorb and learn new information. Take your kids to your local library or purchase a few books on Amazon that pertain to one or more of your upcoming family trips. Possibilities are practically endless!
Read a travel guide with pictures that both you and your kids can learn from. Or find more kid-friendly books with location information for places all over the world. One of our favorites lately has been our kids City Atlas. Lonely Planet Kids also has a great collection of books about individual cities around the world.
Similar to what I mentioned with kids movies, you can find children’s books that take place in a region you will visit. These are not going to be as informationally accurate for your kids, but they will build excitement around the idea of traveling to that place.
5. Teach them about where you are going
Hola. Ciao. Konnichiwa. Guten Tag. Bonjour. Those are ways to say hello in five different languages.
Teach your kids how to say hello in the local language of where you will visit. While you are at it, teach them a couple other simple phrases like “please,” “thank you,” or “have a good day.” They will come in handy and put a smile on the locals’ faces.
There is such a wide variety of food around the globe. If you are leaving the country, chances are, you will have a new type of food to try. Let your kids try out the new cuisine for lunch or dinner at a local restaurant before your trip to get a little taste of what you will eat when you travel.
We took Austin to a local acai bowl place, so when we got them in Hawaii for breakfast he already loved them!
Show your kids where you are going. Austin likes to look on Google Maps and see where we are going. You could even use Google Earth for a more detailed view of a city. It can also be fun to leave technology behind and get a physical map (do they still make those?) or globe to locate your destination.
As you are planning your trip, tell your kids a couple of fun things that you are planning to do on the trip that they will be able to look forward to. As you research and plan as a family, you could even let your kids choose one or two activities that you can do as a family. I bet they will be so thrilled when it’s time for their activity on the itinerary.
6. Countdown the Days until Family Trips
A classic, but effective, way to build excitement is to have a tangible countdown for family trips. There is something about the shere suspense and watching the days get closer and closer. The anticipation just keeps building!
I make a big deal out of counting down the last two weeks before one of our big family trips with Austin. The first thing I ask him each morning when he wakes up is “How many days until ___?” He gets so excited to say the new number!
It helps to have a visible display of your countdown. I use cute countdown blocks that sit in Austin’s room for him to see each day. You can also have a calendar hung up where you cross off each day. Or you could create a paper chain and cut off one link per day until you finally reach your departure day! (I get excited just thinking about it!!!)
There are lots of creative ways to display your countdowns. The important thing is to make sure it is easily visible and to be consistent with counting down every day.
Determine how far in advance you want to start this based on your kids and their ages. Since Austin is younger, I start a couple weeks before our family trips (not any longer). Otherwise, I would be fielding CONSTANT questions about whether or not today was the day we would leave for the trip for months beforehand. I can handle that question for 14 days, but that is my limit. Plus, he can only count to fourteen, so anything longer than that means nothing to him.
7. Buy New Clothes or Toys
What kid doesn’t love new clothes or toys? Now you can correlate these new things with your family trips.
Have you or your child pick out a new shirt, hat, or jacket for the trip. BUT…they can’t wear it until the trip. When the trip arrives, they will be thrilled to finally get the chance to show off their new clothes!
Some kids may not be too thrilled with clothing, so you can apply the same principle to toys. We do this for lengthy airplane rides or long-distance road trips. You can give your kids a new sticker book, drawing pad, book, game, or movie that they get to play with on the trip.
PRO TIP: Stick with activities that are consumable (stickers, coloring book, etc) or virtual (tablet game, movie, etc). Then you can avoid accumulating more stuff. Less is more.
This is a win-win situation. Your child will be excited to finally get the new item, plus he will be entertained by it while you travel!
Family trips are exciting!
Despite whichever tactics you implement for your family trips, you ultimately need to be excited yourself. Excitement is contagious!
If you are always talking about the trip and preparing for it with excitement and anticipation, your kids will pick up on it. Integrate talking about your trip into daily conversation and be as excited as possible in your tone each time you talk about it! (In case you can’t tell…I get excited just talking about getting excited!!!)
Before you know it, you will all be headed to the airport (or pulling out of the driveway) to take off on your exciting family adventure! Enjoy your trip!