As the sun broke over Vietnam’s East Sea horizon, my son and I gave one final tug to the coracle, securing it on the shore. The weathered fisherman, to whom the boat belonged, gave us an appreciative smile before uncovering his overnight haul. Tristan’s eyes went wide as he was staring at the cornucopia of sea creatures littering the floor. We were thousands of miles from our house in Zurich, but we could not have felt more at home.
My wife, Claudia, and I are uniquely blessed with being in professions that allow us to travel; and as a result, our sons are already frequent flyers. Tristan, 8, began flying at eight-weeks-old and Conrad, 4, hit the skies at three months. They now have a combined 200,000 air miles between them. They are both enrolled in our family world-schooling program where the opportunities for bonding and endless adventures create everlasting memories.
Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that the children’s entertainment company that I have launched is focused on a plush toy named Outcast Otter and eight-year-old Timmy Carlton, who together travel the globe in search of new friends and excitement. I initially created Outcast storybooks for Tristan and Conrad to enjoy while we traveled, and I even had a stuffed Outcast Otter manufactured to keep them company on the plane. Now, the little creature is an integral part of our adventures, not to mention the star of edtech toys-to-life connectivity concept, and a travel book series; Outcast Goes to… (Rome, Jakarta, etc.)
Obviously, we love family travel, and we enjoy the benefits that come from introducing our children to a diversity of cultures and perspectives, including a well-developed sense of tolerance and respect. That is not to say that traveling with children is not work (SPOILER ALERT: It is!), but the rewards are phenomenal. From imagining Mayan warriors storming around the pyramids of Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to something as simple as ordering a gelato in Siena – seeing the world through the eyes of a child who soaks up the details we adults overlook is magnificent.
Yes, at times family travel is overwhelming. As a parent, your holiday is comprised of your always being on. Consider this before embarking on any journey; problems your child encounters at home will also occur in Riga, Monaco or the island of Sylt. However, with a bit of planning and forethought you can mitigate some of the difficulty, adapt, and bravely journey forward into the great unknown.
Teaching your child to be a good traveler begins when they are (very) young. A valuable piece of advice Claudia and I received as new parents: if you intend for your newborn to become a traveler, speak at a regular volume, and act normally while they sleep. Because of this, our lads have developed solid sleeping habits, and can, thankfully, nap anywhere. Trust me, your child taking a fifteen-minute nap on a packed bus from southern Hungary to Budapest is a lifesaver – for everyone!
Before each trip, I familiarize them with the local culture and language of our destination, teaching them the polite basics: ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ I have noticed this increases their confidence, and also brings delight to the locals, be it Conrad saying, ‘Xie Xie’ in Beijing or Tristan saying, ‘Konnichiwa,’ in Hokkaido.
Of course, safety must come first when traveling, but this does not mean smothering your child’s natural curiosity. Pushing boundaries (at least a little bit) increases a child’s confidence, and in turn, a more confident child is a more responsible traveler. I like to encourage my kids to speak to the hotel staff, and to ask for their own room key; a big hit which instills responsibility and a sense of maturity. I have Tristan ring the front desk if we require amenities, and now Conrad, well, he insists he call, too.
On The Road…
One of our most memorable excursions from Hong Kong was Vietnam. Few on earth will fawn over your children like the Vietnamese. We traveled to the central part of the country, visiting Huế, Hoi An and Da Nang. Tristan and I awoke every morning at five o’clock to comb the beach, and to help the local fishermen reel in their boats. We hired a member of the hotel staff to take us to My Son temple complex — The boys rode a water buffalo in the rice fields, and took a boat ride with a local elderly lady. However, the most fascinating aspect of our journey took us to the former DMV (North/South) division line. As an American, this was an extraordinary experience; watching my seven-year-old cross the historical Hiền Lương Bridge spanning the Ben Hai River was priceless. We explored the web of underground villages and fortifications of Vinh Moc, and were mesmerized by the expansive depth of the complex. This is cultural immersion for kids at its finest.
Our latest holiday swept us to Chia, Sardinia, the island’s southern coast, fifty kilometers from Cagliari. We rented a beach house on a pristine sandy beach; and since it was still just before the high season, the beaches were empty. Bur activities were plentiful: golf, windsurfing, fantastic cuisine, and the boys’ favorite – horseback riding on the beach. We also witnessed the annual Chia triathlon, which was rather unexpected, but an enjoyable treat.
Creating Priceless Memories
While most family travel articles highlight glamorous destinations, some of our family’s most satisfying excursions are those when we have been tourists in our own city. Whether traveling close to home, or internationally, the life-changing effects on a child are priceless. Traveling has taught Tristan and Conrad to connect with people, and to learn about themselves, which has made them all-around more confident. Just as important is their excitement about traveling, made all too obvious in their eyes while learning about the next adventure.
From being in an overnight train to Edinburgh (they love the bunk beds) to trekking to Alsace, France; or from camping in a tree house, to the simple pleasure of jumping on the luxurious beds in the Ritz Paris (apologies Mr. Boyens); Tristan and Conrad have become marvelous travelers… because they started early. They know what to expect in the airport and plane, and they know what Claudia and I, as parents, expect of them. Together our family is raking up miles and creating ever-lasting memories all over the world… so, pack your bags and join us. Happy travels!
Other Useful Travel Tips:
• Have your child create a list and pack his/her own luggage.
• Upon your child’s first airport experience, explain the process (including the security checkpoint) so they know what to expect. Also, empower them by teaching them how to read the arrival and departure boards. As an added bit of fun responsibility, I let my boys carry their own boarding passes, even my four-year-old.
• On the plane: explain how to locate the seat number on both the ticket and the seat. Also, ask a flight attendant whether they have logbooks for the children to track air miles. Tristan and Conrad give their logbooks to the purser who later returns it with the captain’s signature and mileage. This, I strongly recommend.
• From Tristan and Conrad’s first flight, I made a point to teach them to only use their ‘airplane voices,’ and that they must not get up from their seats. I never allowed them to crawl down the aisle.
• Break the flight into segments: dining, napping, game playing, iPad, and ‘surprise toy time.’ Inexpensive treats are always welcomed. Claudia and I are selective about amount of time that they use the iPad, as we like to save this for those times that we desperately need help.
• If you will be traveling somewhere for an extended period of time, try to schedule recurring activities that your children can do each day. Last year, our family was fortunate enough to relocate to Hong Kong for five months, so we quickly settled them into daily routines of karate, football, acting, and Mandarin classes.
• Go on food adventures!! While in Hong Kong, we did what we called ‘luxury to local,’ doing everything from enjoying Easter Brunch at the fabled Peninsula Hotel to savoring the city’s thriving street food scene; even trying preserved rotten duck eggs! The most important aspect of traveling, and the one that will stay with you and your children for the rest of your lives, is experiencing how the locals live.
• Most importantly, have fun and take a lot of photographs to document every step of the journey!