Thinking about taking your kids overseas?
Every year, American children visit Food for the Hungry (FH) fields with their parents through our short-term missions sending program. I always enjoy hearing these families’ stories, but I had not personally taken my children overseas until this year, when we took a family vacation to India. Here are some of my lessons learned and tips for traveling with children.
1. Reset Your Expectations
When you travel internationally with children, it’s important not to expect all of the same experiences that you might have on a trip with only adults. Bedtimes, naps for little ones, jet lag, tolerance for out-of-comfort-zone experiences, and food issues are all reasons that the breadth of your experience could diminish.
My daughters, Linda and Andrea, are 9 and 11. I learned that these are great ages for an international experience. They were old enough to appreciate and remember the trip, but young enough to see India with childlike wonder. We visited the Taj Mahal, attended a beautiful three-day wedding, came face-to-face with monkeys in the wild, and visited a ministry that our family supports in New Delhi.
However, if our kids had not been along, my husband and I would have probably seen many more sites and delved more deeply into the culture. There’s a trade-off to taking kids on a trip, and we decided in advance that the trade-off was worth it. Resetting our expectations helped us not to be disappointed by staying in at night and taking things slowly .
2. Tackle Food Issues Before You Go
Indian food is much different from American food, and I thought the kids would benefit from trying it before we traveled. Two months before our trip, we visited an Indian market in our town and purchased a cart full of pre-packaged meals. My husband and I had eaten Indian food many times, but we wanted our daughters to be prepared for the new flavors they would encounter in India.
Several nights a week, we ate those Indian dishes, practicing their names and remembering which ones were our favorites. By the time we left for India, both of the girls knew which dishes they would like to order in a restaurant. Of course, there were still many culinary surprises on our trip, but we had baseline knowledge of Indian cuisine that carried us through the trip.
If you are visiting a country whose cuisine is not available in your hometown, look up some recipes and invite the kids to practice cooking them with you!
Besides food, there are many ways to prepare children for to enter a different culture. Read novels and non-fiction books that are set in your destination country. Practice common greetings in the country’s language. Together, browse tourist websites that feature the country.
As an adult, you may be content to rough it without the conveniences of home. Children should get used to some inconveniences, too, but having a few familiar items on the trip will help them to adjust. We made space to accommodate a favorite toy for each child, a reading book and plenty of snacks.
For the plane, don’t forget to bring extra activities and at least one change of clothes in a carry-on.
4. Watch for Sweet Surprises
Some of my favorite memories from India would not have happened without the children joining us on the trip. They made me notice things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and they made me proud of how they are maturing. I won’t forget the moment when Linda bravely consumed a spicy pickle given to her by a new Indian friend, or the surprised, sad look she gave me when I pointed out shacks by the side of the road. I treasure the memories of Andrea taking all sorts of pictures to show her class back home and the conversations we had about Hinduism.
Traveling overseas with children can be difficult and expensive, but it may also be one of your family’s favorite experiences.
Have you traveled overseas with children? What tips would you add to this list?