Preparing Your Kids for Foreign Travel
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Crossing borders? Preparing kids for foreign travel is a little bit different than prepping them to visit Gramma’s house. Here are some fun things to do as you prepare to travel with kids.
When you travel within a country as big as the United States, you don’t have to learn too many things. There are typically few language barriers and the currency is the same. Except for some colloquial differences like sub or hoagie and maybe some new regional foods, travel from California to New York is not too foreign for most Americans.
Travel across the world and over national borders, however, is a whole different ball game. While you can’t be 100% prepared for everything, there are some small things you can do to make visiting another country less foreign for you and for your kids.
(Psst. These also work if your child is doing a country project for school or you just want to learn about a new place.)
Here are some of the things we’ve been doing in preparation of our big French adventure:
This summer I ditched Friday pizza in favor of French cuisine. While I don’t think we’ll be able to afford too many restaurant meals on our trip, we will be eating with friends on occasion and splurging at restaurants a few times. I want my kids not to be totally overwhelmed by the different customs of eating.
On Fridays my girls set a pretty table while I prepare several courses in the French style. Simple having their salad served separately from their main dish was a revelation to my kids. Having course after course one particular night bowled over even my husband. He’d forgotten how sometimes the food just keeps coming. On these nights we get a chance to discuss French customs as well as cuisine and table manners.
Whenever we can we watch movies that feature life in France or the UK (where’s we’ll be staying a few days at each end of the trip). Films like Hugo, Ratatouille, and The Monuments Men help my kids visualize just a bit of the places we’ll go.
Books are one of my preferred means of learning so I hope to pass that on to my kids. I’ve been hunting down both fiction and nonfiction reads to share another perspective on French life. The Madeline series does a great job highlighting sights in Paris. The kids have enjoyed the Anatole books that Carrie reviewed a few months ago. The big boys have learned a ton of art history from The Monuments Men and Rick Steves’ Europe 101.
Practice Makes Perfect
Over the summer the kids and I took in a few museums. Museums and castles will make up a good portion of our European adventure. Visiting museums in our home city with the whole crew has been super enlightening. I have a better sense about which kids could spend all day looking at paintings and which ones need a little more patience — and maybe a few snacks.
One day when big brothers (impatient and hangry) were hassling a younger one (who could look at paintings all day), we had a good conversation about respecting others’ preferences as well as defining good museum etiquette. I now know how to better prepare ourselves for traipsing through the Louvre.
I started taking one child out to lunch each week with the express purpose of giving him or her practice in ordering from a menu, talking to a waiter, and using proper table manners in a public setting.
It’s also give the opportunity to try new foods. We have an authentic French bakery in town that serves a cafe-style lunch. My kids have had a chance to sample Croque Monsieur, Orangina, and eclairs. They learned that baguette sandwiches often come served with butter, something we don’t do at our house.
There will be plenty of surprises when it comes to French food, but at least we’ve had a taste of things to come.
Learning the Lingo
I had big hopes that my kids would be fluent in French before our trip. That isn’t going to happen. I’ll be lucky if I can get by; my French skills are beyond rusty. But, the kids do have a good base of vocabulary and are really motivated to pronounce things properly. Most importantly, they want to try!
We’ve used simple resources like French in 10 Minutes a Day and the Duolingo app. We’ve also watched favorite movies with the French dubbing selected. Since we already know the storyline, we can hear how it would be translated in French and grasp a little bit more vocabulary in the process.
You can’t truly know a country unless you go there and explore, but there are things you can do to make your kids a little more familiar and comfortable with their destination.
How have YOU prepared your kids for foreign travel or studied another country or language?
Travel with Kids
This is part of the Travel with Kids series. Every day in October, I’m posting tips, tricks, and tutorials for making all your travels fun, frugal, and family-friendly. Be sure to read through the archives in case you missed a post.
For a 3 month trip with a 6 & 9 year old, we did a unit study on China the month ahead of time and watched certain films. We brought other country stuff with us for later travels ( unit study books workbooks from school supply places are great for lightweight materials). Our tour guide taught us certain words but were really clueless and humbled by that part. For about 6 months we reinforced that they will try every food once–especially for the two weeks of the trip in China. Australia had some interesting foods too. They were both wonderful, and ate better than most of the college students that were with us. Swallowing bottled water helps with ear pain sometimes better than chewing gum—just buy it after you get past security and you “should” be able to take it on the plane (and make sure to save some for landing). Ginger tablets are great for motion sickness. 16 plane flights wore on the nerves, especially late night flights that required customs (explaining to the sleep-deprived, kiddo with sensory issues that one cannot rush through customs line passed the armed guards in Beijing was not pleasant). Preparing for security, things NOT to talk about while in the airport/plane/subway (but not having that conversation in said location) . . . The six year old’s carry on being pulled aside because they saw snake—-it was a huge rubber souvenir but Australia a bit touchy about that. 🙂 Have fun on YOUR adventure!!
As the parent of 2 with food allergies, I am excited and also a wee bit nervous for you on this trip. I know you’ve mentioned that your youngest has nut allergies. I was wondering how you are preparing to deal with a food allergy in another country? As far as packaged foods, I would guess that there might be different food labeling requirements in Europe. And then there’s eating out–I find that a nightmare here, but at least we can look up menus and scan for allergens online ahead of time. I wouldn’t expect that information to be as readily available overseas, but perhaps I am wrong. I’m sure you’ve done your homework in this area already, and I’d love to hear how you’ve prepared for these issues!
I’ve been grilling my French mom and sister about this. They tell me it is common here, so it will be fine. I’ve also taken her to a check up with the allergist together marching orders.
We took our family to Paris at the beginning of summer. My children are 16, 14 & 11. To prepare, we read tour books and watched a few movies set in Paris (Midnight in Paris was a favorite of the older kids and the adults). My oldest has been studying French for a few years so this was a great trip for him to actually use what he learned. My children knew to expect lots of museum time but they did have some choice in which ones to see — one day my husband took the boys to the Musee de l’Armee and Napoleon’s tomb while my daughter and I went to the Musee d’Orsay. Also, each of us got to pick a priority place to visit (Pere Lachaise Cemetery was mine) and we made sure to go there with no whining from those who may not have been as excited to visit that place. Prior to the trip, I did cook more French food to get everyone in the mood — crepes and chocolate croissants started appearing for weekend breakfasts. By the end our our trip, everyone was proficient at navigating the Paris Metro — even my 11 yo would have been able to find his way around town (and he saw similarly-aged children riding solo). The hard part of travel for my family is getting there — two of my kids do not really like to fly — one gets motion sickness very easily. I have to be sure to keep him well dosed with dramamine. I also do not like flying and need medication to make it work. BUT, I love travel once I am there.
What did you think of the cemetery? I went there in college, but it remember being underwhelmed.
My husband and I loved it! But we love old cemeteries anywhere. We only spent about 90 minutes there (we went after going to Sacre Coeur), close to closing time. I love the old crypts and statues. The paths are pretty winding and picturesque, too. My kids were not so thrilled — one kid really dislikes cemeteries and it was kind of boring for the others but we brought a few pastries along to appease them.
Ok, this might be really dumb, but if you are only planning to eat out or with friends a few times during your trip, then what are you going to eat? That might sound silly, but I’m really not sure what else there is when you are traveling,
We will grab food at the grocery store, picnic, cook our own food when we have apartments, and hopefully find prepared stuff at the store.
Loved the tips! I especially like the idea of taking one child out at a time! We are living on a Navy base in Japan with 4 kids, ages 9, 5, 3, and 1. Table manners can be a challenge at this stage! We did many of the things you mentioned to try and get everyone ready!! For younger kids there are videos called Little Pim. We found them at the library! Great for vocabulary and just getting accoustumed to the way the new language sounds! I hope you enjoy your adventure!!
Great tips! Not sure if you’ve planned this for further along in your series, but before traveling with my kids, we needed to do a lot of teaching about the actual “going” – lineups, security checks, airline procedures, sitting in one place for hours, carrying one’s own gear, how to use public transit etc etc. These will not be good surprises! 🙂
Great idea! We had each child wear their passport around their neck but, even so, my 11 yo almost lost his several times when taking a sweater off. Go for zip ups instead of pull overs. Each kid was responsible for their own gear — we only brought one carry on bag and a backpack each — the benefit was that you could go through customs so much quicker upon return to the USA — there is a priority line for “no checked baggage.” My kids all brought reading material to entertain themselves but it was brought on a kindle or ipad to reduce bulk.
Good tips! Thanks!