Traveling with Kids | Cultural Preparation
As a family who travels a lot, one of the most important things we do is to culturally prepare our children before going away. We are strong believers in learning about all aspects of a culture and country before arriving in it.
We are usually early-bookers which means we have a few months to research the country and culture we are visiting. The whole process gets the kids excited and intrigued about the upcoming trip (the parents too!). Here are some of the most important things we do to culturally prepare our children for any big overseas trip.
Culture/History: We start with ordering and borrowing various books about the country for our children to read. We usually try and get a few children’s books, travel guides, history/culture books and language books that we use for reference. The kids love books so this is a favourite part for them and it gets their curiosity sparked about what they will see and experience on our big trip.
We also love to watch documentaries about local culture or the people of the country. It’s a great way to see the typical landscapes, cities and even what daily life looks like. Remember to choose documentaries which are suitable for children. My husband decided to show the kids the Japanese documentary The Children of the Tsunami and this resulted in two of our children in tears and absolutely terrified to go to Japan. These are important subjects for the kids to know about but watching something first hand can be quite upsetting (and traumatic) for kids. We’ve learned our lesson.
Customs/taboos: We like to talk to them about the local traditions of the country and discuss how they are different from our own. We make sure to teach them any customs or taboos from the culture that are different from ours (like not pointing with your chopsticks in China, taking a long afternoon siesta in Spain or how to cleanse your hands before entering a shrine or temple in Japan). All of these things are very intriguing to children and make the trip a little more respectful for everyone involved.
Language: We always make a huge effort to learn some basics of the language as well. Before going to China and Japan our kids were able to greet people, count to ten, introduce themselves and say please, thank you and sorry. It doesn’t seem like a lot but people from other countries really appreciate the effort you make to communicate in their local language. The first days are always the toughest, but as time goes on the kids get more and more confident and learn more and more new words. For Japan, we also studied Japanese characters and spent hours writing them out and learning to read them. The excitement they felt when we were there and they recognized and could read some of the signs was well worth the effort.
Cuisine: One of our favourite pre-trip rituals is cooking the food from the country we’re going to visit. We research in books, online and from friends to get ideas for traditional dishes and the kids are involved in the whole preparation. By doing this they get used to new flavours, ingredients and types of food. By the time we arrive in the country they are already familiar with some menu items and it makes them feel a little more comfortable in the new surroundings.
Contacts: We always make a big effort to write letters (not e-mails!) to any friend or contact we have in the country. If there are children we will see or meet in the country, we get the kids to write a letter as well. People usually really appreciate the communication and are almost always willing to send you some tips and advice about traveling in their country. We were lucky enough to meet up with several friends around Japan and China and those moments were the absolute best we had. People are proud of their country and they appreciate the interest you have in visiting and learning about it.
In many of the countries we’ve visited, the kids have spent time with children of their age and it has always been a big highlight of their trip. Watching our children play with grasshoppers in the middle of the rice fields with a group of Chinese kids or starting up a game of soccer on a local playground in Kyoto are amazing memories for us, our children, and the local children as well.
Kids are especially in need of feeling safe and familiar with their surroundings. By making the effort to do these simple things before venturing to a new country, you make the whole experience richer and more enjoyable for the entire family.