7 tips for bringing up good travelers

7 tips for bringing up good travelers

How to plant the seeds of good travel in your children, before they go on the road
It's never to early to give junior his wings.

It's an old saying, but it still holds true: “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."

Observe the behavior and attitudes of any child, and you’ll see that children learn most from what they see and not what they’re told.

This is particularly apparent with children on the road. Being away from home ground tests one’s resilience, adaptability and response to new and unfamiliar things and reveals one’s mettle.

In between the excitement and novelty of holiday activities, can a child sleep soundly in a hotel bed, eat the local food, cope with missing their friends and relatives, all while being able to enjoy different sights, sounds and smells?

Often, a child’s responses mirror their parents'. If mum and dad are relaxed about eating the local meat-on-a-stick, then the child is more likely to give it a chance.

If the parents are open, friendly and try to pick up a few words of the native language -- guess what? -- the kids will probably do the same.

And the foundation for all of this is laid way before junior gets on his first flight.

What we have around the house, what we watch on TV or look at on the Internet, the places we go, the things we say unconsciously -- all reveal who we are, how we perceive others and how we deal with situations.

If raising a good traveler is important to you, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Explore your own backyard

A big part of traveling is discovering your destination.

For this to be a source of fun and wonder -- and not fear and inconvenience -- adopt the same attitude at home.

Allow yourself to explore a neighborhood, a park, or interesting streets with enthusiasm and confidence.

Don’t worry about getting lost or not finding the right thing. Just see what’s out there and celebrate it for what it is.

And it can be fun. My family and I once took part in an island wide scavenger hunt.

Teams had to drive all around Singapore to look for really interesting things -- like a scarecrow in Kranji and a statue in Kent Ridge Park -- and by the time we were done, the kids had a whole new sense of wonder about this small island.

2. Cope with variations to routine 

The first thing that goes out the window when you travel is routine.

Sleep and bath times and all the other daily activities that give predictability to a child’s life go pear-shaped.

If you stay calm, the kids are more likely to be able to go with the flow.

So if your family routine at home gets nudged off the rails, let it go. Let your children see that you can handle it, and they’ll be able to handle it too.

I used to live next door to a German couple in Singapore who had two sets of twins, then aged two-and-a-half and four (yes, you read that right).

Needless to say something was always going a little haywire in their house. But this couldn’t have happened to a nicer, calmer couple.

Looking at them, my children’s missed naps or barely eaten dinners suddenly didn’t seem like anything to fuss about.

3. Expose them to different perspectives

What you watch, read and surf constitutes a large part of your reality.

With ample good content out there that either deals directly with travel or simply covers news, cultures, sports or happenings in different parts of the world, your reading material, TV and computer are brimming with geography lessons.

And if you want to make a concerted effort to have children’s toys and books in your house that promote a good travel mindset, try www.goodlittletraveler.com, an online store and travel resource for family traveling.

It’s a little American-centric, but is adequately broad-based to be used by all.

That's the spirit ... have passport, will travel.

4. Treat service staff with respect

When you travel, you will interact constantly with service staff.

Some will be brilliant, others will be hopeless; some will understand you perfectly, others won’t be able to speak more than a few words of your language.

Dealing with them firmly, but politely, gets you much further than being rude and impatient -- an invaluable lesson for anyone to learn.

Show your child how to ask for something; if it turns out wrong, how to say so properly; and if it’s done beautifully, how to show appreciation.

5. Try new and different foods

Going without familiar foods while on the road can be a big challenge for kids.

But less so if they’re already used to mum or dad trying their hand at a variety of dishes and serving them at the dinner table, or taking the family to different types of restaurants.

So don’t just wimp out and feed them fast-food, experiment gradually, expose them to international cuisine buffets, and slowly expose them to more exotic cuisines -- Moroccan, Russian, Greek and Middle Eastern -- pepper in some country trivia to make it a more interactive experience.

Watch the spice though.

Once, when getting my then toddler son to try some pad thai, I sprinkled what I thought was sugar on top. It turned out to be chilli, as I discovered from the horrified look on the poor boy’s face when he put the noodles in his mouth.

It was a while before the would try pad thai again, but I think his spice tolerance went up a few notches from that experience.

6. Have a diverse social circle

Seeing you socialize with friends from different countries and cultures magically opens up the globe to your children.

Foreigners are viewed as potential new friends, to connect with, exchange views and stories with, and to visit overseas one day.

It’s never to early to cultivate a multicultural mindset in your youngsters. And Singapore’s a great place to do this. We are such a melting pot of nationalities that you can’t assume to know where people hail from anymore.

7. Go on the road

Ultimately the best way to breed good little travelers is to take them traveling.

Nothing beats the experience. So, plan your trip, pack your suitcases and just keep doing it.

As another saying goes: “Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots -- and wings.”

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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