Now for the GO-ing! This is the part you've been waiting for! (Part 3 of 5)
As the third article in our five-part series, we are now focusing on the GO! step of the Family Adventure experience.
You have planned and prepared and the big day is now before you. You have made sure you have either printed copies of your tickets and itineraries, or a reliable reference on your phone(s).
Call me old school, but I think a printed copy is always a good idea in the event you run into some weird internet snag or your phone suddenly dying, etc. Not likely, but anything is possible. And I think being able to reference both is the best way to be prepared for the day.
I’m going to break this overview article about GOing into three sections:
- D-Day (as in, Departure) and the travel itself – to, fro and in between
- Dealing with (some of) the challenges of international travel with kids
- Making the most of your experiences while there
1 | D-Day [as in, Departure] and the travel itself – to, fro and in between
You’ve arrived. Everyone, amazingly, is packed up. You’re on time, allowing for two hours from the moment you arrive at the airport until your plane takes off. And then it happens.
One of the kids forgot something. You get a flat tire on the way to the airport. There’s more traffic than expected on the road.
No one wants that. For these reasons, something you can do beforehand is add an extra hour on to what you think it would take to get to the airport, go through TSA and get to the gate. Go on. Add that hour (or more). You’ll be glad you did. Going through with time on hand is better than feeling stressed.
As for the travel, if you have prepared well, you have plenty of snacks and, maybe, some compact meals stashed in your carry-ons.
You’ll have items to keep kids occupied in ways that do not rely heavily on the devices and movies on board (for the younger set). Depending on the child(ren)’s age(s), you can try to make the in-flight entertainment an occasional privilege, not a set-in-stone right. This is up to you, of course. You need to find the right mix. And how this works will largely depend upon what they’ve come to view as “normal” at home.
Older kids will likely have their own set of things to do and more freedom to choose from the in-flight offerings.
When it comes to sleep on board, I strongly suggest you set all watches (hopefully there’ll be a few in the group) to the destination time the minute you get on board. If you do that, you will begin the important mindset and body clock shift necessary to handle the onslaught of jet lag.
If you shift to the destination time zone, feel free to use the appropriate items to facilitate that: earplugs, sleep masks, neck-cradling pillows, blankets and, perhaps, some melatonin to relax you. Most melatonin products say they are not for use in kids under a certain age, and I would urge caution. But milk? Well, that has rest-inducing properties, as does camomile tea. If you want something more wholistic, try going beforehand to a health foods store and seeing what other options are available.
2 | Dealing with some of the challenges of international travel
There are many challenges you will face when you touch down in a new – foreign – land. You will need to make it through Customs. You’ll need some ready cash in the host country’s currency. You’ll need to get to your lodging – or wait until you can.
You may be dealing with cranky kids and you may not be so chipper yourself. This is common. Probably the most important action here is to extend grace – to the others in your group, and to yourself. A good night of sleep, even with the change in time, can work wonders. But you may need to wait until you can get it.
I’m a big fan of taking really good care of yourself the first day or two in a location. But I’m also convinced one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your family members is convince yourselves to operate in the new time zone.
Don’t reference time back home – or, at least, only give passing reference to it. “Oh, this is why I’m so tired now; it’s 1 am back home.” That type of reference is OK. But don’t dwell there and allow it to be an excuse. Push through it. If you must a short (i.e., timer set, and you don’t give in longer) nap midday is fine; just don’t flip your day to night, night to day.
You may reason, “Well, we’re only here a short time – 10 days or two weeks – so I might as well not get used to the time here.” But this type of thinking will keep you from enjoying where you are.
When it comes to local currency, I hope you got a little bit before you left from your local bank. (Often, you’ll have to order it, unless you live in a major metropolitan area.) But your best rates are via ATMs. Again, this should have been clarified before you left. Sometimes your bank will be part of a larger system – CIRRUS, for example – allowing you to pull out cash in the local currency at a very minimal charge (or none).
You can only force your kids to comply with the time change so much. You’ll need to strike that balance between rigidity and flexibility. That is why it’s important for you, as the parent, to decide beforehand how you’ll handle yourself. The kids may be watching you to see what’s okay and what’s not.
Finally, when it comes to food, my suggestion is to try your best to eat less risky food at first – food that is similar to what you might have at home – but get more experimental as you move on. If you do experiment, make sure you keep track of where you ate what when, in the event you run into digestive or other problems. Stick with bottled water (with “gas” or without) as much as possible. That way, you can rule out any water-born ailments. It is worth putting out the extra money to make this happen, even in “safe” water places like much of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and Japan.
And keep well-hydrated while traveling, especially in hot climates. Make sure you emphasize this with the kids, too. Nothing can cause a damper on your experience more than becoming dehydrated, because it will conspire with the jet lag to make you feel weaker.
3 | Making the most of your experiences while there
A good plan will allow for flexibility (perhaps exchanging the plans for one day out with that for another, or even scrapping part of a plan all together as you learn of something better). If someone gets sick or a major obstacle develops, flexibility is key.
But without the plan, or structure, in the first place, you may find yourself rudderless. And, especially with the demands of kids, you may find it takes much longer to get out of your lodging if you don’t have a plan in place.
Depending upon the ages of your kids, one fun thing you might want to try is to “assign” a photographer to capture each day. So, when it’s not your day, you spend more time in the present and not trying to capture everything with your phone/camera. Doing this will give you perspective on how each person views a slice of the trip – and may make the compilation of trip photos much more manageable later. This will only work with certain aged kids (and maybe specific temperaments), so you decide if this is for you.
We’ve found a good way to start the day is with our family coming together over breakfast to discuss and pray for the day ahead. And, as much as possible (again, depending upon ages), a good way to end a day of travel is to come together and talk about highs and lows for the day and yes, wrapping up with prayer.
A final word here: You, as the parent, set the tone for the trip. If you are cranky, expect cranky kids. If you are upbeat and energetic, kids often will be, too. (Preteens and teens may be the exception, depending upon temperament.)
If you are too rigid, kids will likely complain and roll their eyes. If you are too loosey-goosey flexible, kids will be longing for some structure and may be wondering why they’re even there, pleading to go home.
And finally, if you make this an adventure and you read up online, watch YouTube videos and truly learn about the place you’re in (before and along the way), you will add energy and excitement to the experience. You might also incorporate games and friendly competition into the experience as well. (That's something for another blog post we'll eventually link to here after we write it!)
A bonus for you, too, if you get to know and/or visit some locals in your destination. This is the very best way to make the experience both meaningful and real for you – and your kids.
Our next section will be on reentry and reflection. Stay tuned!
How has the GOing part of the Family Adventure, especially abroad, worked for you?