10 Uncommon Family Travel Tips
We have been traveling for nearly 2 years, non-stop since 2009. We’ve been to 9 countries so far, including all of Central America and now find ourselves in South America. We wanted to share with you some travel tips and travel advice from everything from pooping to learning while on the road.
First and foremost, carry you own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Traveling through Central America and South America you will likely encounter a wide range of ‘bathroom’ options. In the big cities, you will find quite civilized potty options, but the one thing you need to get used to is throwing the paper in the bin.
There are techniques my son and I adapted, as gross as it may sound talking about it here. Always fold your paper inward after using, and make sure to locate and if necessary relocate the bin, before using the toilet. You don’t want to be playing twister with dirty paper in one hand, bending your body into a pretzel to reach the bin whilst squatting over the toilet trying to maintain your balance. As funny as it sounds, it needs to be discussed with your kid(s) before hand, and then, well, let them at it.
‘Go with the flow’ I always say…or in some cases, ‘flow with the go?’
Two words: Peanut butter. If you and your child like the stuff and have no allergies, this is the biggest lifesaver when traveling. You are always likely to find a panaderia or bakery and there’s nothing more packed with protein and energy than fresh bread slathered with peanut butter and some fresh juice.
Also, on that note, make sure you order your juice ‘con agua pura’ or with filtered water. If they do not have filtered water (very important to make that distinction), try the fresh fruit blended with ‘leche’. It’s quite a treat!
When things go wrong, have a sense of humor! Your kids will think it’s an adventure if you think it’s an adventure. The biggest gift traveling offers is the opportunity to be in the present moment, meaning truly experience whatever comes your way and being ok with whatever it is. Travel is truly an exercise in being flexible.
My son and I actually enjoy long bus and train rides. One time we rode a bus from Guatemala to Costa Rica which took 30 hours. We are both small in stature, so it works for us and usually are comfortable in the long haul buses. We get cozy with our blow up neck pillows, blankets for the cold air-conditioned busses. We always have a deck of cards, ready but our favorite long haul trips, we play continuous rounds of the “what am I” game. It’s fun, entertaining and creative (and also a bit educational). We always end up laughing as we try to out smart each other.
Learning While Traveling This is a section onto itself, but it’s a huge part of our traveling:
We have taken a radical approach to schooling, actually we are ‘unschooling‘ as we are on an 8 year around the world adventure. Our approach to schooling is what we call “world schooling”, but you don’t have to be on an extended travel schedule to take advantage of its merits. Here are some of the things we do to add an educational element to our traveling.
5. Travel Research:
Research the history of the place we travel. Both my son and I have a keen interest in history and it doesn’t feel like an abstract concept when we are actually in the place we’ve just learned about. My son and I both tend to seek out the most notorious, super and fantastic aspects to keep us engaged. We can tell you the history of pirates in Panama, Bolivar’s liberation movement, the history of torture in Cartagena and a little bit about the famous Mayan ball games in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
My son and I always seek out volunteer opportunities when we travel. We’ve learned so much about our own humanity by giving. We’ve participated in 1 day volunteering all the way to a 2 month commitment. We’ve volunteered with at animals reserves, schools, hospitals and libraries. The opportunities are there, and the benefits are so rewarding for both you and your child.
I know it’s against everything your mother taught you, but in the case of traveling it’s a good rule. If you are guest in a foreign country, ask questions and engage the locals around you and make friends! You will find the majority of the time the locals are just as interested in you as you are in them. Two rules to live by, be curious and always offer back a huge smile of gratitude. (Rita Gelman Golden actually talks about that in this podcast interview)
8. Luxury vs. Local
Seriously, kids don’t require luxury. (If they do, that’s because of something they learned from you, so now here’s your chance to correct that. )
When you are in a foreign country, we have found the most rewarding experiences have been living as locals do. Or in our experience, living with locals. Opt for a week with a ‘host family’ instead of a hotel room. The best way to find a local family is to research the language schools in the area you are traveling to before hand, write them and ask them for a referral. Guaranteed, all language schools have a list of referral families for you to pursue. Most host families provide family meals and a private bedroom! If you are traveling with children, always try to arrange to stay with a family that have similar age children.
If you are even more adventurous, try Couch Surfing. There you will create a free profile page for you and your family and then start searching couches to surf. There are a lot of families participating in the ‘couch surfing project’ and you may be pleasantly surprised with the wonderful hospitality you are offered. Most of the time, you will be shown the city and share meals. Unlike staying with a host family arranged by a language school which you will have to pay for the room and board, with couch surfing there is no exchange of money or compensation. It is like visiting a friend in another city, state or country, so be prepared to show your gratitude to your host by bringing either a gift or treating your host to a home cooked meal.
As in travel as in life, hands down our best memories are always surrounding laughter. Sometimes they are silly things we experience on the road, like the time we sat down on a bench in parque central in Antigua, and just like a scene in a movie, a dog jumped up and grabbed my popsicle and ran away. Or the time we were waiting for a bus to take us to Boquette Panama and we made up our own song based on the sounds of traffic surrounding us.Or the time in Nicaragua, I ordered a plate of fish with ‘eyes’ (ojo) instead of fish with ‘garlic’ (ajo) in my poor Spanish. Whatever the situation, our best memories are always those surrounding laughter.
Kids take their lead from us. Our children will mirror our perceptions and expectations and within the context of travel there experiences will reflect those of our own. If we are content with whatever the adventure has to offer us, our children will be too. If we relax enough to laugh together, not only will you have an enjoyable time together, but the memories will be that much more magical.