7 Ways to Spark Cultural Curiosity in Kids Before Take Off

One thing that I have learned after 20 years of family travel is that if the kids aren’t having fun on a trip, no one is having fun. That’s why family travel takes more planning and prep than you may have done for your vacations BK (before kids.) Making sure things go smoothly is half the battle. The other half is getting them excited about the things you are doing and seeing.

Preparing your kids for the trip helps them get the most out of the experience. If you are traveling internationally, this takes even more effort. After all, while you may want to take a trip to Europe, your kids are going to want to go where their friends have gone (unless they are old enough to be influenced by social media and television.) For some, the battle between the appeal of Mickey Mouse versus visiting museums and monuments is uphill at best.

You need to spark their cultural curiosity and get them excited for the trip before you ever leave the house. Our first trip to Europe with our daughter was to Spain, when she was eight. All the preparation we had done in advance of our trip really resonated with my daughter. We weren’t just wandering around an art museum, she knew what museum we were in and was thrilled to see a painting from her art book in person (it was almost as exciting as spotting a celebrity). Climbing on a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Plaza de Espana in Madrid was that much more meaningful after reading Don Quixote and getting caught up in the eccentricities of these two characters.

She was excited to try tapas, jamon, pan e tomate, and so many other Spanish specialties because she was introduced to these foods at home, but also by watching the PBS special of On the Road Again with Mario Batali. And ordering for herself in Spanish was worth the hours of listening to Coffee Break Spanish podcasts in the car.

Tips for Preparing Kids for International Travel

Maybe you are looking at your next trip as a way to supplement your child’s education or simply want to see something new. Either way, if you are preparing for vacation with kids and want them to get more out of it, better appreciate what they are seeing, and hopefully remember it longer, then here are some tips for you.

Involve Kids in the Planning

Kids of all ages can play a part in planning the family vacation. I’ve seen everything from tweens and teens preparing presentations to “pitch” the family on their preferred destination to giving young children the option to choose between Activity A and Activity B. The more buy in you get from your kids before you leave, the more positive they will feel about the experience. After all, it is hard to gripe about something you helped pick.

Look at Pictures

Either before or after you decide where to go, it is good to introduce your kids to your destination. After all, as adults we may have seen a thousand pictures of Venetian canals or Big Ben but our kids haven’t. Depending on your child’s age, you can use coffee table books, atlases, globes, and Instagram to showcase your destinations (or your vacation options.)

If you have teens that are already on social media, you can even set up some shared folders on Instagram or Pinterest to share places that you each find.

Watch Videos / Movies / Shows

If they say a photo is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth even more. When you start talking about your vacation around the dinner table, take some time to watch videos on YouTube about the place or shows or movies set in the destination. These will help your kids get familiar with the landscape, landmarks, and overall culture. And, when they see some of those places in real life, it is going to stick with them as they make image to life connections.

There are plenty of kid friendly movies, TV shows and documentaries set in all sorts of locations.  If a simple search doesn’t give you some good ideas, just ask your Children’s Librarian. Of course, for those old enough for social media there is also TikTok and Instagram Reels (remember to bookmark / save the ones you like as you get deeper into your planning.)

Read About Your Destination

From the Magic Tree House series to National Geographic’s National Park Mysteries, there are plenty of kid’s books set all over the country and across the globe. There are so many great fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction books that can introduce your child to the geography, history, and culture of your destination. Again, check with your local library if you need helping finding some. Also, many of my articles about visiting places with kids include a list of books set in that destination.

Listen to Podcasts

While driving back and forth to school or activities, you can also listen to podcasts about the destination to learn more, get tips, and get excited about your trip. Start with my podcast, Vacation Mavens, but you can search the app store for episodes from other travel podcasts.

Learn the Language

Before we went to Spain, we used to listen to Coffee Break Spanish podcast together on the way to school and it taught our daughter more practical Spanish than the little she had learned in school so far. As she got older, she switched to using DuoLingo before each international trip. In recent years, I’ve started using DuoLingo also (over 650 days of Italian so far!)

Develop Your Tastes

Food can be one of the most exciting parts of visiting a new destination, or one of the biggest stumbling blocks (especially with picky kids.) It really helps to introduce your kids to local foods before you go. You can start by showing kids the food — before just jumping into eating it. You can watch videos, cooking shows, and travel and food shows like Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, Somebody Feed Phil, and Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi.

Once they have some foods that get them curious, it is time to dive in by either going out to a restaurant or cooking at home.

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