Create screen-free time.
If there is one thing that will almost certainly dampen a desire to travel, its screen time. Numerous studies have shown that time in front of the TV, iPad, or DS, especially before the age of 2, can cause negative side effects in children, such as sleep problems, over stimulation, and a disconnect with parents. When those loud, vividly colored characters are filling your kid’s mind, there isn’t much need for creative thinking or imaginative play.
When I travel, I need to be able to think quickly, find creative solutions and in general be on my A game. Whether it’s entertaining myself for a 10-hour layover, explaining where my hostel is located to a cab driver when I don’t speak his or her language or getting the best price for mangoes at the market — being a thorough thinker is key to being a competent traveler. Nothing makes a brain sluggish quite like TV and/or tech devices.
Let them explore.
Let them find their footing in the world, starting in their backyard. Kids who grow up exploring their surroundings will most likely want to continue that exploration as their world grows bigger and bigger. Let them be independent. Let them get dirty, use all of their senses, and discover their own limits. There will be plenty of times when your guidance as a parent is needed, but be sure to let your little ones guide themselves so that when the time comes to leave the backyard, they have the confidence to do so.
Raise them around animals.
Loving animals is about caring for something other than yourself, which is one of the backbones of traveling. Raising your kids around animals, whether it’s visiting your neighbors’ chickens or volunteering at your local animal shelter, teaches them compassion, responsibility, and empathy, all important aspects of globe-trotting. Seeing the world is about interacting with the people who live on it. If a child grows up connecting with and understanding another living creature, they will apply those traits to all relationships in their lives, including people they meet on their travels.
Let them talk to strangers.
Give your kids practice in talking to strangers. Bring them with you to your public library, the park, or the grocery store. Let them start conversations with the people around them. Encourage them to smile at other people on the sidewalk, instead of looking down at the ground. The more comfortable your kid is with strangers, the more they will view the world’s population as their community. Being comfortable with strangers can build a traveler’s safety net, get the insider’s scoop, and provide a sense of kinship when lonely.
Teach them a second language.
Being able to communicate in a language other than your native tongue is liberating. Start your kid young by providing exposure to bilingual conversations, books, and toys. Not only will they be able to hold their own when it comes time to leave the nest, but it will most likely make it easier for them to learn a third or fourth language and will equip them with the building blocks of good communicating in any language: Careful listening, thoughtful responding, and clear explanations. Being bilingual also bilingual boosts employability and makes traveling just THAT much easier.
Go on adventures.
There’s no better way to instill wanderlust in your kid than by showing them as much of the world as possible. Take them to neighboring towns, out of state, across the ocean, or to a different hemisphere. Show them first-hand how exciting it can be to experience a new culture. Lead by example and teach them to love the adventure of seeing new places and to love the journey itself. Every time they get in the car is an opportunity to teach them the love of traveling, even if it’s just to the grocery store or grandma’s and grandpa’s house.
Help them love different foods.
A huge part of why I love traveling is trying the local food. Even if it’s bizarre, hairy, unrecognizable or alive. Help your kids have a varied palate from the get-go and you can hope that they will grow into someone who doesn’t turn their nose up at new foods. Teach them to respect food, where it comes from, who grows it and who cooks it. Teach them the joy of a great dinner conversation. Eat your meals together without a TV screen in front of you and show them how much fun it can be to share food with others.
Travel is not always luxurious. I attribute many of my traveling skills to camping and being raised in the woods. I can sleep on any surface, and trust my inner map if I’m lost. Whether your kids will need to know how to live in sketchy hostels or with no electricity or plumbing, the skills that a kid can learn from camping are immense. Pitch a tent in the backyard and you will be the coolest parent on the block. Break out the marshmallows and you will be the coolest parent in the entire universe.
Introduce them to real life superheroes.
Superman is pretty cool, Elsa trumps all, and the Ninja Turtles are badass, but what about that guy who owns the bookstore who once led a dogsled team across the entire state of Alaska? What about your great grandpa who brought all seven of his kids camping in the mountains of Glacier National Park for an entire summer? Use your imagination when it comes to seeking mentors for your child. They might still choose Spiderman for the first few years, but give them the chance to realize how much cooler it is to know someone who has climbed a real mountain – without any “web-shooters.”
Remember that kids tend to go through a phase of not listening to their parents, so set them up with alternate, adventure-guru role model to fill the void when they want nothing to do with you.
Raise a curious cat and chances are they will remain curious about the world around them for the rest of their lives. Let them ask questions, even if they’ve asked the same one five times in a row – give them answers that lead to other questions. Curiosity builds geniuses and motivates them to not stop until they are satisfied with the answer. If they want to know how an engine runs, teach them, and maybe someday they will teach someone else in a different neighborhood or culture. If they are curious your neighbor does fifty jumping jacks on his front lawn every morning, encourage them to go ask. Questions are what fuel the desire to see the world. The more your kid wants to know about his or her own culture, the more they will want to know about cultures, lifestyles, and ways of the whole world.