Friday, June 5, 2009

Kid Trips 101

I love to travel, is it obvious? I really enjoy going to new places just to look around – sometimes intensely, sometimes casually; sometimes with a strong purpose, sometimes just to give myself something to do for a long weekend. I’m pretty good at it, too, if I do say so myself. Good in the sense that I’m not particularly fussy about where I sleep, what I eat, where I eat, if I eat for that matter. I don’t get flustered when I’m not sure exactly where I am or what train to get on or coping when things don’t go as planned. I gave up on making plans long ago. I’m not uncomfortable when I don’t understand everything going on around me, thus language differences rarely get me whacked out. These are some of the factors that could interfere with a positive experience for some personalities; however, breaking free of a familiar environment can be frightfully rewarding.

I arrived in Delaware yesterday evening to pick up the youngest of my 11 nieces and nephews. Fifth-Grade graduate (as of today) Erica and I will head to Boston and Cape Cod – just the two of us – as her introductory course, so to speak, in solo traveling. She’s been on plenty of family trips. Great fun can be had traveling with three brothers, parents, two dogs and two cats, but traveling one-on-one with a fully committed adult is something altogether different. Love of travel derives from confidence. Confidence comes from guided practice. I guide ‘my’ kids in their practice of travel.

I crafted the Kid Trips before the eldest was seven, but decided that 8 to 10 is the best age range for the first trip. Old enough to be away from their parents and old enough to engage in conversation, but not so old as to become bored too easily because everything is new.

Juggling all of them so that I have only one 101 trip a year, I offer the first trip generally in the Fourth Grade, though I slid a few ahead to Third Grade and young Erica had to wait until Fifth Grade. I’ve been doing this for 11 years now. There’s a second trip for when they’re 12 or 13, generally Seventh or Eight Grade. The finale is a trip to Europe after high school graduation. More about these in future blogs.

The first trip I offer is a cultural excursion of four days/three nights in the same time zone. I make suggestions, but the young one gets to choose in the end. I arrange the flight – for a few, it’s the first flight, others are more experienced. One night, we stay at a fancy-schmancy hotel – breakfast in bed, fluffy white robes, luxuriant scented soaps, king-sized beds. One dinner is also a high-falutin’ affair…reservations and cloth napkins. It’s great opportunity to review those table manners – ya never know, they may dine in the White House some day.

The objectives of the excursion are explicit: have a great time and learn about the basics in travel. If we take a train in from the airport, we’ll discuss how to read a train schedule; we subtly learn useful life lessons like how to use a concierge, what to ask about at a tourist information center, how to pack everything we want to do into the time we have to do it, and the corollary, how to fill all the time we have with fun and interesting things. Every trip begins with a safety and security plan. Well, a discussion, anyway. I emphasize the benefits of self-awareness in this aspect.

I send a travel guidebook ahead of time, which is always devoured and dog-eared with gusto. At that age, kids are still kids, but they’re thinkers, too. They appreciate the opportunity to have their opinion reign supreme (though readily concede that safety concerns trump everything). Having 10 of these 101 trips behind me now, it’s easy to summarize the best part of the trip. After a now-predictable day and a half, the ‘best behavior’ wears off and the kids become themselves. It’s a fabulous moment. I give the kids a trusted adult to talk with, be goofy with, make mistakes with, and push their boundaries with. There’s no sibling rivalry, no coercive manipulation for attention. I witness steps in the emergence of a young thinking person brimming with confidence. What fun it is for me.