Educational travel for families

When travel is more than a holiday

Educational tourism. Sounds boring doesn’t it? Especially if you’re a kid. But believe me when I tell you it’s not.

As far as we’re concerned at Travel Without Tears, every family trip can and should involve some educational aspect, whether it’s visiting a museum or art gallery or learning to make mosaics in Barcelona in the same way that the city’s famed architect Antoni Gaudi did.  It doesn’t have to be lessons throughout the entire holiday – that would be too much like school. It’s about engaging with a place through its history, culture, food and especially its people.

One of the best ways to kick off any holiday in a different culture is to find a local who can lead you on a walking tour to introduce the city or place. Private tours are usually best for families as you can go at your own pace, and an engaging guide who gets the kids’ interests is worth his or her weight in gold. My kids still talk about their guides Tano in Barcelona and Mahi in Delhi; both were knowledgable, patient and entertaining and understood children.

Finding the right hands-on experiences can take some research. If you are tapping into pre-existing tours take the time to ask if the tour is suitable for kids or in they have a different product that will work better. Some companies and organisations have guides (former teachers, out of work actors) who are wonderful with kids. Engage them from the outset and the rest is easy.

Involving your children with the research and planning of the trip before you leave home can help boost the educational element.

Spend time talking about where you’re going and researching the possibilities as far as sights and activities are concerned, then get your kids to nominate the things they want to do. You can take it one step further and tell them that they are going to be the guide when they are there, so they take the planning more seriously.

Most children from about seven or eight will jump at the chance to learn about a new country or culture. They invariably end up sharing amazing facts that even adults won’t know (who knew that Paris has more dogs than children?).

Keep abreast of your kids’ school curriculum and see if your travel plans can work in with it. My son’s Year 5 lessons on gold rush history was the impetus for a short break in the Victorian Goldfields (watch the video here), and we all had a ball.

The educational aspect of a holiday can occasionally be confronting but also transformative and the thing that kids retain years later. And after all isn’t that the reason we travel in the first place? On our amazing safari adventure in South Africa (stories and video coming soon) we also took the kids to townships in Johannesburg and Cape Town so that they could get an understanding of the true history of South Africa. It made visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and seeing his tiny cell  so much more poignant.

We’ve done a lot of overseas travel in recent months (and years) and I’m thinking that the rest of 2016 and a bit beyond should be devoted to teaching my kids more about the wonders of our own country, its history, landscape, people and especially the unique indigenous culture. To that end I’m researching trips to places like Cape York, the Kimberley, Uluru and Kakadu and looking for experiences where the kids can interact with traditional owners and learn about their stories and history directly.  You can’t get more educational than that.