I love to travel. If I’m not on vacation, then I’m planning my next one. It’s in my blood! And one of the things I most looked forward to when planning for a family was travelling with my kids…making lifelong memories and showing them the beauty of the world! It never occurred to me during these daydreams that I might end up with a kid who didn’t ::gasp:: like to travel. Welp, thanks to Murphy and his damn Law, that’s exactly what happened.
Okay, to be fair, it’s not exactly that my son doesn’t *like* to travel. He actually really enjoys seeing new things and has a blast on our family vacations – often talking about them (obsessively) for months after. But along with that excitement comes a great deal of anxiety. This was hard for me to manage at first…I couldn’t help but feel some of those hopes dashed, and because of my own need for distance and exploration…a bit trapped. Thankfully, my son’s travel anxiety gets better and better with each trip. Between the natural process of desensitization and a few tricks I picked up along the way, we are now all able to enjoy our family getaways!
1. To whatever extent practical, allow the child to have a hand in the planning process. Perhaps it is choosing between two hotels, a restaurant, or even picking an excursion. When my son is included in the decision-making process, he not only gets more excited about the trip, but he also feels more in-control of it…it is now something he is choosing rather than something that is happening to him.
2. Utilize visual aids. It is very hard for kids to have a sense for distance. In my kids’ minds, trips come in 2 distances: car or plane. When we told our son we were going to California, we might as well have told him we were going to the moon. Having no sense for how far it was, his mind told him that he was going so far from home that he may never make it back. So, I printed him a map of the United States and circled CT and CA. His anxiety dropped immediately when he saw they were mere inches away on the map. He slept with that map for 2 weeks straight. And, hey, geography lesson! We’ve continued to use the map to check off other states we’ve visited and it has been very helpful in building a sense of distance…and also offering the reminder that home is always there.
3. Acknowledge fears without feeding into them. When we are coming up on a trip my son starts to worry about things like: plane/car crashes, something happening to our house while we are away, and missing out on something fun back at home. It wouldn’t be fair for me to blow off his fears completely because these things *do* happen, but he also needs to hear that just because this may have happened once to someone else, it does not mean it will happen to him. Sympathy with a healthy side of perspective.
4. Keep the connection to home while away. Bringing a piece of home with us on our trips is absolutely key for my son. He almost always selects a photo album, but stuffed animals and a few toys also go a long way. Not only do we bring a piece of home with us, but we also send a piece of us back home via postcards and phone calls to loved ones. Having the tangible reminder that home is there, waiting for him, just as it always was, gives my son permission to enjoy the adventure while away.