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How to Use Your Family Vacation to Spark Inspiration and Learning in Kids

There are so many ways to make your annual family gathering educational and, of course, fun. Here are five pro tips from learning and travel experts.
Family hiking near a waterfall on vacation
Updated: December 1, 2022

Have kids, will travel. Just like backpacks, kids can be transported from one place to another. (Although chances are, unlike your kids, your backpack doesn’t whine, “I’m bored!” or “I’m hungry!”) Family vacations can be more than just lounging on the beach, roasting marshmallows at a cabin near the lake, and visiting out-of-town relatives (not that there is anything wrong with that!) There are so many ways to make your annual family gathering educational and, of course, fun.

Here’s some advice from travel enthusiasts about ways to make family vacations educational. You’ll also make memories everyone in your crew, young and old, will forever cherish.

More: How to keeps kids busy while traveling

Digitally Prep

Digitally Prep

Harness your child’s excitement and curiosity about the destination they are about to explore while preparing for your trip,” says Emma Wynne and her colleagues at the educational app Curious World. “For example, an app like Curious World has a great selection of games, books and videos that help kids discover the world: from Italy to Africa, the ocean, the rainforest and more.” Once on vacation, adds Wynne, you can visit the places they’ve learned about and encourage further learning by asking questions and pointing out interesting attractions. “Learning about a new place before you visit helps deepen a child’s engagement while they are there… Not to mention it’s a fantastic way to keep them entertained on the journey over!"

Read Up on Other Cultures

Read up on other cultures

“Any trip when you introduce kids to a new culture is a wonderful way to show them how other families live around the country, and the world,” says Jenifour Jones, a travel agent and mom. “If you live in a big city, maybe consider visiting a country town. Or if you’re from a small town, consider visiting a large city with your family. By teaching kids about other customs, cultures, and religions, they’ll be reminded that we live in such a special world.” For example, if you visit a Caribbean Island with your family, point out all the colorful little homes on “stilts” you may see on the beach; and vendors selling homemade jewelry right from their beach towel. “You can even encourage your kids to try new foods from other cultures—my kids happen to like Indian and Thai foods.” Overall, says Jones, “the more children see for themselves, the more they’ll get out of their visit.”

Take Pictures Non-Stop

Take Pictures Non-Stop
 Fine, it can be touristy, but it’s a great way to preserve memories. This goes without saying, but encourage your kids to take pictures of everything and anything they find intriguing. (Do remind them to be respectful, not mocking, and not intrusive.) You can give them an old phone that doesn’t dial out or text, for example, and tell them to use it to take pictures. Or, give them each a disposable camera. Remember those? They still sell them at most major drugstores or you can order them online. When the trip is over, upload and print everyone’s pictures and make a family scrapbook either physically or online to preserve the memories and swap stories about the trip for years to come. My own family traveled to Italy and France years ago and through Shutterfly we made a coffee table book with detailed captions of our best pictures. We love flipping through the book even years later. The memories are priceless and I cannot wait to pass the book on to my daughters.

Talk to Everyone You Meet

Talk to everyone you meet
Travel + Leisure summarizes the importance of talking to everyone you encounter on vacation—why not soak up tons of info about a new place from the locals who live there. (And maybe everyone in the family can learn a new language as well!) “Through meaningful interactions with local musicians and artists, teachers and community leaders, farmers and fishermen, a traveler’s quest for understanding different peoples and ways of life can finally be satisfied. Afterwards, you’ll return home enriched, better informed, and ready to share your new experiences with family and friends.”

Watch a Movie About the Place You’re Visiting

Watch a movie about the place you're visiting
Once you finalize the vacation plans, watch a movie about the place you’ll be visiting to compare and contrast—or watch the movie or TV show afterwards. Kids will love making the connection between the movie and the place they just visited, or will visit soon. Says Jones: “We took our kids recently to the outdoor dino museum in Palm Springs, which is a tourist attraction next to a gas station. Then we showed the kids the scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure where Pee-Wee and Simone visit that dino museum. They were so excited to see that scene and saying, ‘We were there!’”  

Need a vacation? Here are 8 Reasons to Take a Kid-Free Vacation every once in a while.

Rachel Sokol

About Rachel

With a degree in Magazine Journalism, Rachel is a writer who has been featured in a huge… Read more

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