Preparing the Kids Mentally

When you get ready to take a trip with the kids, talk to them about things being different (food, timing, routines, beds). Don't frighten, but seek the right balance between the familiar and comforting (favorite teddy bears) and the new and exciting. You'll decide the mix based on your kids, but since you cannot recreate home in a box (and why would you, what's the point of traveling then?) prepare and excite them about differences. Be careful not to over-promise, which might lead to disaster when a particular museum is closed unexpectedly.

Seek to excite on a kid's level in a kid's meaningful way, such as buying a Pokemon doll in its native Japan, or looking into a favorite hobby or game abroad to see how it is different or the same.

Try it out cheaply: go to ethnic restaurants and experiment with new foods, chopsticks, strange desserts, waiters who do not speak your language. Visit ethnic enclaves, such as the proverbial “China Towns” in many large U.S. cities.

Try out new foods close to home. If the waiter/waitress is from the country you'll visit, ask him/her to describe how the food you're eating is different from the food back home. Most Chinese food in the U.S., for example, is quite different from what you'll find in China. The restaurants in the U.S. are businesses after all, so it is not surprising that they try to make food that sells well and leave the culture stuff up to the Discovery Channel.

Some times a nice waitperson can bring something magical to eat out of the kitchen if she knows you are ready to try things off the menu.

We play a game of sorts ordering Chinese food in different countries and seeing how it differs from the stuff we ate in China. Not surprisingly, the Chinese food in Japan tastes a lot like Japanese foods while the Chinese food in London tastes like, well, not like “real” Chinese.

If your children are a bit older, see if your local university, church, library, night school or whatever can introduce you and your kids to students from the host country who you can talk to and learn from. Perhaps there is a Malaysian student living nearby with his own children, or a British ex-pat living next door to your sister who would be willing to show your kids pictures of “home”.

Lastly, for kids in U.S. military families on the move, you can set up an on-line penpal in the host country before you even leave home.

Though it is not really something to be done internationally, many times children find themselves on a flight alone, perhaps with one parent waiting at each end. This site summarizes different airlines' policies on kids flying alone, and lists the various “escort” fees many airlines now charge to assist a child flying solo.

Preparing for a move instead of a trip? Please be sure to take a look at this article by a leading child psychologist on how best to prepare your children.

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