“To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.”
I take pride in the fact that my kids are excellent little travelers, and that complete strangers continually comment that they are well behaved, quiet, patient and very, very sweet. (One of these days I will break the horn completely) It’s partly due to our stellar parenting and partly owed to the fact that we’ve been exposing them to long, torturous days of adventure since they were pea pods. But what never ceases to amaze me is when people point out that my children have nice manners. Has society become so inept at using “please” and “thank you” that it stands out that much when it actually is uttered?
Tourists seem to have developed a reputation. We can be rude, overbearing, demanding and completely self absorbed creatures. Complaints of things as ridiculous as “too much sand on the beach” and “No one in the foreign country I visited spoke perfect English” are a real thing. How dare far off lands not train the wild animals to be present at the National Parks or bend to our every command like designer label shampoo and gourmet vegan, double double, non fat, piping cold, extra spicy, lactose, nut and BPA free desires?
The desire to see the world and teach our children about other cultures, religions and ways of life, comes with the responsibility of teaching them to be respectful not only to locals, but to fellow travelers. With common decency and courtesy becoming a lost art in today’s society, it is up to us to ensure that our children remain on a path that creates a positive impact on everyone we meet. Here are some of my top travel tips, mostly learned through our own experiences, and some just following the rules of common decency:
1. Be Respectful Passengers:
My advice begins before you even arrive at your destination. If you’ve ever been situated on the plane in close proximity to a family who runs in their own solar system, you get it. I’m not talking about an upset infant or exhausted toddler, we’re parents, we’ve all been there, and I sympathize. I’m talking plain disrespect. When we traveled to Hawaii a few weeks ago, Sam dealt with the “Back of the seat kicker” while I was pelted with the sounds of technology. While I understand that airlines are removing the televisions from headrests and replacing the service with rentable tablets, it is up to those using these items to be respectful. I can sum it up in one word. Headphones. Please bring them, buy them, borrow them….just plug them in so others don’t have to listen to every smashed Minecraft block or high pitched character at full blast. The worst offenders are the parents who cannot hear this because they have their own headphones in to tune out the world.
2. Learn Basic Terms in the Local Language:
Before we depart on any journey, we spend weeks learning basic phrases in the local language, the most important being please, thank you and a simple hello. We also learn phrases such as good morning, good evening and how to count to twenty (this helps immensely with everything from shopping to taxis or the metro.) It is incredible how far just attempting a few words in a foreign language will get you. The moment we walk thru the door, they know we are English, but they always appreciate small attempts, especially from the children! Not only that, but there are words of foreign language that are simply musical and beautiful to learn. My particulate favorite is Vino, but that’s another blog. Education, no matter how small, is a big thing.
3. Dress Appropriately:
As Europe is one of our favorite destinations, it means we have visited some of the most beautiful basilicas and religious sites on Earth. Standing beneath the Sistine Chapel, standing in awe of St Peters Basilica or Notre Dame, admiring the gothic style of the Duomo di Milano, they are experiences that will stay with you no matter your religious background or beliefs. The buildings themselves are massive works of art that anyone will appreciate. What is important is to remember that these are religious houses of worship, and not a theme park. I’ve seen so many people wait in line, only to be turned away at the door, denied entrance because of bare shoulders or even worse, booty shorts. If it is hot, pack a light scarf to wrap around your shoulders or bare legs (often above the knee). Some basilicas also rent or sell attire to those who have arrived unprepared. They are usually more lenient for kids.
4. Tip for Service:
That freshly made bed every morning doesn’t happen on it’s own. That mini fridge doesn’t stock itself, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t pour your own beverage or serve yourself at the restaurant. While I don’t agree with forced tipping for extremely poor quality service, it’s a gracious gesture to recognize someone who is working hard to make your experience flawless. We also tip at All Inclusive Resorts we visit, which seem to receive the worst of it. Leave a tip on the bed, in the mini fridge, and for that friendly server who made you those 12 “free” drinks. It pays off in the form of extra beer and water in the fridge or awesome zoo animals made from towels. Once we even received the kindest hand written letter from two of the cleaning ladies in Cuba. And if you enjoy a local busker, like the talented kid playing his heart out in Rome? Throw a few bucks his way, it’s the cheapest concert you’ll ever attend. The best payoff? A genuine smile and appreciation that you acknowledged them. You paid a hefty price to visit the country, respect the locals working to improve your stay.
5. Don’t be a Phoney:
That Louis Vuitton for 150 Euros laid on a sheet in the dark of the square? IT’S NOT REAL. Neither are those Gucci sunglasses or that Fendi scarf. No, I don’t care what the guy told you. What I can tell you is that they pack up in 3.4 seconds the minute they spot a police officer. It’s almost comical how quickly they move. Stop supporting them, it’s an illegal business. If you want real, you have to pay the exorbitant price charged by the fancy fashion houses.
6. Watch Your ‘Self’ie:
Selfie sticks. I have a love/hate relationship that leans more towards hate when I travel. I get the purpose of the selfie stick, I really do. In fact, I bought a cute, hot pink one before we departed for Europe. I was so annoyed with them by day 2 that I never did use it. They have become such a tourist nuisance that I saw official signs in places such as The Gallery dell’Accademia, next to Michelangelo’s David, proclaiming the selfie stick as prohibited. All I ask is that if you use them, use common courtesy to those around you. And for the love of all humanity, stop supporting those guys selling them every 4 feet on the bridges in Venice. It’s because tourists buy them that they are there, so STOP.IT.
7. Learn to Love the Locals:
That lady who braided the girls hair? She spends the entire week living away from her own children because the resort is so far away from her home. Our hosts in Framura were more than happy to share their organic lifestyle with us, Guido happily showing us his honey bee process and Lilia and her mother in law making us fresh pasta as a gift. One of my favorite nights was in Tuscany, as new friends Jennifer and Francesco shared knowledge of chianti over amazing plates of italian appetizers. We enjoy taking a bottle of Canadian ice wine to share with locals, and the gesture was returned by a dozen red roses in my hotel room in Rome. And the story of how Pietro’s grandfather had an old fashioned feud with the neighbor as he blasted away with explosives from WWII in Positano? Incredible! You don’t have to interact with everyone you meet, but take an interest in the locals and allow them the joy of sharing their beloved country with you.
8. Know Your Limits:
When Sam and I went to Rome for the first time, it was without the girls. Partly because we wanted the re connection time, but in large part because we wanted to visit every basilica we could, walk miles of art lined hallways and museums and eat dinner at 11 pm. Long days and early mornings paired with non stop history is the perfect storm for kids. When we returned this summer, it was completely different, as it should be. Education was paired perfectly with lazy days finding beach glass and playing in the waves. Kids are resilient and have incredible capabilities, but family travel requires more downtime, frequent breaks and a even time to just veg and plug into the electronics. Respect your little people and their needs.
So are the Butterfield’s the perfect family travelers??
Not even close. While the selfie sticks make me cringe, I am in full support of the guys selling cold beer after the hike up Montmartre in Paris to visit the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica. A euro for a cold beer and a view?
And we may have fed a pigeon…..or seven….
And had our part in the crumbling bridges of Paris…..
Travel is an incredible opportunity to learn and discover, to meet new people and experience a completely different way of life. We want our children’s love of travel to grow, but we also want them to be considerate and contributing members, so it is up to us to lead by example.
For reading my blog, I bid you merci, grazie, gracias, mahalo, danke. Whatever your language, I offer you a huge thank you…..