Okinawa is a whole world away from SA. However, reading how a 12-year-old girl from Hong Kong planned her family’s five-day visit to this island in the Pacific Ocean, set me to thinking. Surely there are South African youngsters who would find a similar challenge enjoyable.
Apparently in Hong Kong parents, obsessed with their children’s education, are more and more eager to incorporate elements of learning into travel.
While South African parents are not so fixated about this, obviously if children make input into the family holiday, they could find the trip even more fun. Naturally, the parents will not be able to hand all the responsibility over to their kids, and expect things to go like clockwork. It could be a shambles, but there are certainly things which any reasonably bright child, with an enquiring mind, could handle, especially as many of them are more au fait with the internet than their folks are.
If the holiday is going to entail flights, why not let older children research schedules and costs. Not only will this give them a sense of achievement, it will also give them insight into just how expensive getting to a destination is. If they are able to locate a special deal, it could make them feel proud and useful... while pleasing mom and dad financially.
Should you be travelling by car, and have not pre-booked, perhaps you could decide in advance on potential stopping-over places. Get your young son or daughter to do the research. On arrival in a town, how about sending them into the different establishments to check on availability, and whether the costs are still the same.
Naturally, given the distances, it will probably be necessary to drive to each of these spots, but some of the establishments might be just metres away from each other. If there happens to be a last-minute special on, the child will possibly believe that they secured this deal.
Long distances can be boring, so how about giving the children maps to follow. Not everybody has a GPS in their vehicle. Even if you have one, try switching it off, and let one of the kids be the navigator.
When planning a visit to a city or town, let them research what is available. Hand over to them the planning of a daily itinerary, reminding them to try to incorporate something which would appeal to every member of the family. They might start off by choosing just things that they fancy, but as they get the hang of it, will probably include things that appeal to their siblings, as well as their parents. They might need a bit of prompting, but children are usually pretty unselfish.
Here are some suggestions of possible tasks for children:
l Check out of opening times of galleries and museums, and whether there are costs involved.
l Find out where monuments are, and read up a bit on the history of these. Perhaps when visiting these, they could act as mini tour guides. This is a good way of getting them to learn more about the people who shaped our country.
l What special events are happening in the town/city during their visit. Perhaps they could be charged with making the bookings for any which appeal to everyone.
l If visiting a game reserve, they could go along to reception to enquire where the best recent sightings have been, then direct the family along the necessary roads.
l Again, if visiting a game reserve, it is more cost-effective sometimes to do your own thing, rather than join an organised game drive. Let them do some research into the animals they are likely to see, and select a couple of lesser-known facts to share. This is stimulating knowledge at the same time as keeping them on their toes. Obviously, this does not apply to private game reserves, where drives are laid on.
l When given spending money for their holidays, let the children plan in advance what they will spend on themselves, and how much can be set aside for small gifts for friends on their return home.
l If a visit to a zoo or aquarium is on the cards, get them to check on the feeding times for the different animals. Let them put together a suggestion for the sequence in which these can best be enjoyed, ie an orderly progression, rather than random dashing about, wasting limited time.
l If in a foreign country, get them to research which traditional dishes might go down well with the whole family. Try to establish in which restaurants these are served, and which are most affordable.
l If self-catering, allow them to visit a couple of supermarkets/family grocery stores, to get a feel for what is available in foreign places. At the same time, make them responsible for costing.
l Remind them to check on public holidays in different countries. This can be crucial. Ramadaan, for instance, can mean that many restaurants are closed at night. A public holiday might also mean that some sights are closed. Get them to juggle the planned itinerary, so as not to lose out.
l Let them, within reason, choose which clothes they will pack.
All these tasks will also give children a head-start in decision-making, interacting with strangers, accepting responsibility, and considering others.