“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” – Euripides
When I first started discussing educational experiences that children can get from family travel I wasn’t quite sure what response I would get from my family travel community.
My children are still so young but every time you see that light bulb moment – when something connects, when they see how the world works, what something looks like in real life – to me that’s where you’re hitting on the absolute point of family travel.
It’s what makes it worth the jet lag, the meltdowns, and all the everyday family stuff that can come in between. What is clear is that SO much education is right under our noses – and you don’t have to travel too far from home to find it.
Our Best of Family Travel series today covers everything from experiencing every day in another culture to temporary exhibits; purpose-made structures that have stood the test of time to new and innovative city escapes to explore.
This has definitely been one of our most fun collaboration posts, I hope you’ll see how easy it can be to put educational experiences into your travel whether it’s a weekend exploring your home city or much further abroad.
1. A day of Baliness life, Indonesia
Ruth from Exploramum
In what I can only describe as our best world-schooling day yet, as part of a 5-day tour with Alliance Indonesia we took a trip into rural Bali for a hands-on day experiencing the Balinese lifestyle.
We are welcomed by the local Village Chief and invited into his home for tea. Explorason then joins in with a class his own age at the local school. We are taken shopping at the village shops, then a relative of the Village Chief shows us how they grow and roast their own coffee.
The village men prepare tuna satay sticks, then we are treated to a Balinese feast that we’ve helped prepare – children are so much more inclined to join in and try the new foods when they’ve had a hand in preparing the meals.
There are lots of activities to choose from in the afternoon, basket making, a nature walk, working in the rice fields and playing a traditional Balinese instrument.
I am so impressed how well they have included Explorason in the activities and I feel confident leaving him with the tour guide while I take on some of the experiences as well.
We end the day drinking coffee that has been freshly grown and roasted. It’s at this moment you realise you are a world traveller, not just a tourist. This is world schooling at its best. You cannot learn this in a book. We have experienced Balinese life in its purest form.
2. Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Leah from Kid Bucket List
Fed up with staying in a tent when visiting the family cattle dance in San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst built Hearst Castle so he could be more comfortable. A collector at heart, William curated an eclectic collection of artworks and artifacts from across history.
It was strange to find ourselves in California and investigating Third Century Roman mosaics! At one stage the grounds even housed the world’s largest private zoo with a menagerie of exotic animals.
It reinforced my deep-seated belief that all travel experiences provided an opportunity to learn, even when you don’t expect it (we even spotted zebras roaming around the gardens!)
3. Holidays around the World, Epcot at Walt Disney World, Orlando
Tonya at Detailed Oriented Traveler
Believe it or not, even Disney can be educational. While I’ve always loved Epcot in Walt Disney World for the variety of world cuisine, unique shopping opportunities and of course the beer and wine, I never thought of it as educational until I saw it through my children’s eyes.
If you’re not familiar with the World Showcase at Epcot, it is a collection of 11 pavilions based on countries from around the world.
While it is mostly European and North American, it still offers exposure to different cultures and stories. Our favorite way to experience the special cultures at Epcot, is visiting the Holidays around the World during December.
Each pavilion shares a story of their holiday tradition. It can be similar to ours, with Pere Noel in France and the Nutcracker in Germany, to as unusual as a “witch” on Epiphany in Italy or the awe-inspiring Chinese dragon acrobats bringing in the New Year.
Our favorite is the trickster gnome in Norway, Yul Nisse. A young Norwegian girl tells the story of the nisse who might play pranks during the winter solstice. Even the American pavilion tells the histories of the Jewish Menorah and Kwanzaa to highlight the many different cultures we have in the US.
While the World Showcase at Epcot is often thought of as an adult park, when you take advantage of the distinctive stories and shows told throughout the park, it can turn into a world tour learning in just one day.
4. Hoi An Fishing Tour, Vietnam
Marianne from Mum on the Move
While visiting Vietnam, we joined a fabulous farming and fishing tour in Hoi An’s beautiful surrounding countryside – a great way to educate the kids about the local way of life beyond the beaches and swimming pools.
We kicked off the tour by cycling bikes through the paddy fields and taking in the rural scenes – conical hat-wearing farmers tending to their crops and water buffalo ploughing the fields.
Our first stop was the Tra Que Vegetable Village. This organic vegetable and herb farm supplies much of Hoi An with its fresh produce. Here, we learnt the traditional methods for planting and watering the vegetables, with everyone having a chance for some hands-on fun. My 4-year old daughter loved learning to till the soil and plant the vegetables – while I had a bit of fun wielding a watering can!
We then joined a boat on the Cua Dai River where we learnt to paddle bamboo basket boats along the secluded waterways, before meeting up with some local fishermen – an ancient husband and wife team who taught us a few traditional net fishing techniques.
We were none of us very good – but it was certainly fun to give it a go. Oh, and did I mention we got to ride a water buffalo? My kids were beyond excited, although I confess my thighs were sore for days afterwards from gripping on for dear life!
5. Jordan’s Bedouin People, Petra
Kevin from Wandering Wagars
Part of what my wife and I love about travelling is getting an opportunity to meet new people and experience cultures that are different from our own. Although our children as still quite young (2 & 4), we feel it’s not too early to start teaching them that the lifestyle they have at home is very different from that of many other people in the world.
We work hard to instil in them the knowledge that they are very lucky to have many of the things that they do and to have the opportunity to experience such incredible adventures, as many people throughout the world would never have that chance.
When we were in Petra, Jordan, we had the good fortune of meeting a fantastic guide, Mohammed with the Gold Tooth (many Bedouins go by a single name). Mohammed gave us a wonderful tour over two days throughout the Petra Mountains, bringing us to the High Place of Sacrifice, the Monastery and beyond, but the most humbling part of his tour is when he brought us to the cave that he had called home only 20 years prior.
Mohammed explained to our children that 20 years ago the Jordan Government worked with the local Bedouin tribes to build a new village in an effort to protect the city of Petra and bring more tourism to the Bedouin people. Before that, he lived in a cave with no electricity or running water and relied solely on his herd of goats for income.
While he still maintains his herd, he now has a house in a nearby village and includes guided tours of Petra as an income source. Mohammed invited us back to his house to meet his family and join him for tea and experience his new home as well.
We hope that the experience and understanding of different cultures brought to our children by travelling will help shape them into thoughtful, patient and understanding global citizens.
6. Kidzania, London, UK
Ting from My Travel Monkey
Imagine a unique role-playing experience that allows children from the ages of 4-14 to learn about the world we live in? Kidzania London – which is now based in over 20 cities worldwide – is an educational and fun interactive child-sized city that sees youngsters able to work, play and earn KidZos currency in dozens of activities from working in a supermarket to learning to perform on stage.
The city itself is well-designed and doesn’t feel too big – even though there is much to do inside with over 60 different role-playing activities. We didn’t even touch the surface – which means you can return on several occasions and still do something new.
The KidZania experience is run like a well-oiled machine – from the security bands given upon arrival to ensure children’s safety, to the city layout and the department store in which kids can spend their hard-earned KidZos.
We were really proud of our son and how he enthusiastically joined in with the role-playing activities and interacted with the friendly staff – who clearly enjoy working with children.
His favourites included being a fireman and going out on an emergency to put a fire out; being a pilot inside a real BA A319 plane; and changing the tyres on an F1 racing car. But I can’t even begin to tell you how much there is to do. We were pretty impressed.
Parents aren’t allowed to participate with the children – we could only watch from the sidelines. However, giving children the chance to explore independently and learn new skills can only be a good thing.
7. Pearl Harbour, Hawaii
Amy from Passports & Pigtails
Passengers peering out the window of the plane as it nears the ground at Honolulu International Airport are often caught by the ghostly outline of the USS Arizona, resting peacefully below the waves. The Japanese attack order of “Tora Tora Tora” on December 7th, 1941, forever changed the war and the world.
Many of the world’s most famous historical sites have an unfortunate, yet extremely important tale attached. A site such as Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, offers hands on learning thru visual and tactile opportunities, making it an excellent learning opportunity for families.
Pearl Harbor is a place that offers so much more than just an educational lesson in history as it also portrays the strong message of survival, heroism and respect. The fateful day was not an invasion, but rather a crippling effort against US Fleets, made by 353 Japanese planes and bombers in two separate waves.
Today, visitors to Oahu’s most visited attraction can watch archived attack footage on film, visit the USS Bowfin submarine and Aviation Museum, or tour the Battleship Missouri and stand on the Surrender Deck where the Declaration of Surrender was signed by the Japanese.
Of the eight US Navy Battleships, four were sunk, and all but the Arizona were raised. Based on daily first come, first serve tickets, visitors can take the shuttle boat out to the USS Arizona Memorial, to pay respect to the 1102 of 1177 sailors and Marines who died aboard, and witness the “black tears” of oil that still trickle to the surface 75 years later.
While Pearl Harbor isn’t a place meant for frolics and laughter, kids and adults alike will find the larger than life story, equipment and relics an extremely intriguing and interesting experience.
8. Roman Forum, Italy
Marta from Learning Escapes
Education is the lighting of a fire‘ said W.B. Yeats and to stay in metaphor. I can say that in our family travels, no spark was as powerful as our visit to the Roman forum. We spent a day there when our kids were only 2 and 4: this is an age many people consider incompatible with cultural visits, but that turned out to be great to introduce the kids to the idea of ancient civilisations and the passing of time.
We entered the forum on a bright, spring day and the kids’ very first reaction was to engage with the landscape: an outdoor, wide archaeological site, the forum is almost an open-air playground: unevenly paved roads, easy to climb remains of houses and columns, dusty paths connecting the different site levels made for a young explorer’s heaven.
The connection the kids had with the place went beyond these physical endeavours. After a few minutes running around, our 4-year-old boy started questioning where we were: why had the houses fallen down, where were the people who lived there, how did it happen? How long ago did people live here, was it before or after dinosaurs?
The questions were relentless but fell on fertile soil: I am a graduate in Roman history and was way too happy to feed my son’s curiosity about my ancient city! So at four, my boy might not be able to tell you which year the Western Roman Empire fell, but he got a taste for historical learning that I am sure will stay with him for a long time.
9. Storm King Arts Center, New York
Corey from FiFi and Hop
When families ask about a good day trip to take from New York City, a place where they can escape the city and enjoy the country scenery – but also still have some culture – I without a doubt always recommend Storm King Art Center. Located in the Lower Hudson Valley just 1 hour north of NYC, Storm King is one of the world’s premier sculpture parks. With over 100 sculptures and installations sited across 500 acres of beautiful land, including meadows, hills, woodlands, vistas, lawns and grasslands, it is no wonder people of all ages flock to this art-meets-nature gem.
With names like Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Maya Lin, Richard Serra, Zhang Huan, and my personal favorite, Andy Goldsworthy, there is so much art to take in, in such a spectacular setting, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
Including the kids…my girls really love it there and we go about 2-3 times a year, for it always looks a little different depending on the season. There is a ton of open space for them to run around and engage with the sculptures. Some you can touch, some you can’t, but either way it’s one of the more inviting and kid-friendly art spaces around.
Two years ago, much to my delight, my daughter learned about the work of Andy Goldsworthy in school; weeks later when I took her to Storm King and we saw his famous Storm King Wall – a rock wall that curves around for what seems like an eternity, you can’t imagine all the work put into it – it was amazing to see her face light up and soak in everything she had recently been taught and was seeing for herself. And for me it was especially great to see her little mind at work in a place that has inspired me for so many years.
10. Supermarket Shopping, Worldwide!
Shobha from Just go Places
Whenever we visit a foreign country, I always take the children through a local supermarket or grocery store. We take a look at what people like to eat because I firmly believe that food is an important part of understanding a country’s culture.
In France, we found that you can get frozen boxes of escargot to cook at home. You can find lots of food in French Supermarkets that is stored and sold in glass jars. We discussed how glass is recyclable but also how containers can affect the taste of the food inside.
The Germans have so many varieties of sausage and cold cuts. My kids couldn’t believe you could get curry sausage!
In Tokyo, the corner stores are amazing and have so much more variety than our British ones. The quality of the food is great because the stock has a fast turnover with lots of it freshly prepared for busy city-dwellers who don’t have time to cook.
My children really enjoying have a nose around food stores to see what they can spot that is different as well as what sweets they can convince me to buy. After all, eating foreign sweets is part of the cultural learning experience!
11. Titanic: The Exhibition, Perth, Western Australia
Sally from Toddlers on Tour
I have always had a fascination with Titanic, so when Titanic: the Exhibition arrived in Perth I thought this was the opportune time to introduce my son into this fascinating story. So one Sunday morning we all step back in time on the Titanic to explore with all our senses this ill-fated cruise.
The Titanic story starts at the beginning where the idea for creating 3 luxury cruise ships is born. We read about each of the people involved in the process before seeing the final drawings of the ship and hear the builders tapping away as they create this luxury vessel.
We hand over boarding cards as we “board” the ship, walk down the stately corridor on the soft plush piled red carpets and into the first-class dining room. My son is fascinated with seeing all the different types of fine bone china, serving platters and cutlery that were used back in the day.
We get to compare the differences between travelling 1st class with posh opulence versus 3rd class’s basic necessities. We step out on deck to gaze at the twinkling stars. Then into the engine room where we can smell the coal burning as the engines are pushed to their limit, in an attempt to be in New York before the due time.
But alas the air turns cold and the bell rings loud and clear, we have hit an iceberg. We run our hands across the cold ice to get an understanding of how freezing the water was for those 1523 that did not make it onto one of the 20 lifeboats.
We learn that because of this disaster it is now law that all ships must carry enough lifeboats to save every soul on board. Whilst it is a sad story to share with a young boy – it tells of a by-gone era and how men’s egos mixed with a “comedy of errors” resulted in the sinking of the unsinkable that lay untouched on the bottom of the ocean for 73 years.
12. Tower of London, London, UK
Mark from Wyld Family Travel
The Tower of London is an amazing experience for all the family.
We joined in the free tour that is presented by the Beefeaters. These guys know all there is to know about the 1000 years of history at the tower. The Beefeaters put a comedic slant on the information that they give you which helps with keeping the kids entertained.
The tour talks about White Tower, Crown Jewels, the beheading of Henry VIII wives just to name a few. Our kids are avid watchers of horrible histories and were able to relate to the Tower of London after seeing many shows about English history.
13. Yellowstone National Park
Maria from One Tiny Leap
Yellowstone National Park has always been high on my travel bucket list, and I knew it would also appeal mightily to our 3-year-old, who’s nuts for animals and volcanoes.
As we explored one of the world’s first national parks, we had encounters with towering geysers of boiling water, volcanic lakes, bodies of water such as the iconic multi-coloured Morning Glory pool, the Mammoth Hot Springs, plenty of bison, antelopes, and, in the far, far distance, bears.
We took lots of time during each hike and stopped to learn and explain to our son the geological events that had created a certain landscape. Even though he may not remember all that he has seen and learned, it has definitely instilled a curiosity about the natural world, what caused this dramatic landscape, and how it may change in the future. Yellowstone is an awe-inspiring and adventurous destination for families and one we will forever remember.
And what about for the Globetrotters?
Goodness, where to start! There have been plenty of discovery centres and science museums that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I think the best educational family travel day we had was in Bentota, Sri Lanka where we went exploring through the waterways on a small boat, spotting wildlife and hearing about the effects the 2004 Tsunami continue to have on the local economy.
This was followed by a visit to the Habaraduwa Sea Turtle Hatchery where we saw newly hatched sea turtles from that morning who would be seen safely to their new ocean home that night.
Our Master L was terrified, to begin with, but our tour guide Ruchi and the kind staff introduced him to these creatures in a gentle way and our Miss Z still talks fondly of the day we met the new baby sea turtles – even pointing out the difference now to a tortoise!
Thanks so much to all our contributors for sharing their amazing tales (and adding again to our ever growing bucket list!)
What has been your favourite educational travel experience with your kids?
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