Has quarantine homeschooling pushed you to your limits? Why not put the schoolbooks away and take your kids on a virtual trip somewhere in the world? This will be quality time, well spent, and lots of fun for the whole family, kind of like taking a real trip. Almost. And, best of all: every destination is a land of endless opportunities to learn more about our neighbours around the globe.
So, here’s your guide to choosing a destination, planning out an itinerary, sightseeing online, tasting the food, listening to the music, and even meeting the people - and all without leaving home. Just gather your kids, and grab a computer, tablet or phone, and let’s go!
Step 1: Choose Your Destination
You can go with the first country that comes to your mind. Or, you could turn this into an engaging activity: get your kids scrolling through sites like Lonely Planet, BBC Travel and Conde Nast Traveler to make their list of your top 10 destinations. What if they could only visit five? Or only three? Well, now it’s time to choose just one!
Take this one step further with questions about their choices: how did each country make their top 10 list? How did they narrow their choices down to five, three and then finally one? Is there any place in the world they don’t wish to visit? Why?
Step 2: Plan Your Itinerary
So, your kids love their destination. Now you need an itinerary!
Which cities will they visit? What will they see in each one? Where will they stay? What will they eat? The more detailed the itinerary, the better. For ideas and inspiration, check EarthTrekkers or WikiVoyage.
For extra credit, squeeze life lessons from this adventure:
Trip Planning - ask your kids to map out the plan and then go over it together to see if every single detail is covered.
Trip Budgeting - Now, how much would this trip cost? Be sure they calculate airfares, trains, buses, rental cars or taxis, hotels, food, entrance fees and some spending money. How could they make it cheaper?
Geography - Next, slip in a little geography lesson by carefully tracing each route on the map. How long does it take to travel from one place to another? Will you go by train, bus or car? What will you pass on your way? Rivers? Mountains? Valleys? Beaches?
Climate - What is the climate like in winter, spring, summer and fall? Which time is best to go? Why? What’s the weather like right now?
Step 3: See the Sights
This is just like a real trip: you don’t want to pack too many activities into too little time.
Maybe visit a museum in the morning and take a virtual walk around town in the afternoon. There is no hurry.
Try these sightseeing activities:
Documentaries/Movies - Break out the popcorn and start with a documentary or even a fictional movie set in or near your chosen destination. This will set the scene.
Google Street View - Search your destination in Google Maps. See the little pegman down in the right? Just click and drag to the exact location you want to see. Now you can take a virtual 360 tour and even “walk” down the street.
YouTube - Set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes: who can find the best videos about the city, museum, monument or activity you want to visit? When time’s up, watch together.
Travel Blogs/Vlogs - Passionate travelers offer guided tours in blog and vlog posts. Just search “best blogs” or “best vlogs” for your destination and join the fun!
Virtual Tours - Take a virtual tour. Check out these virtual tours to get a feel for what’s out there: Venice, Buckingham Palace, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Taj Mahal. And more on Google Map Treks. Can your kids find virtual tours for their destination?
Step 4: Try the Food
Forget the top ten dishes. What do people really eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner at your destination? Any snacks? And drinks? What times do they eat? With whom? Is it acceptable to eat alone? Why? Who could you ask?
Create a one day menu plan. Then, let YouTube chefs from your destination show how to make their very best dishes. Rally your kids to prepare, serve and eat your destination’s diet for one day. For extra credit, try their table manners too!
Step 5: Listen to the Music
Your kids can make a terrific playlist from their chosen destination. And why not enjoy that while you eat?
What different genres of music are popular in your destination? What do young people listen to today? Who’s famous? How many fans do they have? Is there a top 40 hit list? Which songs do your kids like best? What do the lyrics mean?
Step 6: Meet the People
Thanks to the Internet, it’s not about “how can my kids meet people?”, but “how can my kids meet the right people?” Here are some safe ways to let your kids connect online with people in the destinations you visit virtually:
Social Media - Who’s who on social media in your target country? And which social media do they use? Your kids can probably find out faster than you can say Snapchat. You may or may not decide to allow your kids to make connections via social media, but this can be a fun way for your kids to see what young people are doing, saying, listening to, following and, of course, wearing, at the destination they’re exploring.
Language Lessons - Your kids don’t have to be serious about mastering the language to sign up at Preply.com and connect with a native in the country you are “visiting”. Just choose a price range, pick a teacher and explain what you’re looking for: a chance to learn a little language, and get to know each other. It’s not free, but it’s reasonable, and it’s a reputable platform.
Pen Pals - Pen pals can lead to lifelong friendships, but where do you find them? Interpals is a platform that has been around since 1998, but do be careful: wolves will always be lurking in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, any online penpal matching site - even just for friendship - will require a lot of screening and close supervision - always.
Exchange Students - Hosting an exchange student is one of the best ways for your kids to meet young people around the world. Exchange students have been carefully vetted by their agency in their home country. What’s more, your kids can help choose your student and start connecting with your student via phone or online as soon as you are approved to host. And they can look forward to the day your student finally arrives - when the adventure really begins!
Step 7: Share Your Experience
Now it’s your turn: take your kids on a trip online, and leave us a comment below. Where did you go? What were the highlights of your virtual travels? What advice would you give to other online travellers?