Travel to Ireland – What I Learned From Taking My 8-year-old Child
I had always wanted to travel to Ireland with my son. This summer, we were able to enjoy a two-week family vacation in Ireland and Northern Ireland. While I advocate for overseas travel adventures with your children, each time I take my son out of the country, I can’t help but cross my fingers that he enjoys the experience. One thing I have learned is that what you think your child will love is not often what they actually love or will even remember most. When you plan a family trip abroad, as a parent, you really must allow your children to make the trip theirs and not force them to have the trip or memories you want them to have.
Let your children make the trip theirs
What does this mean? As parents, we often want the vacation to be so perfect and so memorable, that we plan out almost everything. Even if we don’t verbally share the plan with everyone on the trip with us, we have a fairly good idea about what we’re going to see or do at a certain destination. One thing you learn when you travel abroad is that children often have different ideas about what they want to see or do. For example, while we were on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands, we wanted to walk around to see this new town since we were only there for an afternoon. To my son, this was boring. All he wanted to do was walk on the sand by the water, something that he’s done many times before in his own country. This wasn’t what I planned, but it was ok. We decided to do a little bit of both, so we all got to do what we wanted. He was happy, and now when he thinks of this island, he thinks about how much fun he had on the beach. He was making the trip to this island his own, with his own memories.
The surprise that enhanced the trip for my son
One of the best decisions we made on this trip was to bring a digital camera just for my son to use. It was an old, waterproof camera, nothing special. We thought he would use it occasionally, but we could not have hoped it would have enhanced his experience as much as it did. I think it was the fact that again, he was making the trip his own. He was taking pictures of things he wanted to take pictures of, like five pictures of the fat caterpillar he saw in the parking lot. I was worried that he would have a challenging time traveling for hours between destinations, but instead, he took pictures out of the window for most of the drive. It not only enhanced his experience, but it enhanced ours since we didn’t have to hear him complaining during the drive.
You never know what will happen when you’re on vacation
While we were visiting the stunning Kylemore Abbey, a rescue helicopter made a rescue on the mountain across the way. My son thought it was the most exciting thing he had ever seen. It’s one thing to see a rescue on TV or in a picture, but to see this happen in front of him while he was on vacation in Ireland was priceless. He was way more excited over that than he was by the Abbey that many people dream of seeing. It just goes to show you that you never know what will happen when you’re on vacation. My son will always remember that experience (because he took a million pictures with his camera) and where he was when he saw it.
Take chances; they might surprise you
One of the excursions, when we were in Dingle, was to go kayaking in Dingle Bay. My son was excited to go, but I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t nervous he would fall out; I was nervous that halfway into the trip, he would get too tired and complain. The last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by amazing scenery, kayaking in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, and not be able to enjoy it because my son was complaining. This excursion really helped to get that way of thinking out of my head and to start giving my son the benefit of the doubt. He absolutely loved it! When he was tired, we took breaks, which was fine because we needed the break ourselves. He brings up all the time how we were kayaking with jellyfish and how he got to hold one and how he felt like such an adventurer since he got to kayak through caves. I am so glad I took a chance as I know he had one of the best experiences of his life.
It’s the little things
When I take my son to another country, I’m always reminded that it’s often the little things that make the trip fun and memorable for him. Again, what I am excited to see and experience is rarely what he finds exciting. I saw my son’s face light up over things that I would have otherwise forgotten if it weren’t for him. In one of our hotels, you could climb six stories and look down the grand staircase to the bottom. He thought that was so cool and asked us to climb them several times throughout our stay. Another example is when he was having a blast climbing the cannons on the Derry/Londonderry Wall. He had climbed cannons many times throughout his childhood, but these were the coolest cannons because he was in Ireland and on a wall. You never know what kids will enjoy, but you undeniably can’t discount the little things.
What to get a child as a souvenir
I’m a very practical, rather frugal mom. I mean, how else would I afford these family trips abroad? I am not the mom who buys my son whatever he wants whenever we go to a store. This trip to Ireland made me realize that when traveling abroad, I need to relax this a bit. As I said before, I needed to let my son make this his trip, not my trip. While I like to get practical gifts that will provide memories that will last for years to come, my son doesn’t care about that stuff. We wanted to get him a shirt, sweatshirt, or poster…something that would last longer than a few weeks. On this trip, my son asked for a tin whistle and a little box that had a replica of Blarney Castle in it. This gimmicky stuff was not practical to me in the slightest. While I know he will likely lose it and he will lose interest in the whistle soon, I realized I’d rather him love it for a few weeks than wear a t-shirt he couldn’t care less about.
The memories that will always stay with you
As we wrapped up our trip, we all talked about our top three favorite things we saw or did. Hearing that my son could only narrow it down to his top favorite eight things only confirmed how important it is to keep taking him on overseas travel adventures. While we were talking about the Cliffs of Moher or Kylemore Abbey, some of his favorites were rather surprising. They included staying for a night in Abbeyglen Castle, kayaking in the caves in Dingle Bay, visiting Ross Castle, holding a lamb, seeing a rescue helicopter rescuing people, the ferry ride to Inishmore, and Blarney Castle. While his top memories are different from our top memories, those are memories he will always have, and we will always have together.
What did you learn the last time you took a family trip abroad? I would love to hear from you! Please post your comments below.
To hear more about family travel abroad experiences, travel tips, and more, listen to the Planes, Trains, & Kids Abroad travel podcast at: https://bigworldpub.com/listen-to-travel-podcast/