How To Write Your Own Children’s Travel Guide (For Three To Eight Year Olds)

There are four ways to use books to prepare children for travel, but some involve more cake than others.

Way Number 1 – Read age-appropriate non-fiction books about the destination

Advantages
One hundred percent pure knowledge.

Disadvantages
Due to the tendency of these books to be dry and dull, over-reliance on them may lead to suboptimal leaning and an excess of cake bribes (with subsequent hyperactivity and sugar-crashes).

Way Number 2 – Read age-appropriate fiction books about the destination

Advantages
Some fantastic stories require little to no cake at all.

Disadvantages
More fantastic stories need less cake, but contain more, well, fantasy. Children may be disappointed when the holiday does not transform them into an adorable forest creature or involve saving anyone using super powers. Useful details may be edged out by said narratives involving forest creatures and super powers.

Less fantastic stories require more cake, and tend to focus on the sightseeing exploits of a fictional child, which is probably the least of what children need to pick up from a book and in any case may not fit your itinerary.

Way Number 3 – Read age-appropriate non-fiction books about subjects which combine your destination with your child’s latest interests

Advantages
Low cake rating!

You’ll learn more about civil engineering, space programs, or natural disaster preparedness in your country of destination than you ever expected.

Disadvantages
May result in an unbalanced knowledge of destination/holiday photo collection.

Our holiday photos from Japan were relatively light on the ancient temples and heavy on the tsunami warning systems.

Our holiday photos from Japan were relatively light on the ancient temples and heavy on the tsunami warning systems.

Way Number 4 – Write your own story, travel guide and activity pack

Advantages
Messages and content can be directly targeted to suit your family and your itinerary. Writing is fun! Product is a children’s guide book, story, and activity book in one. You can keep the cake; eat it yourself.

Disadvantages
You have to find the time.

To make that bit easier, I’ve written a plug-and-play formula for creating a customised, collaborative picture book itinerary for any holiday with a three-to-eight-year-old. Feel free to copy, tweak, add your favourite cake recipe, etc.

How To Write Your Own Children's Travel Guide (for three to eight year olds) | Journeys of the Fabulist

Build-Your-Own Travel Guide Story

You will need:

  1. Some sort of system for getting things written up onto paper (computer, printer, pen, etc).
  2. A whacky main character who for some reason can travel anywhere at a moment’s notice. I use an independently-wealthy expat alien from a planet far, far away, who resides on an “ordinary” street on Planet Earth for reasons nobody ever seems to care about.
  3. An unexpected visitor. My main character is Wiggy, whose alien friends are in the habit of asking him to show them around when they come to Earth for a holiday. They are all uniformly ignorant of Earth’s geography, and kind of assume that any given sight is more or less just around the corner from where Wiggy lives.
  4. A neighbouring human (or humans) the same age as your child(ren).
  5. The neighbour’s pen pal, in the target country. I use google to pick their name from the top ten list of baby names for the year of their birth.

Basic Storyline:

Page One – the setup

Alien gets letter from alien friend. Alien asks neighbour for Earth insight. Neighbour knows everything on account of having a pen pal in just the right part of the world, and a grand adventure for all is arranged.

One day, Wiggy got a letter in the post from an alien friend back home. This was unusual in itself, because aliens don’t normally send letters. They normally use cosmic wave messages. But Wiggy’s friend, whose name was Numble-fizz, had heard that cosmic wave messages couldn’t get through to Earth, because all the humans walked around wearing hats made of metal foil, so he’d sent a letter instead, and the letter said…

Page Two – the journey

The characters set off from Wiggy’s house, via a route which is alway curiously identical to the one we intend to take.

They took a taxi to the airport, where they boarded a big plane.

Page Three – the arrival

The characters arrive at their first destination, which is briefly described in one or two sentences. They greet their local pen-pal guides in the local language.

Tokyo was a big, modern city full of people rugged up for the winter. “Konnichiwa!” said Takiko, when they came through the arrivals gate at the airport. 

Pages Four, Five and Six – initial orientation

By an enormous coincidence, the characters are always planning to start their holiday in exactly the same way we are.

  • They stop for a meal and choose from a local menu.
  • One of the visitors makes a faux pas, and his friends gently correct it.
  • The visitors express themselves using the words “sorry” and “thank you” in the local language.
  • They all go to sleep.

She helped them buy train tickets. “Arigato!” said Sam. Nimble-fizz tried to say thankyou by shaking his mouth tentacles, but Wiggy showed him how to bow instead.

Pages Six Through Til The End – the itinerary

Each page details a new part of the itinerary.

I use more detail for days the kids will find challenging. For our family, this might mean a long day on the train or bus, an activity chosen by/for an adult family member, or a day which requires strict adherence to a timetable. On these days, I help them out by adding things like:

  • Short scenes which help explain the logistics of the day
  • A description of the games and activities the characters are using to pass the time or make the day more interesting
  • Short pieces of action and dialogue which help explain the local culture, geography, history, expected behaviour, etc
  • Short exchanges which include the words “please”, “goodbye”, or foreign-language vocab inspired by the child’s interests
  • Blank space to create drawings or scrapbook pages
  • Where possible, unanswered questions from the characters, which require exploration or research by the reader

They had to change trains several times to reach their first overnight stop in Rendaiji. It was quiet on the trains. Sam and Takiko played I Spy out the window, read books, and did some colouring in. Sam drew a picture of Wiggy eating noodles… And Wiggy drew a picture of Sam standing on top of Mount Fuji. “I wonder if our train will go close to Mount Fuji,” said Sam. “I know. Let’s check the map.”

I use less detail for days the kids will take to easily. On these days, the kids don’t need help and they certainly don’t need spoilers. I’ll write a short sentence, and leave lots of blank space so they can record their own impressions as they make their own discoveries.

The next day, they went on a walk through the mountains. Here’s what Wiggy saw.

Last Page – the end

The characters end their holiday and go home.

“There’s nothing like your own bed,” said Nimble-Fizz. But they did have time for one last, tasty treat… Itadakimasu!

Children's travel guide layout example.

Room for illustrations.

Final Checklist (Things To Include)

Day to day practicalities:

  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Transport
  • Timetable/activities (give minimum necessary detail; focus on helping with expected difficulties; use questions where appropriate)
  • Bathing/toileting (if unusual)
  • Points of etiquette (if unusual or where reminders are needed)

Language:

  • Hello
  • Sorry
  • Thankyou
  • Please
  • Goodbye
  • Child’s own interest

Games and activities:

  • Illustrate the story from observation of the local environment (aliens may not exist at destination)
  • Car games/train games
  • Scavenger hunt checklist
  • Scrapbook/journal pages

Related:

I have a lot more tips on travelling with young kids. Some of them are especially helpful for sensitive or difficult travellers.

I also have two posts on how to get rid of adult guide books when you don’t use them any more, but these are only very tangentially related, except inside my own head.

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