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Foreign countries en famille

National Geographic photographer and mother-of-four Annie Griffiths Belt talks to Junior about the best way to travel the world with family in tow


Posted: 19 April 2010
by Suzanne Milne


rock star baby carpet
How to travel to far-flung foreign lands without feeling fearful…
Begin with a country that you know is safe but that is foreign. So if you really want to have a cultural experience go someplace that is kind of traveling for beginners – you know – Morocco. It is a gorgeous, wonderful place where you can have a completely different experience. Especially go to a city like Fez. There are no automobiles, things are done the way they have been done for thousands of years, and yet you know it is safe, there is something in the back of your head. Or just start with going to – for Americans southern Europe. And then from there get a little confidence and try your next thing. But I think the benefit to kids and families as a whole in having those cultural immersions is terribly, terribly important. I think the other thing that is fabulous is to rent a little house or apartment so you are not in the Western hotels with all the amenities. Buy locally, go to the markets. What happens for families as they do it more and more is that they begin to talk with their children more and more about what’s coming up and the conversations are really enlightening – both to the parents and the kids. The kids will totally accept something that the parents are spooked by, and Parents will accept things that the kids might be a little hesitant about. It is sort of a linking of arms – let’s do this. You are really counting on each other.

It is interesting, when they are little they navigate the language problem quite easily because they are not self-conscious and kids figure out ways to talk to each other and they are little sponges. When they get older, that becomes an obstacle. When kids become self-conscious and they don’t share language, what we found was a great way to get through that was sports. Don always brought soccer ball with us wherever we went, and we would try and get them involved in sometime where they were playing and laughing together so some of that self-consciousness goes away and we would try to teach them and ourselves enough in any language to be polite, but it happened to work out that their early years were in more foreign cultures, and then I had assignments in Britain and Australia and the States as they got older so language was less of an issue.

Top places to go with a toddler
Places with lots of water. Water is ever mother’s friend. Toddlers adore water, so I would say, always stay in a place that has a swimming pool. They have to behave part of the day and then as soon as you toss them in water they exercise and then they sleep really well. Traveling with toddlers, make sure you bring food, you bring entertainment. We use bribery quite a lot. We wanted them to see themselves as travelers from the time they were little. We would call them good traveler awards, so if they were wonderful for the first leg of the journey, they would get something so Think like a kid, but from a very early age you can start building I am a traveler, I am an adventurer, let them sleep in a tent, turn it into a game turn it into a fort so they see those adventures as part of who they are and what they can do. Let them get dirty. I think the onset of the antiseptic everything makes them more vulnerable. The dirty they would get I would say, “ I think you are having entirely to much fun”. Turn everything into a little adventure.

What are the best places to go to with children once they are no longer a toddler, say five or six?
Animals – anytime you can take children to some place where they can see animals, touch animals, ride on animals. Some families might want to go to a dude ranch. It’s another confidence building thing. Animals and some kind of interaction with animals is very good for kids at that age. Don’t give your kids a backpack. Give them one of those wheelies, because as soon as they get tired they The wheelie becomes their little world. All the toys you want need to go into your wheelie and so they would really thoughtfully pack their wheelies with their treasures and everything they had their stuff and then We resisted getting a Game Boy for a long time but we got them a little one that they were only allowed to use when they traveled, so it was another wonderful part of traveling. It was for traveling, it was only for airplanes and cars, and that way it remained a huge treat for them but did not pollute their daily life. The key is to have the rules and stick to them. Charlie would want to play with it and say – not an option. But if you say well maybe for an hour, then you have not stuck by your word.

There is also nothing better than a safari, but I would save that for a little bit older. Over eight – the Galapagos Islands, any safari, something like – and African safari or Thailand or Chiang Mai.

Another thing that is really good for kids starting at six or so is something where they are physically active – they climbed that mountain, they learned to canoe, well like in New Zealand they were that age when they went luging, where they feel they have got some bragging rights and they say “I went kayaking down the rapids and I think right up through the teenage years, the more lethargic they become the more important it is to bring them to their feet again – get them sailing, do something that makes them come alive again.

The benefits of letting your children take some risks…
If you don’t provide healthy risky activities, they will find unhealthy risky activities. They need risks in order to be confident. And healthy risks are better. And it is even stuff like, after they have been to the airport for a few times, don’t do something for them. Let them handle things – when does the flight leave. I would throw them little challenges. Run up to the counter and ask where the best restaurant is. They get used to asking stranger and dealing with those circumstances. It is really interesting I was working in Australia, and he has never traveled anywhere, so it was interesting he was so easily intimidated.

That’s another thing that parents should realize is that even within our own country we can give our kids new experiences. We can all travel – it doesn’t have to be a big exotic journey. It is just an adventure that will expand their hearts and minds.

THE STORIES BEHIND THE PICTURES

Dandy Tiger T-shirt RURAL GEORGIA
She is dressed for Sunday church. It was on an island in Georgia. It is a tradition in the South that even families that don’t have very much really dress up for church. So I went by that morning and I went early because I knew they were going to church. It’s part of that culture. That’s’ the day – it has emerged from slavery. For a lot of repressed people who were humiliated. The only time they could let their emotions fly was on a Sunday was in church. That was the only place they could be free and There is lots of music – so you dress for church – it’s a day of dignity
Kit and Lili dress BRAZIL
With the emphasis on superior quality fabrics, this enchanting collection by Marie-Chantal captures the beauty and innocence of childhood whilst adding fashion forward flair. From miniature Savile Row pinstriped suits to sumptuous rich velvet dresses with organza flounce trims it’s a look of opulence.

Elias and Grace THAI BORDER
In a refugee camp. It was quite a wonderful refugee camp that was allowed to function as a village, and the aid organization. It is a hot day and they are waiting for the fish meal. Everyone is quiet and waiting in line and it is self rule and self care and that makes the world of difference. She’s got like four kids and the last thing she wants to do is wait for the fish meal.

The Pudding Store PAKISTAN
That was literally at ground zero with the earthquake. They had put up a tent village and I was walking around. His mother had done the same thing I always did – and said “Now go brush your teeth” he is on the little rug and his blue shoes. I was down very low to photograph him. It was dignity even in the worst of circumstances – and they have nothing.

armarni shirt SOMALIAN MOTHER
I see different ways things are happening. The worst refugee camp is the one where the woman is lying 90000 people in that place where no people should be and a lot of people have been there for a decade. The problem there is the political will and people are escaping as fast as they can from the horror and at least they are alive, but it’s incredibly inhuman and it is not ok, but there is no political will to provide an alternative and the process of taking thousands and thousands of people down to a place where they can be placed in different countries. But aid organizations also get controlled by political things and it’s the people in the trenches that get the work done.

armarni shirt CAMBODIA
That was in Cambodia and this was the very minute that the fresh water pump spouted. And that is kids and water. These kids had never had fresh water. So this magic water came spouting out of the well


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