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As a seasoned international traveler, I know the rigours and stress that can be felt on a "vacation" in a strange land. The toilets are different, the food is bizarre, the days are long and tiresome, and the people can be very rude. Oftentimes we force ourselves to walk our limit in order to tour breathtaking castles or magnificent ruins. We sleep in hotels that provide little information in advance to find a place we wouldn't recommend to our mother-in-law. So why would we ever consider dragging our children along with us?

This is the sentiment felt by most Americans when it comes to traveling outside of the United States. It is hard for many people to see more advantages than disadvantages to taking children with them. It is hard to imagine that a family who cannot get along on a road trip to Grandma's could possibly survive time together in a foreign country.

You may be surprised. With a little extra planning and a flexible frame of mind, you can prepare to have a fun and enjoyable trip to an exciting and exotic place. The most important thing you can do is help your kids feel they are an integral part of the process- not extra baggage. Give each child an age-appropriate assignment before the trip. Help them research about a place, a culture, fun things to do in the area, affordable restaurants and places to stay, or even a little-known site to visit. With access to the internet, information can be endless. The internet has become the most popular place to advertise-even for many of the poorer countries- and can therefore be your best source for up-to-date pricing, real-time pictures, and even many discounts and coupons. Let each child pick a site they would really like to visit. You may be surprised by how interesting kid's choices are. Give them the encouragement they need and participate in the chosen activity- as they will certainly have to participate in yours. You will need to plan as well as possible for at least one fun activity every day- whether it be stopping for Italian Ice or visiting the sewers of Paris, it is important to have time to do something the whole family can really appreciate.

When you begin your trip, it is important to remain flexible. There will be days the kids will be cranky or even homesick. There will be rainy days and very hot or cold days. Try to remember that to fully immerse yourself in another culture, you also need to relax as the people in that country do. Take time for tea, siesta, watch a sunset, or take a boat ride. It is more important that you enjoy the time exploring a new place and culture than rushing off to the next tour. Understand that it is basically impossible to see everything you want to see- so why kill yourself trying? Choose two or three things each day that you really want to do. Then keep a list of options open of things you would like to do depending on how much energy and time is left at the end of the day.

Another advantage of taking the kids is that surprisingly enough, most places really like kids. Any area with a heavy tourist industry grows a dislike for tourists. But in most places, kids are a welcomed change of scenery. In many parts of Europe, children get special attention. Restaurants and hotels may have special services for those traveling with children. And there is almost always a price drop for those who are younger. Children can be an ice-breaker or a conversation piece with native people. I have never been treated so cordially in the Paris metro as I was with my six-year old daughter. Most people are more likely to help a lost family with small children than a couple of tourists.

It is important to remember that the whole purpose of taking your children with you on an international trip would be to spend family time together and to learn together about another place and people. As American kids are becoming more disrespectful and unappreciative of the things they have and this great country, what better way to show them how small their world is and what is really important in life? So as you determine whether you can bear to drag your kids on a long trip to a strange and unknown place, consider the many advantages, and the changes that can take place in all of us when we find out what it's like in other places. Think of the discoveries you will make together. And most of all, think of the memories you will have to laugh about years later.