This is one of my favourite parts of travelling with kids, and something you definitely couldn’t do if you were just travelling by yourself. This is not for all kids, if you have kids that are particularly anxious or set on their routines then preparing them is probably a better idea. Luckily for us, our kids are pretty adventurous and trusting and they get a huge kick out of this.
The first time we took the kids away it was just James and Jules who were around 8 and 10, and Annabelle was only 18 months. They finished school for the semester on Friday afternoon and came home, expecting Dad would still be working and they would be watching a lot of TV for 2 weeks. At around 5pm they were given dinner, and halfway through, told “hurry up and finish your dinner so you can get your envelopes”. This was the first they’d heard of the envelopes but they finished their dinner pretty quickly! They opened their addressed envelopes to find a page of instructions.
I’m not really sure if they believed it was happening but sure enough my mum turned up on schedule and we were off. Years later they still remember that thrill.
A few years later they were back for another boring 2 weeks school holidays. At around 3pm we told them to come in and sit on the couch because we had something for them. They assumed it was money for good school reports. They received envelopes again and then new backpacks I had pre-packed and had stashed in the robe:
They had a couple of hours to get a few of their own things together and then we left for the airport. We went to the airport and they still didn’t know where they were going. We were headed to Singapore but then left for Malaysia once we were there. After a week at the Sea Gypsy in Malaysia the kids thought we were going home. Once we had driven a few hours on the coach we got some French girls also on the coach to hand them another envelope saying in fact we were not going home, we were going to Legoland for a few days.
For a trip where only the little kids came I had to simplify it a bit. I printed out 6 clues as to what we would be doing in the holidays and then covered each of them with a flap of paper with a number from 1-6 on it. I had originally intended that 5 year old Annabelle would repeatedly roll the dice until she had revealed all the clues in one sitting but then I decided to pump her up for a week. I chose the order I wanted the clues revealed and I started 6 days before we left. Under the first number was the clue which was a group of small boys as we were going to visit 2 families with 5 little boys in total (and no girls). Other clues were that it was cold, we would be staying in a hotel, it was somewhere in Australia etc. Every morning before school she rolled the dice until she got the right number that was on the flap of paper so she could look under it. That kid was up every morning, dressed and ready for school asking to roll the dice. After she had done 5 days of this, a mum at school that had been on parent help told me Annabelle had told her all the clues so far and was trying to work out what was happening. Her teacher also asked me where we were going as Annabelle had told her all about her dice game and the clues. She absolutely loved it and it was a way of preparing her that we were going somewhere without actually giving it all away. She was thinking, nutting out her clues all week. She told me “Mummy I really hope the last clue is a picture of an aeroplane”. (It was!)
This is only limited by your imagination. I’ve made up Secret Agent ID cards and worded their instructions like they are spies. It’s like they are in an episode of Race Around the World. Whatever your kids are into and appropriate for their age. I’ve had to keep it a secret, tell everyone at school etc that it’s a secret, the step-kid’s mums had to keep it a secret and I had to get their passports without them knowing.
The next one, they are getting an access code, a password and a phone number to text it to, which will in turn give them a “PigPen” code (they have to google to decipher) and another code contained in a Harry Potter book that tells them where their “envelope” is hidden. I was thinking of even getting their mum or school teacher to give it to them or sending it in the post, so it’s an even bigger surprise. They won’t find out where they are going until they read the signs at the airport though. I love making them up and even more love watching them read them. I don’t find much truly excites kids but this sends them over the edge, even the eye-rolling teenagers.
They never know when they are going to get an envelope and an adventure sprung on them. There will be more in the future but I won’t say when and how just in case they are reading this website!
How can you surprise your kids with an adventure?
1. First of all you have to plan and book the trip and keep the entire thing a secret. I find this very difficult. You also have to constantly remind anyone that knows about it not to mention it to the kids. Are you going to pack all their luggage beforehand? I find this is the best way but you have to be very sneaky.
2. Decide when you are going to tell them. The littler the kids, the later you can leave it but I find with teenagers now we give them a few days notice in case they had plans they need to change or personal items they need to gather, certain clothes they need to wash and bring etc. The first time we did it, they got about 5 hours notice before we left for the airport, like “you will not be sleeping in your beds tonight”. Boy, were they excited!
3. How are you going to tell them? Do they get envelopes, is it a game, do they need to find something or put together clues? You could incorporate it into a game, a treasure hunt or codes to decipher. You need to make up all the bits for this. You can do themes, depending on their age like pirates, James Bond, spies, or something linked to the place you are going.
4. Are you going to tell them where they are going? I never do, we just tell them they are going on a trip and let them figure it out by stealing a look at a boarding pass or asking the person at check-in.
5. Get your camera or video camera ready when you tell them!