Saturday, May 28, 2011

Istanbul with Kids: Strategies

David spoke at a conference in Istanbul, and the organizers graciously invited our family to come along. How can you turn down an opportunity like that?

This was our first visit, so I was  worried about how to make the trip happy for a five year old and seven year old as well as the rest of us. These strategies worked well:

1) Give the camera away. To the youngest members of the family.

I was inspired to do this by Design Mom. Maybe her kids' photos are more successful because she passed on good design genes to them or something. We, on the other hand, ended up with 681 (true) blurry pictures of dubious value (why, for example, do we have a photo of the top shelf of a rack in the gift shop?).

I'd do it again in a heartbeat, though.

Being the family photographers kept the little ones fully engaged for all the time Emma Lucy and I cared to explore places. And as I just now, three weeks later, looked through the photos he took with Isaac, I was surprised at how well he could identify each picture and where he had snapped it.

The young photographers also didn't break either of our cameras, for which I am very grateful.

2)Take guided tours. Without the human guides.

The government in Istanbul registers tour guides, and you can hire one from their list to show you around the most famous sites. Since these sites have few explanatory signs, it is a very attractive option.

I debated about whether to a hire guide but ended up instead renting an audio guide at each place. One person (sometimes me, sometimes Emma Lucy, and for one afternoon that made her feel very powerful, Eleanor) listened and then retold anything interesting to the rest of us.

Later we went back, as part of a conference event, to two of the sites we had already visited with a guide the conference had hired. Our guide told us a completely different set of things than we had heard on the audio guide: equally interesting, but not more so. He was, however, much harder to hear than the audio guide. And he also went on at greater length than my young crowd was interested in (being by far the youngest in our group doubtless contributed). The kids were frustrated to be stranded at a spot they didn't think was interesting but then to be hurried past one of their favorite spots.
Isaac waiting for the tour guide.
So, with kids, my advice is to skip the human guides and to use the audio guides judiciously. The kid-friendly pace it allows is well worth it.

3) Build the anticipation.

One of my favorite blogs talks about the role of anticipation in happiness. Too often when we travel, trip preparations eat up all my energy and I find myself having to explain to the kids when we get wherever we are going why it is we want to see this. This time, determined to give my kids a reason to be excited in advance, we spent an evening the week before our trip looking at pictures of where we would visit and talking about why they were cool places--thank you Wikipedia! To my happy surprise, whining was greatly reduced, and kids even pointed out things to me that I had forgotten about!

But at the same time, it was important to...

4) Seize the surprising moments.

Always a good idea when travelling. Street food, strange restaurants, unusual shops, protests. After all, that's what makes it a visit and not an encyclopedia entry!

Monday: Great Istanbul sites to visit with kids.
Tuesday: Istanbul street life surprises that delighted the kids (and us).


Nathan said...

Those are great tips whether in Istanbul ot Chicago....

g said...

I completely agree about the anticipation and the educational preparation. Makes for a much more satisfying and enriching experience.