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Traveler's Tales: Erin, on the Magic of Kids Tours

Context family touring Venice

Erin and her family touring Venice with Context

Ready to go beyond average sightseeing and check-the-box travel with your family? Picture your children truly engaged, asking questions, and coming away with a deeper understanding of the world around them. This is the power of Context Family tours.

Samantha, Senior Marketing Manager at Context, spoke with long-time Context customer Erin to get her inside scoop on traveling with children, the importance of kid-friendly tours, and how a good tour experience can make the rest of your trip that much better.

Samantha: So I want to start with just you. How did travel come to be an important part of your life?

Erin: So [in college], I had no money to travel, no experience with traveling. When I started having kids in my thirties, there was never any money to travel, but I was able to go a few places without my kids through work. Everywhere I went I would see these kids that looked nothing like mine, but also did look like mine; the way a one-year old walked, laughed, and ate. I saw my own kids in others and really took that to heart, that we are sort of all the same. 

As we got older, we decided we wanted to travel with our kids. We took our son on a trip abroad by himself when he was in fifth grade. And then we did another trip with our middle daughter, and by then it just sort of snowballed from there. 

Travel for us has mostly been about seeing how people are similar and understanding that one place is not better than another; they are simply uniquely different. We're enjoying all the feel good things about travel, but then also raising our kids to see themselves as global citizens. So that's how travel came to be for me.

Samantha: Yeah. I love that. I hope eventually someday to be able to do the same thing. You talked a little bit about how you want your kids to see themselves in the rest of the world and be global citizens. What do you think having the opportunity to travel adds to your kids' lives?

Erin: I think they would say that it gives them a sense of independence. They're not fearful people… There's the historical knowledge piece. We never travel without having them study where they're going. But I think really it’s the independence and not being afraid of the world. They read the newspapers, they see everything going on, but they're not afraid. They have enough experience to contextualize, or at least question, what they read. And that's I think the biggest thing so far.

S: That is a huge gift that a lot of people don't have the opportunity to have. And that's unfortunate, but it's really important. When your kids were younger, what were you hoping to get out of your first international trip as a family?

E: When we took Colton to Rome, I was learning alongside him. It was mostly about the world history, but also just seeing the colosseum or, later, the pyramids, and really being able to understand what an amazing feat those venues are. That's what I wanted them to get out of it, that awe and wonder.

S: And it is, Rome is just so wild, you can't even intellectually grasp the importance and how old it actually is. I'm curious, as you saw him walking around the city and seeing things for the first time, what did you see in his face? What happened for him?

E: He was mistaken as a local at the train station in Naples. They have this piano where people will play and then there are people dancing around. There was a group singing local songs and they thought Colton knew what they were singing and they lifted him up in the air. 

It has become a game for us to be mistaken for locals when we travel. Some places are harder than others, but a Context tour can help you get the behave-like-a-local vibe going. He saw how fun travel could be when you follow the adage 'When in Rome...'  

We also have this photo of his head next to a mortadella, and the roll was bigger than his head. It clicked for him that the world was different — who would have ever thought that there was a place with deli meat that large? 

He was just taking things in. The lesson is that going is meaningful. It's not boring travel that your parents are making you go on. It's actually really fun to be there and try all these things.

S: I'd love to hear about your tour guide in Rome when you were on his first trip there. What was great about the tour guide, what made her great for a family and for kids? 

E: Alessandra, our guide in Rome, was so impressed with Colton’s grasp of the history that she bought him a mug with a Roman icon on it and he loved it so much. It's still on his study desk. 

And when we went back to her, she was the same way. I mean it wasn't just her connection with Colton, you saw the same thing with my daughters. She was the exact same way.

All of our family tour guides were all so fantastic. They didn't let the kids, if they were tired or distracted, change how they gave the tour. They were consistent in talking directly to the kids and constantly prompting them to participate. Over the years we’ve had some guides who will interact more with the parents because it’s easier - but not with Context. The tour was for the kids and they kept it like that and it was fantastic.

S: I'm curious; how did they go about keeping the kids engaged?

E: Alessandra brought colorful maps and illustrations to easily convey a point. Did you know that many of the white marble statues around Rome used to be colored? She had pictures and spoke to the science of how that was discovered. In the colosseum floor there are hatches where they let people and animals in and out from the basement - but HOW?! She had sketches to show us while we were away from the crowds so we didn’t have to elbow our way through everyone to the diagrams at the front entrance. 

S: They're a little bit older now. What are some of the things that stick out to them still or things that they might still talk about that happened when they were on those tours?

E: Well, Pompeii struck all of them. There was this colander that exists that they found in Pompeii and it looks like a colander that could be in anybody's kitchen. That's something that they still talk about. 

They're not talking about the year that Vesuvius exploded and how many years it took to unearth Pompeii. They're talking about the fact that there was fast food in Pompeii and chalkboards with menus and pictures because not everybody spoke the same language. They're realizing that all of the world has been traveling and migratory since the beginning of time.  

S: That's so cool. It's so interesting because in high school they teach you 'This was the ruler and this was the date.' And if they would just tell us stories, things that actually are interesting, we would actually want to know it.

E: You've got Google for the dates and all the rest of that. But to see those types of things also puts the timeline into a better perspective for kids. They start to really understand how long things have been going on.

S: If you were talking to a friend about why they should take their kids on a Context Kids tour, what would you tell them?

E: It’s not babysitting. It's not like, oh, now your kid's going to have something to do for two hours and then they're not going to be entertained. They will be a better participant in whatever you plan next. I felt that to be true for every tour we've done. 

I think it can be hard as a parent when you've got kids who are younger to educate them to get them ready to go on a trip. To teach kids takes time and thought, and parenting is not the same as teaching. And so the reason that you do it is because Context has packaged this gift for families. Context is the tutor, putting all the good stories and juicy tidbits into one cohesive story. And when that happens, the kids are like sponges.  

S: I love that. Last question for you. In your experience as someone who has budget in mind, why are Context tours as a whole worth it?

E: If someone is explaining things well to your kids, they are also explaining things well to the parents! We try to do our Context tours at the beginning of our time in a place because the guides front load a ton of great information for us. We've been prepped for the city by the tour, and that is worth its weight in gold.

In Venice, we did a walking tour and visited a local fish market. Our guide encouraged us to take photos to help remember what was what, told us what merchants to visit, and gave recipes and advice on how to cook things. A few days later we went back to the market and bought a birthday meal to make for our daughter at our Airbnb. So for people who are thinking about the cost, there is also the trade-off benefit.  

S: They set you up for success for the rest of the time. That’s awesome.

E: It's not like a one-off. It doesn't exist in a silo, if that makes sense. It's like fertilizer for the rest of your trip. You don't need a Context tour guide with you 24/7, you just need them to help set you up for how the rest of the trip is going to go. And that's always been worth it to us.

S: Well, thank you. We appreciate that! This was really fun, I really enjoyed hearing about all of this from you, we can’t wait to see where you go next. 

Interested in learning more about Context Tours for Kids? Find more details and Kids Tour locations here.