When you are travelling, there are always so many new things to see and do. When something like a birthday occurs in the middle of that experience, it can be a challenge to know what to do and how to make it significant and maybe a little different than everything else that goes on.
For most children, birthdays equal gifts, and when you are on the road that isn’t going to be any different. The difficulty, of course, is finding presents that you are going to be able to carry with you as you go on your way. As much as your daughter wants a pony, it just isn’t going to be accepted as carry-on baggage and so you will need to find something that maybe is. Aim for compact, portable toys or items. You don’t have to be boring, just creative. Remember too that packaging won’t be coming with you, so check the difference between the size of the box and the size of the product before you make up your mind.
One thought is to buy quality over quantity. Buying a single, more expensive gift rather than several cheaper items could reduce the space taken up in your luggage. Of course, you will want to discuss this approach ahead of time with the child to ensure there is no expectation of more, but if you put it positively you can build excitement rather than disappointment. Tech items like cameras or tablets are a good example of this kind of gift, but bear in mind their power and connectivity needs, as well as any duties or taxes they may attract when it is time to move on.
If you can, try to get something that is distinctive to where you are at the time. In the future it will serve as a reminder of the special birthday, as well as the people and places your child was around at the time. We bought our daughter a special dress in a local store on one trip, and years later, even after she had outgrown it she would talk about that birthday and her ‘party dress’ and reminisce about where we visited. We also purchased a coffee mug for each child at a location that was special to them, and later gave them as gifts. Today they will still sit at breakfast with a hot drink and recall where they got their mug and what we did there.
An alternative to buying physical gifts is arranging for an experience. Although you will no doubt be trying numerous new things on vacation, look for something special that you can do with your child (or they can do on their own!) that will be distinctive and memorable. Make sure you get plenty of photos and video and any mementos you can as keepsakes, and aim to make it something that your child may not get another chance to do. If there are cultural experiences, see if they would be appropriate. One idea is to investigate any local customs around birthdays or celebrations and see if there isn’t a way to incorporate that into your child’s day. Most people are happy to share their culture and practices and it may be a rewarding experience for the whole family to learn a little more about traditions of the place you are visiting. If it is a significant birthday – the first year of double-digits, the entry into the teens, or something similar – perhaps research if there are particular customs around coming of age ceremonies or rituals. It could become a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your whole family to include something like this in your celebration!
The other side of the day, of course, is your own family heritage. For some children, having a birthday thousands of miles from home could be a little distressing. Try to make an effort to reconnect them with your roots, emphasising your family identity as much as you celebrate the diversity of your travels. Calling grandparents or relatives on the phone or via Facetime or Skype can help reinforce those connections with where you have come from and provide some stability for your child.
Don’t forget to think about local flavours when you are preparing the birthday meal, too. While the birthday boy or girl may want something familiar, see if you can introduce one dish or delicacy that is distinctly local. Even decorating a cake with some contextual flair can be a reminder in days to come of a very special birthday celebration.
Celebrating a birthday out and about in the world is a fantastic opportunity to really engage with local cultures and customs. With a little creativity, it could be a birthday they are still talking about in years to come.