Executive Functioning, Learning disabilities, Strategies

Travel as Executive Functioning Practice

As anyone who has ever planned a trip knows, it takes A LOT of executive functioning to pull off the logistics. Even a day or weekend trip requires planning, forethought, problem solving, and organization.

That means that it is a great opportunity to let kids get some real world flexing of their frontal lobe, all packaged within the fun of going new places!

Involving your kids in travel planning is an easy way to help them practice these skills and give them some ownership over travel plans. That said, they may need some structure and templates from you in order to be successful.  Here are a few examples of small pieces of the process that can be handed off to kids, depending upon their age.

Let them choose an attraction/destination to visit.

This can either be within a larger trip, or just single a place they’ve been dying to go. Have them do some of the necessary research and then write up their plan. Before they begin, you can brainstorm together some of the things they will need to figure out: days/hours of operation, cost, tickets, directions, etc. For added thinking, have them find a restaurant nearby or make a list of things to bring.

Help them create a packing list for themselves.

Packing lists can be overwhelming even for adults, so it is likely that a lot of  structure will be necessary here. But, this is a good opportunity to create a process for packing, and create some lists they can go back to. Everyone has their own ways to compile a packing list, but here is one as an example.

  • Start with a calendar that has the days of the trip.
  • Fill in any known activities that might require special attire (beach day, theater tickets)
  • Create a brainstorm sheet that has categories on it and then begin filling them in
    • Clothes
    • Shoes
    • Toiletries
    • Tech/Entertainment
    • Special Items
  • For things like socks, underwear, and t-shirts, assign an appropriate number to pack
  • Depending on how messy the brainstorm got, you might type or rewrite the list into a clean version to work from
  • Then have your child take a stab at working from their list and packing up. Just make sure you double check with them.

As kids get older, they can take on more independence with these roles. Also, encourage the list to be saved as a google doc or elsewhere so that it can be used as a jumping off point for the next trip!

Build an itinerary for a day

Together, choose a few places/sights/etc. that you plan to see that day. Ask them to do the research to figure out what order you should do things in, how long you might spend at each place, restaurants in the area, and transportation if needed.

Have them create an actual itinerary that you can take with you with general times, addresses, and details. This is a good exercise in creating a template within which to work. If this is too challenging or leans too heavily on weaknesses (i.e., writing challenges or dyslexia), introduce them to an itinerary builder like Tripit.

Plan a Route

Going on a road trip? Build your route together. Research attractions along the way and find the most reasonable route.

We did this as a whole class activity in our Executive Functioning Elective class. Each student chose an American landmark or attraction (anything from monuments, to amusement parks, to the largest ball of yarn). Then, we put all of the addresses in a map and tried to decide what would be the most reasonable route. Each student then created a slide about their location and we staged photos as a class using the Smart Board as a green screen. In the end, we created a slide show of our pretend cross country road trip and each student shared about their attraction.

Use a Budget

Regardless of the activity, an added layer of real world challenge is to impose a budget. Ask them to find a hotel nearby but that doesn’t exceed a certain amount per night. Or give them a certain amount of money for the day and they need to make sure that all of the activities fit within it.

Final Tips

Depending on the child, you might need to be present for this process if you actually want anything to happen. Otherwise, you might get a lot of “yeah, yeah, I’ll get to that.”

If this has any bearing on a trip you are taking, start early! If this is the night before you leave, you’re only asking to be stressed out.

Use our favorite line, “why don’t you take a little time to see what you can do on your own, and I’ll come back 10 minutes and see if you need any help.”

The more excited they are about it, the more motivated they’ll be to put in the hard work. And the more rewarded they’ll feel when they make it happen!


Happy travels!

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