How to Use Timelines to Organize Your Travel Studies
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Planning a big trip and excited to dive into learning about your destination but confused about where to start? How about an easy-to-use method to enjoy history travel? Timelines!
Whether you are creating a plan to learn more about your local area before you try out different campgrounds this summer, or are planning a big international trip in the future, deeper study will enhance both the trip itself and your quality of life before travel. Organizing your study chronologically provides structure and simplifies your approach. Read on to discover how using a timeline can help you!
Although this approach may seem a bit academic for trip planning (except to fellow nerds!), it is a popular study technique because it is so effective. I have used timelines both as a professional teacher and as a homeschool parent helping our family prepare for trips, and I am excited to share some of the best techniques with you.
Organize your history travel studies before departure
When planning our own travel through history with a trip to Greece and France a few years ago, we used the year before departure to study both countries. In our family, we had different ages, levels of understanding, and interests— where to even start with such a daunting plan? We used a timeline!
And timelines aren’t just for kids! If you are like me and have a tough time holding onto dates and factoids, try using timelines to flesh out details in the broader themes and sweeps of history. Timelines provide the structure to see relationships between events and people in unique ways.
What do you want to include?
Start by sketching out your timeline. You do not need to add many details at this early stage. Instead, you are getting the broad strokes and confirming the key interests, highlights you don’t want to miss, and learning goals you’d like to meet.
From the beginning of our travel planning, we had a general idea of where we were going and some of the main sights we wanted to see. I created a rough outline of the major historical periods in Greece and France. If you already have kids’ history books at home, they are useful at this stage since you are only looking for major themes. The internet is another obvious choice, and Wikipedia offers a historical timeline of most locations: cities, regions, states, and countries.
The next step is to be sure that top interests and learning goals are included. If traveling as a family, check out our article “Top 11 Tips: Use Travel Planning to School from Home,” and include your kid’s interests in your timeline. Also include what other members of your party are most curious about. Are you especially interested in art history, mythology, religion, natural history, military battles, architecture, or food? Whatever excites you, you can discover more about it from a historical perspective.
Create a Calendar
Once you have your thorough list, highlight the areas you really want to focus on—you won’t have time to learn about everything! Then, break out your pencil (you’ll be making edits) and your calendar. Don’t skip this step, or you might be boarding the plane before covering the last few hundred years of your destination’s history! It is important to see our destinations in a modern, realistic context, so be sure to have time at the end (or preferably, throughout) to study current events.
Separate your major periods by weeks or months of study, and you are ready to go with the main headings in the outline of your timeline. For example, as we planned our trip, I broke part of it out as: Week 2– Minoans, Week 3- Mycenaeans, Week 4- Homer, etc.
Create an online document to organize your plan. At this point, you only need to find resources to learn about things at the beginning of your timeline. You do not need a plan for everything. Trust that you will flesh this out as the weeks pass.
Use your timeline to inspire activities
Now the fun really begins! For each historical period, you and your travel companions can find books, movies, documentaries, podcasts, activities, recipes, music, games and more to understand the period. You can enjoy them together and individually, but with everyone exploring the same historical period at the same time together, you will create a multifaceted understanding.
From our personal example above, when we explored the French Revolution and Classical Greece together over many weeks and from multiple perspectives it helped us all have a richer understanding. Plus we had lots of fun and many interesting conversations. It also led to infinitely richer travel experiences because we understood so much more about our destinations.
As you find valuable resources, add them to your plan. Use the Tripscholars Travel Library to find resources to flesh out your studies and add them to your Tripscholars Guidebook. This is why we are here! When you find something new that others can use, please add it to our library.
Types of Timelines
While it isn’t necessary to add a visual timeline to this process, it can definitely help with understanding and remembering. Plus, creating timelines for travel can be a fun and creative endeavor. Here are some types of timelines you can incorporate into your travel planning.
The Growing Timeline
As you move through your studies, you can create a visual timeline in your house. Some people make or buy a drawn-out timeline with pre-populated increments on a page. While this can be useful for a limited project, it is not a recommended approach because it doesn’t allow for adding in new information. And there will always be new information you want to add!
To solve this problem, we want timelines that can grow with us. Here is the timeline our family is currently using. These are the tags, twine, and the mini clothespins we used. The whole project was about $15 and has provided years of engagement. There are obviously countless creative alternatives to this, so find one that works for you and your aesthetic.
As you move through the outline of the timeline you make, you can add tags with dates, major events, and people. Each week you can clip these on in chronological order.
Let the timeline grow with you over the years. When you plan a new trip or add other fresh information, you can move them around as needed. Whatever you choose, consider adding images, either hand drawn or graphics from the internet.
Project Based Timelines
The timeline we used with school–aged kids was project based and much more visually engaging. (Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo!) A part of each major period of study included an art project that was added to the timeline. The first of these was inspired by paleolithic cave art. It was a painting done on a crumpled grocery bag with natural pigments, like one of the examples here.
As studies progressed, more art was added to the fishing line that was strung around the room. Eventually, after more than a year, there was meaningful handmade art surrounding us that could really be understood in context. There is much more room for creativity with this approach, but it is also a lot more time consuming. If you or your companions are visual learners who love to create things, this could be a fantastic choice!
An approach combining the Growing Timeline and Project Timeline can meet the needs and learning styles of multiple travel companions.
For those who are looking for digital options to create their travel–inspired timelines, there are many good choices. Microsoft subscribers can use a timeline template using Power Point or Excel to make an easy to use and beautiful timeline.
If you are looking for a free version, consider using TimelineJS. It is an open–source tool that lets users create attractive interactive timelines. For extensive study, multiple timelines would likely be needed.
A much more demanding, but for some, inspiring, way to make a timeline is as a digital content creator. Creating your own video, video game, or animation can be a fun (but exceptionally large!) project. After all your challenging work, consider sharing it on YouTube, STEAM, or other platform. In the Tripscholars Travel Library, you’ll find some professional versions of this in videos such as Crash Course.
The obvious distinction with a digital timeline is that it isn’t out in the living space to interact with. But some will prefer to look when desired, instead of having it visible all the time.
Although there is excellent value in creating our own timelines, purchased timelines are useful supplements or alternatives. They often include much more information and professional graphics.
One of our favorites is the Hisotmap of World Civilizations. Unfortunately, it is now $70 on Amazon, and in my opinion, not worth that price. If you find it somewhere else at a much lower cost, it is a worthwhile buy because of the visual representation of which civilizations were most prominent. It does an excellent job of keeping things in perspective.
Other top picks we have used are the timelines from Useful Charts. In addition to their timelines, they also offer posters about mythology and the family trees of royals and Roman emperors. If you or your history–loving travel companions are visual learners, these can be an excellent choice for you.
There are many other printed timelines available, some that are specific to distinct locations. Additionally, there are timelines of musical composers, authors, religions, and more. When buying a timeline, confirm that it reflects the history you are looking for. They are all limited in scope and will omit a lot of information. Some are biblical and some are not. If you are buying online, Etsy generally has a bigger and more interesting selection than Amazon. Be sure and check the details so you order what you want!
Natural History Timelines
Another useful way to use timelines in relation to travel is to help with a deeper understanding of the natural history of the area. This can be a great supplement to any historic timeline of human history and pre-history. It is especially useful for visiting geologic sites.
There isn’t much that’s more grounding than seeing all human history represented on a geologic (or astronomic!) timeline! Creating a geologic timeline on adding machine tape can be genuinely mind-blowing for anyone learning about deep time. Here are a couple of lesson plans, with this one specific to understanding the Grand Canyon. If this type of project is new to you, I promise it is worth your time!
Timeline games for fun and review
There are also some fun timeline games that allow you and your traveling companions to understand your destination on a world-wide historical scale, using formats similar to what you have been using.
Timeline games for purchase
Here are two you can buy that are enjoyable complements to preparing for trips.
The card game Timeline has changed over the years, but it is a perennial favorite. This is a short game (15-minute rounds) that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. You can even disregard the rules and play solitaire for fun! You can add expansion decks as your knowledge grows. The original version had some incorrect dates, but those have been fixed in the current iteration. Game play consists of placing cards with events, inventions, and historic figures in correct chronological order.
Another popular timeline game is Chronology. It is similar to Timeline with slightly different gameplay. For example, you are placing the cards in your own timeline rather than the shared one. Chronology also has a larger font and no illustrations. Chronology is intended for players 14+, while Timeline is for 8+, but both games are a lot of fun for older kids, teens, and adults who love history.
Timeline game to create and use as a review
If you have been making a Growing Timeline, you already have a game you can play with your travel companions as a review before you embark. Simply remove all the cards you have created over the preceding months and create a deck. Deal out five cards to each player, place one faceup on the table, and the rest of the deck nearby. With the youngest person going first, the player makes up clues about the card in their hand to get other players to guess what is on the card. The first player to guess correctly gets to place the card in the timeline, and then offer clues for a card in their hand. The play continues until the whole timeline is recreated on the table.
Although this is a non-competitive review game, we used it as a playful opportunity to celebrate all the learning that everyone had enjoyed! It was also a fun way to give some travel items to the family before we left. When the correct answer was given (or clever clues offered), the winner got to choose from a basket of small prizes. These included gum, headphones, Velcro cord-wraps, travel rain parkas, plug adapters, and travel sized toiletries. These were things that, for the most part, we were bringing anyways, but it made it a festive event that brought closure to our year of study.
How using a timeline to organize our studies enhances travel and improves travel planning
While there are definite drawbacks to a linear interpretation of time, there is a reason most history books are laid out this way. Putting this chronological approach to use for our family with different timelines over the years has allowed kids, teens, and adults to better understand specific events and people within historical context.
On the trip to Greece and France that I mentioned at the beginning, using this technique allowed us to have profound experiences on an almost daily basis. Some examples were our visits to the Acropolis, Agora, and other sites from Classical Greece. We understood the overlapping lifespans and significance of the individuals who changed the way we see the world: Pythagoras, Socrates, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Pericles, and Hippocrates. Step by step, we had studied the architectural, political, philosophical, engineering, military, and theatrical history that brought Classical Greece into being. Walking those hallowed pathways and visiting the actual buildings where they gathered brought some of us to tears, and made the experiences incredibly vivid and profound.
History travel: use a timeline to prepare for your travels
If you are planning a trip to a place that you are especially curious about, I recommend using a timeline and a chronological approach to your trip preparations. It will help you pace your learning and will give invaluable context to all that you discover.
Use the Tripscholars Travel Library to find resources for each of the time periods you study. Add them to your Guidebook so they are easy to find and use. Please add new resources that you discover, so that other curious travelers can learn from you!
Have you used timelines to prepare for travel? What kind did you use and how did it enhance your trip? Do you plan to use one for an upcoming trip? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Happy travel planning!