Travel isn’t just for adults…
Travel has lasting effects on children, and traveling as a family can be extremely fulfilling and character-building!
Without further ado…here are our 10 reasons why we think it is important to travel with kids:
1. It teaches them flexibility
Once kids have learned that hotels don’t always have two double beds, a standard bathroom, and reliable hot water–they become a lot less demanding in accommodation styles. A pool? A bonus! A bathroom that can fit more than one person standing? A bonus! Hot water and towels that can cover your torso AND your bum? A definite bonus!
It is easier to appreciate all of the little things when you don’t always get the picture perfect hotel package. You learn to be flexible when traveling, as plans are changed, cancelled, or must be rearranged. Flexibility comes from not expecting something in particular, and making anything work.
If kids learn to be flexible when they are young, they immediately gain one of the most important skills for easy and pleasant traveling (and living) for the rest of their life. Flexibility, learned young, makes a flexible young man or women…which then makes a flexible adult.
2. It teaches them to appreciate different ways of living
When kids get to see that there are many different ways of doing things, they don’t develop the hard-to-break pride of “we do it better.” They learn to roll with the punches, and have the amazing ability to always look at the bright side of things. Kids can often see past the dirt, and find the good in situations.
For example, we once spent a week in Lake Bacalar, Mexico, enjoying the crystal clear fresh waters and playing with friends over the Christmas holiday. We had been on the road for quite awhile, and managed to escape with our friends for an adult date-night, leaving the kids with a lovely local family we had met. The family was headed by a single mother who worked hard, and had 5 beautiful children. Their home was very humble and when we dropped our kids off with sleeping bags and pillows (assuming they’d fall asleep before we returned), I looked at the only two beds in the home and the concrete floor and wondered if I should be concerned about dirt or scorpions. Oh well, I thought.
When we picked up the kids we found them fast asleep, and quietly loaded them into our van to drive back to our rental home. Ella, 6 years old at the time, was awakened and shared with us that she had a great time dancing and playing all night. She said to us with such enthusiasm, “They aren’t poor AT ALL!”
I looked at my husband, and we both smiled big and said, “No, they are not!” Neither one of us had used the word “poor” in front of her, and I certainly hadn’t expressed my concern about the home’s humble conditions to her. Whatever made her say that, I will never know…but what I do know is that that night she knew that you can’t be “poor” if you’re happy.
3. It teaches them patience
Traveling is a waiting game. You wait in a car to get from town to town, you wait in line to see an attraction, you wait to find a bathroom, and sometimes you wait even longer to find a hotel room at night. They say that the beauty of travel is not the arrival to the destination, but rather the journey to get there. And we spend a LOT of time getting there!
Memories aren’t built only at the top of a pyramid. In fact, one of our most memorable pyramid experiences (we’ve seen a LOT of them in Mexico) was when we got stuck in a torrential downpour, and we each stood under a tree trying to stay dry. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. After we were fully drenched (with patience and flexibility hand-in-hand), we finally realized we may as well enjoy the rain–and we took off as a family, enjoying those big puddles!
4. It teaches them awareness
Let’s face it, when the temptation of TV or electronics is present it’s hard to convince a kid to enjoy the moment around them. In our years of owning and operating a retail store in a cruise ship port in Alaska, we were always horrified at the amounts of kids and teenagers who trailed their parents through our store–with earbuds in the ears, and fully engrossed in texting or playing games on their electronic device. “Is this really what the world is coming to”, we thought? Have these kids even looked up around them, and SEEN these mountains? Did they check out any of the waterfalls? Have they asked their parents if they can go hiking?
Without the temptations of easy entertainment around them, we’ve found that our kids are more open to looking around, and being IN the moment. Which leads me to my next point…
5. It teaches them to seek knowledge
When kids are “awake” and aware of what is around them, they find themselves thirsting for knowledge and understanding. “Why do they do that?” “Why is it built that way?” “What does that mean?” And because kids are able to SEE and experience something, it remains that much more real to them. It’s not something they heard about–2nd or 3rd person (like hearing about it from a teacher, or reading it in a book)–They’ve SEEN it, they’ve LIVED it!
I’m constantly astonished at the things our kids remember about places we’ve been…and how they use that knowledge and compare or apply it to other situations or places we visit. “Hey Mom, remember the salt mine where we learned where salt comes from? I wonder if this salt comes from there…” The thirst for knowledge and understanding is one of the most valuable gifts we can give a child.
6. It teaches them to not always desire “stuff”
We had a lot of toys and children’s clothes before selling most of it to embark on this adventure together. We didn’t personally buy our children many of these items, but our families generous did, and we were also gifted a LOT of second hand items. Our kids were used to having a large selection of toys and clothes to choose from, but that never kept them from begging for more.
Traveling with a boat load of luggage is not fun, and kids know this. Whenever our kids say, “My backpack is too heavy!” our response is, “It’s time to get rid of some toys, then!” Really, they don’t own much. They have 7 pairs of clothing, which we’re constantly thinking is, in fact, too much clothing (that’s pretty heavy packing for some traveling families). As for toys, the girls each have one barbie and one Bavarian doll we picked up in Germany. They each have one coloring book, an activity book, a lined notebook and crayons. Ethan has 4 little cars, and we also have a set of small magnetic geometric shapes that everyone plays with (our favorite traveling toys we recently stumbled upon).
Here’s the shocker…
Do you think they often complain about not having enough toys or clothes, now? No! They are content with what they have, and don’t waste a lot of their/our time begging for something new. They are learning that traveling is about the experience, and it is not associated with acquiring a souvenir.
A friend recently asked, “But what are you going to do with all of the stuff you buy as you travel?” We laughed…”What stuff?!”
It’s amazing how simple life can be when you don’t have to buy more “stuff” all the time…and our kids are learning this at a young age!
7. It teaches them to value a second language
Before we left the United States, how often do you think our children thought about the value of knowing a second language? How likely is it that our children even recognized there WERE different languages?
When we’re walking down the street in Guatemala, or Germany, or Italy, and we need to find a bathroom STAT…our children are learning how important it is to be prepared with at least a minimum of foreign language skills to get our needs across, and to ask questions. They’re not memorizing these foreign words for an exam, but for practical, every-day use.<p>
Let’s face it, the US is quite egocentric, and we often hear people say, “English is the Universal Language–everyone should learn it!” While we agree that English is most certainly a Universal Language, we find that no excuse not to learn another language. Not all foreigners know English. Not even close! And it is rude to travel to another country and assume that they should understand YOU, the foreigner. A friend in Mexico shared with us that they overhead an expat living in Mexico say, “I can’t believe that waiter hasn’t learned English! I’ve lived here for 6 years, and she still can’t talk to me!” The expat didn’t know Spanish, and she assumed that it was the local Mexican’s duty to learn English to better serve her, even though SHE was the foreigner.
I understand that learning another language isn’t easy for most people. It’s not easy for us. But it IS easier for children. And if children get a grasp of a foreign language and how sentences are formed at a young age, they are that much better prepared to become proficient or even fluent in a second, third, or even fourth language
The confidence formed in childhood is magic!
8. It teaches them to appreciate the beauty around them
This is actually the answer my 7 year old daughter gave me when I asked her why it is important for kids to travel. She responded that it is important because kids can see the things that Jesus has made for them. We asked her to clarify, and she listed the things of nature (mountains, trees, waterfalls, oceans, etc). What a beautiful answer! Looking around us is a constant reminder that we have a loving Heavenly Father who cares about us, and he has given us such amazing beauty for our joy and happiness! The grandeur of Alaska’s peaks or the Swiss Alps can best be experienced by standing on them, looking across the vastness of the earth, and realizing that we are just a small part of one freaking amazing creation!
9. It teaches them problem solving skills
Kids get a constant lesson in problem solving when traveling. Kids are constantly watching their parents manage time, money, schedules, read maps, and adjust their likes and wants to the needs of the family. I’ve quickly learned that our kids want to be involved with this problem solving too (made evident when they start trying to give us driving directions in the back of the car, after we make a wrong turn, etc!).
Have you ever noticed that some parents who have major anxiety have children with anxiety, as well? The kids watch how their parents handle situations, and they imitate those reactions and make them their own. As a parent, if we can learn to problem-solve well when traveling, then our kids will get hands-on training to manage unique problems and situations with calmness and confidence. If not knowing where you are (when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language) is not scary…then what is?!
Learning to make confident, good decisions is a prerequisite for surviving those teen and college years with ease!
10. It’s fun, it builds memories, and brings you together as a family
Let’s face it…traveling can be just plain FUN!! Traveling as a family builds memories that your kids will remember for years to come. Taking photos also helps plant those seeds of memories for kids, and they can look back on those photos in the future and remember tidbits about their experiences.
My own parents used to pack us up in our van for two weeks each summer, and drive us from my hometown in Kansas to any which direction they pleased (Maine, Florida, Nevada, Utah, Maryland, etc). Our travels included many picnics on the roadside, camping, visiting national parks and monuments, and of course, many fights in the back seats. We all now joke about the time we made it to the Badlands, and we were so traveled-out that all but one of us kids refused to exit the car. Every moment may not have been pretty or easy or pleasant–but it is those memories that bind us together. Which brings me to….
Most importantly, traveling helps unite you as a family. As parents it is sometimes a struggle to see (I mean really SEE) our children. Often it is a result of all of those extra responsibilities outside of the home (work, community commitments, etc), and sometimes it is from the little things that we sometimes just want to do (“Go play by yourself, Mommy wants to watch this show”, or “I’m on the phone with Sally…wait until I’m done!”). These other things aren’t intrinsically bad, but they do pull us away from our children during the most influential years of their lives. Traveling takes away those distractions, and puts us in the NOW with our kids.
We could go on about the reasons we feel that travel is beneficial to children!
Do you have any more reasons you’d like to add?