As a child, I didn’t consider the sacrifices my parents made in order to whisk our family of six, half way across the world on regular intervals. In fact, there may have been times I complained about having to leave my friends during a holiday break or (perish the thought) an entire summer. However, as I grew up, it became increasingly clear that these experiences not only had a significant effect on my life, but also contained many of my fondest childhood memories. Now that I am a parent, I can attest to the fact that traveling with children is not always easy and it can, most certainly, be expensive. Yet, wandering the globe with our kids has only strengthened my belief that family travel should be a priority. Here are some reasons why:
It teaches them that experiences are worth more than things
In a society where children are beginning to feel entitled to all the latest technology and gadgets, it is important for them to appreciate that meaningful and memorable experiences are what life should be about. If adults model this behavior, kids will eventually get the message. One day it dawned on me why, while I was growing up, I was told we didn’t have enough money for the designer jeans all my friends had, yet we were able to spend Christmas in the southern hemisphere and summer on the English seaside. Kids might not appreciate it at the time, but do you think they are more likely to remember the newest version of the iPad or watching baby turtles make their way across the sand? Perhaps more importantly, which one do you want them to remember?
It bonds you together & recharges you
Life today seems to move at a swift pace. Children are often going from school, to activity and repeat. In many cases, families are lucky to eat dinner together a couple of days a week. Whether adventurous or low-key, family travel allows everyone to be together without the rush that seems to accompany everyday life. A family vacation can be the perfect remedy when you might be losing sight of each other, under the constant pressure of crammed schedules. Photographs can transport you back and recall wonderful memories that only your family shares. We have made short videos of some of our past trips, and have watched them repeatedly, with lots of laughter, reliving the fun.
It encourage curiosity and a sense of adventure
We all want to keep our kids safe, but we also know that if they don’t take risks, they will have little opportunity to fail, which is an important part of growing up. When we travel, we are usually treading (sometimes leaping) outside our comfort zone, taking chances and often making mistakes along the way. As a family, we have experienced flying into the wrong airport, losing our luggage, struggling with language barriers and many other mishaps. I can’t claim to always remain composed when things go wrong, but to explain to our kids that this is part of the adventure and that we learned something from it, is a valuable lesson. Travel allows for spontaneity, which encourages curiosity and adventure, which go hand-in-hand with learning.
The world is the greatest classroom they will ever have
Speaking of learning…this is a biggie. You have probably heard it before – travel is the ultimate classroom for everything your child is learning in school. It bring history, politics, architecture and art to life, not to mention geography, culture and languages. Even mathematics isn’t excluded, as I was reminded recently, when my kids converted their allowance into the appropriate currency while on vacation. Some of the best questions my kids have asked have been during our travels, which have led to engaging conversation. Spotting monkeys in the trees in Costa Rica or experiencing 24 hours of daylight in Iceland are things that have much greater impact in-person, than they would from a textbook. After a few trips, your kids might begin to compare the geography, topography and political and social systems of different places.
It enhance their global awareness
There is little doubt that the world is more accessible than ever before. This means that greater cultural and global awareness, as well as foreign language abilities, are qualities that are now sought-after in the business world. We want our children to see themselves as part of a bigger picture. By nature, young children are self-absorbed and as they begin to detect the greater world around them, they need to process this information. By hearing different languages, tasting new foods, listening to foreign music and seeing how people live in different parts of the world, they will consequently be more accepting of contrasting appearances and beliefs.
As the holiday season approaches and we consider our budgets and priorities, I leave you with the words of Keith Bellows, author of 100 Places that Can Change Your Child’s Life (National Geographic), “Any parent willing to give the gift of travel offers the gift that keeps on giving. Children who learn to travel will travel to learn. And they will do it all their lives.”