25 Jul Why Travel With Young Kids – 7 Reasons to Get Up & Go at Every Opportunity
Traveling has so many benefits for adults, and a lot of them apply to children, too. Sure, the prospect of traveling with kids might not hold the same appeal as roaming around South East Asia with nothing but your backpack to slow you down or renting a cottage in the countryside with friends for the weekend. And it might not seem as possible either. But as we’ve discovered, there are some very convincing answers to the question ‘Why travel with young kids?’. And with that motivation, anything is possible.
Why travel with kids? Skip ahead to our 7 reasons!
But first, some empathy…
Before our children came along, we did lots of traveling, as a couple and with friends, visiting countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. Between us, there was a long bucket list to get through! But then suddenly, our couple of two became a family of four and everything changed.
We didn’t intend to stop traveling just because we had kids, and we did actually manage a trip to South Africa when Julian was 7 months old. But very quickly, the demands of daily life sucked up all our energy and made the idea of traveling anywhere seem more remote than Chile’s Easter Island.
Eventually, we realized that we’d taken a wrong turning somewhere along the way. We were always stressed and had too few moments to relax, to sit back and daydream. Yet we’d known times that were the exact opposite – and those were the times when we’d traveled.
So we decided to take some time out. Freedom to be and freedom to think. We wanted to let the sunshine in. Feel how great life can be and drop all the routines. Walk off the beaten path. Travel the world. Show the children other countries, different people and grow together as a family.
Perhaps inevitably, not everyone saw things like we did. And maybe you won’t either – which is why we’d urge you to enjoy any amount or type of travel with your kids. Long trips aren’t for everyone, and all of our 7 reasons why you should travel with your kids apply to long and short trips, both home and abroad.
In our case, we frequently encountered a response along the lines of: Why travel with such young children? They won’t understand what’s happening. They need stability, home and their friends. They need kindergarten.
It’s all true, of course. But for us, there were and still are some very clear answers to that ever-present question; ‘Why travel?’ – see below!
It’s just a matter of having the right plan. Besides deciding on where to go with children, it’s all about making sure you prepare your kids for traveling, knowing what to pack for Mom and Dad, being aware of what to pack for the kids, and finding out what gadgets you’ll need.
Why travel? Reason 1: It creates bonding time
Did you know that the ordinary German family annually spends € 580 on toys for each child they have? That puts them 4th highest in the ranks, behind the Japanese, the British and the Australians, the latter of whom spend a whopping € 700!
For the same amount, we should all go on a nice little holiday instead. Why? Because family holidays make children happier than toys do. Travel brings families together, while toys can put a divide between children and their parents and siblings. Joint experiences such as sharing weird new food, make you a close-knit team. When you travel, you find yourself in situations where you develop mutual respect and trust. Living in closer proximity to each other (as is often the case when you’re traveling) also highlights the similarities and differences between family members, which when carefully handled, leads to a better appreciation of one another.
According to Oliver James, British psychologist and author of numerous bestselling books, holidays give us the opportunity to spend time with our kids outside of our often-stressful routines at home. This applies whether you go camping 50 km away from home, or doing a road trip across the States.
It’s about building sandcastles together, going swimming, playing hide and seek. Travel time allows us to see our children for who they are. It gives us the time to speak about more than just the stuff of daily life, to hear their opinions on things, and to share and discuss our own views with them, too.
Spending travel time with our children is like telling them: “You have my full attention I am happy to be with you.”
Why travel? Reason 2: It’s a way of experiencing Planet Earth
There’s nothing like direct experience for appreciating, learning about and enjoying the world in which we live. But unless we initiate it, how are our young kids supposed to get this kind of experience? We owe it to them to show them the world, and to arouse their interest in it.
That’s not to say it’s an easy thing to do. Before we travelled extensively with the kids, I knew nothing about ecosystems, or geography, or sustainability. I didn’t really understand how volcanoes work or what causes the tides. I had to find out, and I had to think of ways to relay this new information in a child-friendly way.
Of course, your kids won’t necessarily appreciate being taught. But isn’t this often what being a kid is all about?! Before we started traveling with the kids, for instance, I purchased this great world map for Julian (including lovely magnetic animal stickers to put on the different continents). He was 4 years old at the time, and I pinned it on the wall in his room. I showed him the continents and told him where we were going to go to. He nodded – and never showed any interest for the map again.
But it’s always worth the effort – because why travel with kids if you’re not going to take the opportunity to show them the wonders of our planet along the way? Experiencing the planet will feed their curious minds! And what better way to instill a sense of responsibility towards the environment in our kids, than to help them truly appreciate it?
Why travel? Reason 3: Your kids learn to value diversity
Yeah, I know, that’s nothing five-year-olds will actively do. And I don’t mean it literally. It’s not a case of “Hey kid, come and appreciate the ancient culture of the Massai”. Of course not. But in teaching them (and by teaching I mean telling exciting stories) about other people and their ways of life, children come to understand that our Western lifestyle is not the only way to live. People are different – and this makes the world an exciting place to be!
You’ll be amused by the things your kids pick up on. When children travel, they see the details. Even if it’s only the fact that they sell ‘chips’ in Britain, not ‘French fries’, it’s still an observation of cultural differences. The same goes for the similarities between cultures – for a kid, realising that “they have Aldi in Australia, too!” can be an incredible discovery!
Being exposed to different people and cultures early on in life means your kids will naturally develop respect for ‘others’. They’re less likely to make judgements – whether it’s about a homeless person somewhere in India or the kid in school who walks in a funny way.
Over time, kids with travel experience become open-minded and value diversity. And not because we, as their parents, have told them to. But because travel positively alters a person’s view of the world and the people who live in it.
Why travel? Reason 4: It promotes curiosity, playfulness and creativity
According to neuroscientists, the “play and seek’ systems in our brain develop over time. They’re part of what’s known as the limbic system – the part of the brain that governs our emotional responses and motivation. The ‘play’ area of the brain is trained, for example, when your child is carried on your shoulders, when you tickle them in the grass, or when you play tag. The ‘seek’ area is activated when you go on a treasure hunt or discover an old castle.
What’s more, these reactions are said to bring about a sense of happiness and overall wellbeing. J. Panksepp, author of Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, explains that when we nurture our ‘play’ and ‘seek’ systems, feel-good neurochemicals are released, making us feel comfortable and satisfied, and reducing stress. This is why we often link our holiday memories to feelings of happiness.
Not simply learning, but experiencing new things like cultures, food or language empowers them to develop more and deeper interest for all kinds of things, preserving and nurturing natural curiosity. That’s what traveling does, and this is turn results in increased curiosity, creativity and lateral thinking – key attributes to have in today’s modern working world.
You might like to point all this out to anyone who questions your plans to take your kids traveling, and the effect it could have on their education and wellbeing. British and Finish studies have proven that this sort of ‘playful learning’ makes children happier and perform better in life as well as in school. Kids with travel experience know more, are more curious, more resilient and can concentrate better.
In short, travel can positively affect our children’s futures!
Why travel? Reason 5: It builds self-confidence and independence
Maybe your children are natural extroverts, always keen to make new friends. A lot of kids, however, tend to be quite shy. Both of my children are quite introvert little characters. It takes a bit of time before they open up to strangers, and even when they know someone, they can still be very reserved and careful. Even saying “hello” and “goodbye” can be a challenge for them.
Traveling has enabled them to adapt socially, to feel more confident when faced with unfamiliar people and situations. They will now go into a store and get an ice-cream without me hovering in the background – something I would never have done when I was little! Sometimes, Julian will even approach a person without any prompting at all, if he has a burning question for them. I still have to be in range of vision, of course.
It pleases me no end, because it means they will be better equipped to deal with all the challenging situations they’ll encounter in their lives, and not just in terms of their social interactions, but in terms of the choices they make. I’m sure it would have taken them longer if it weren’t for us traveling. Travel changes your child’s thinking.
Why Travel? Reason 6: It’s good for your health and theirs!
Travel has been found to have a positive effect on the health of adults, and this can only be a good thing for the little people who accompany them. Healthy parent, healthy child, right?
According to research conducted as part of the well-known Framingham Heart Study, people who travel are happier and healthier than those who stay at home. This is (among other reasons) due to the fact that as soon as we get away from our “natural surroundings” and all the arduous chores and routines that come with them, we calm down. Our stress hormone levels lower and we relax more easily. I can vouch for that!
Travel also promotes an active lifestyle and brings you close to the beautiful outdoors, which further enhances our sense of wellbeing. Even young kids are affected by the beauty of a mountain lake or a wide-open beach. They’re also able to satisfy their urge for running free when they’re in an open space, which is so important for healthy development.
If you’re short on time or money, you’ll be pleased to know that shorter trips are considered to be even better, in this respect. A few weekend trips to the mountains or the coast will have a greater effect than a three-week summer holiday on the other side of the world once a year. And that’s because the chill-out effect won’t last. A summer holiday is not enough to compensate for a whole year of stress and hard work.
Why Travel? Reason 7: They won’t always be kids…
There will always be times when we wish our kids would learn to do things for themselves and stop being such a drain on our time, resources and energy! But we all know that when the day comes, when they no longer need us, we’ll want this time back. There will be this time not far from now, when we all wish we had spent more “quality” time with our kids when they were young.
But then they will be grown and have their own ideas of life, their own plans. They will want to travel alone or with friends. Sure, that’s what we wanted, but how come this happened so fast?
So since we won’t be able to turn back the wheel of time, it’s important that we take time now, to be with our kids while they’re just that – kids! Yes, it might sound like the most selfish reason why travel with kids should be part of your plans. But in my opinion, it’s one of the most important too.
Final thoughts and lessons learnt
I have to admit, I got it wrong the first few times we traveled as a family. I was so busy planning tours of pedagogic value, that I often forgot what traveling with kids should be about. Traveling with children is about having exciting and playful family adventures.
We all know that young children don’t really care about historical buildings or exotic flora. My three-year-old daughter is highly unlikely to remember much of todays’ adventures a year from now. But I hope she will hold on to a sense of how those moments we shared made her feel good – about herself and about her family. I hope certain scents or sounds will trigger these feelings, just like we as grown-ups are often prompted to recall our summer holidays by the smell of sunscreen.
We are responsible for our little ones. We have to make them understand and value the world they are living in, and make them feel confident about their place in it, because they are going to shape it for future generations.
So, the question should not be why travel with young kids – but when and where! And by that, I’m not implying that it should be the other side of the world. It should just be somewhere other than the place with which they’re most familiar.
Share your ideas and experiences!
What are your favorite places to visit as a family? What do you enjoy most when traveling together? Tell us in the comments below!