Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why travel is good for kids

It should come as no surprise that I will endorse the viewpoint that travel is good for children. Infants, toddlers, school-age, and teenagers. At the same time, for the parents of said children, travel is a whole new ball game. Goodbye long road trips with stops for Little Debbie snacks and goodbye spontaneous karaoke parties that last well into the night. Nope. Travel with small children involves planning, healthy snacks, singing annoying kid songs in the car, and a secret stash of not-so-healthy snacks.

But since I love to travel so much - really it's my major passion in life - I'm willing to compromise to share my love and excitement for the unexplored horizon with my kids. The experience may be different (relaxing doesn't really fit into the equation), but my reasons for travel stay the same, with or without kids.

It's important to travel (with kids) because:

  • we meet new people. We see how different people live; what type of structure they live in; who they live with. For the kids, they hear different languages; they see different skin colors and different types of clothing. We learn tolerance, acceptance, and develop an attitude of openness and understanding toward the other.
  • the food. This is a big one for me. I love to eat and I love to try new, local food. Since we've moved to Florida our girls have developed quite a taste for oysters (Freja) and shrimp (both of them). They love fish, cooked any way. Fish is plentiful, fresh, and local around here so we eat a lot of it so while most kids would run away when they see a raw oyster, Freja has learned to tip her head back and slurp it out of the half shell. 
  • the discomfort. Don't get me wrong. I love to stay in a comfortable hotel room with crisp white sheets and fluffy white towels. I love comfort. But I also love being comfortable with the idea of staying in a one star hotel or camping in a tent or bunking in a youth hostel. When kids travel frequently, they learn to sleep in different places with different sounds. That's pricesless for parents! While I like comfort just as much as the next person, I love that my various travel experiences have toughened me up so I know where my baseline is (an army of ants crawling up a wall next to the head of my bed). I always want my girls to feel safe and secure, but I want them to be flexible enough to adapt to various places and be open to the experience they may find there.
  • the family time. Traveling as a family gets pretty intense. You end up spending hours cramped together in the car singing inane songs and counting license plates; you all sleep in the same room; privacy is a joke. And, thus, forced intimacy is intimacy, regardless. You learn who snores and who doesn't, and who remembers to flush the toilet and who leaves the seat up. So much intense family time forces siblings to play together since there may be no other kids around, and it forces the entire family to be kind to each other. When you're on a joint quest, the family has to work as a unit, thus strengthening that unit.
  • the learning curve. Kids, and adults, learn so much in new environments. We see more, we're more aware of our surroundings, and we're open to learning. On our last trip, just a short one, our girls learned what a hermit crab is and how to track them in knee deep water. They saw the sun set over water for the first time (well, a first for Matilda), and we saw so many stars after the sunset that we started talking about the universe. Freja learned that the sun is a star and that all stars are suns. 
So a lot of people say: what's the point in traveling with small kids? They won't remember any of it anyway?

True. They won't remember playing in the sand at the beach with short-time vacation friends. They won't remember trying escargot for the first time, or seeing a shrimp boat for the first time.

Well, in that case, might as well lock them up in a padded room with a toilet and some food until they're old enough to make memories. 

Extreme? Yes. But so is saying that the only reason to travel with kids is so they'll remember the trip. Does it matter if they remember the trip or not?


Sometimes eating chips is more important than watching the sun set over the water.

This sunset...that apparently wasn't that impressive to our little ones.
The chips were way more exciting (and fulfilling).
What matters is that travel instills some pretty vital fundamentals in young minds - fundamentals like openness, adventure, flexibility, different - that will carry them through life and help them become world citizens in our ever-flattening world.

entering a lock and learning how we make water go up and down

Travel does not need to be far-reaching or a privilege of those that can afford plane tickets and vacation time from work. Travel can be to the next town. Travel can be a short train ride to the next town (with some car shuttling figured out). Travel can be to a different school, or a different library, or a different part of town. Travel does not need to be exotic or far-flung. Travel is simply seeing a different part of the world (which can be five miles up the street), meeting new people, seeing new things. The most important part of travel is being open to the experience and that, I believe, is one of the most important things we can pass on to our kids.

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