I know many parents avoid traveling with young kids, thinking it will be easier when they get older. I know that thinking about the prep, the logistics, and the exhaustion that will ensue makes a weekend at home sounds serene.
But, I also know that teaching your kids to be comfortable traveling has benefits that can last a lifetime, so I encourage you to go now!
And yes, ignore your fear about being the one with the crying baby or the tantrum-throwing toddler on the plane. It will happen. You will survive. You will be able to have a drink (or two) at your destination and forget all about it.
I have to start by admitting that I have The Bug. Yes, that one. The good one, in my opinion. The one that makes me keep hopping on planes, trains, and anything that gets me somewhere. I often feel like I’m living out of a suitcase that never gets unpacked. I caught The Bug during college when I decided to study abroad in Australia, and thankfully my husband has the same addiction (his may even be worse!).
Now, the reality of becoming a mom with two little kids has changed my definition of travel. But it hasn’t stopped it.
It’s no longer a backpack and a leisurely stroll through the streets of Rome (followed by pizza and lots of wine, of course). It’s no longer riding tiny mopeds along the coast. It’s no longer buying the double-layover plane ticket because it’s the cheapest. But that’s OK. Because what matters is that the underlying idea of “travel” is still there. What matters now is that my husband and I teach our kids how to travel and why it’s important. What matters is that they grow up open to new ideas, new places, and new people.
What matters is that they understand that their way of living isn’t the only way of living.
The destinations we choose can be an hour away, a train-ride away, or a day-long flight across the ocean. Sometimes we pack up and embark on a week-long trip with just the four of us (I’ll give you some tips on how to make that easier in the coming weeks…). Other times it’s a weekend visiting the grandparents or a day exploring Boston. P.S. If you live along the Downeaster Route in Maine or NH, check out the schedule for easy trips to up and down the coast that the kids will love! The train ride itself is an event!
For our family, we’ve decided it’s important to visit one new country each year and we make that a priority. For other families, it may be one new state or one new city. The key is to get out of your town, out of your comfort zone, and explore. The more often you do it, the easier it will get.
Here are my top seven reasons to get your family packed and out of the house while the kids are still young:
- Experiences with people different from themselves. With all the discussion lately about acceptance and respect for others, travel can help develop a crucial understanding of this in our children. We ALL should continuously meet and talk to people from other cities, states, countries, races, and religions. I love watching my kids interact with locals when we travel. They don’t hesitate, even if the language is different. They see kids, they see people, and they want to play. It’s also important for us that they see how those with less live. When we stayed at a resort in the Dominican Republic this year, we made sure to take a trip away from the tourist-filled beach up to the mountains. We drove through the small villages and watched kids playing handball in the small schoolyard. Maybe, just maybe, our own children will appreciate what they have even more when they return home.
- Responsibility. I remember watching clients of mine with their teenage girls heading on oversees trips. Each family member was allowed one carry-on suitcase. Yes, one. They were in charge of packing it and getting it to their destination. Start out practicing on a day trip. If they forget a hat or a toy they wanted, oh well, maybe next time they won’t! Also, letting your kids choose some of the activities once you’re there or during the planning can give them a sense of responsibility and ownership for the trip.
- Develop curiosity, wonder, and awe. Seeing new things, tasting new food, and hearing different languages can all lead a child to ask “why” and to be interested in learning more. Follow their lead when you can and take some time to get sidetracked by the things that intrigue them.
- Adaptability. Traveling, especially oversees, gets us out of our comfort zone and teaches us to adapt. Adults who start traveling later in life can be more nervous of new situations and uncomfortable in places with different customs and amenities. Start them young and you may even notice your well-traveled babies and toddlers are able to nap in the stroller, sleep in different hotels, eat airport food, arrive at the destination at 10p.m., and go with the flow.
- There’s no “to do” list. Your kids get a chance to see you without your never-ending to-do list. There’s no house to clean, toys to pick up, work to go to, or laundry to wash. You’ll get the most out of your travel if you try to let go, relax, and be present with your family during the trip. I know this is a hard one nowadays, but try shutting your phone down for one day or even the whole week!
- Patience and flexibility. Expect the unexpected. There will be delays. There will be bad weather. There will be sold out trains. Use these experiences to teach your kids to be patient, to explore while they wait, and to welcome the detours.
- A closer family. Taking day trips, weekend trips, or month-long trips will bring your family closer together. You get to see each other’s strengths, work through challenges, and develop new ideas and skills. You’ll also have stories to share for years that start with “remember when we…”.
For these reasons and so many more, I want my children to catch The Bug. I want them to spend their graduation money on a plane ticket. I want them to study abroad in college. I want them to explore, really explore, all this amazing world has to offer.
Here are a few other resources to “sell” you on the benefits and get you to board that plane. Enjoy and safe travels!