THE BENEFITS OF TRAVELING WITH KIDS

Ten Things Children Learn About Life While Traveling
By Nancy Sathre-Vogel on June 13, 2012 in education, Family Travel

Today’s guest post is from Shannon Entin from Road Trips for Families. She’s summed up my feelings perfectly. Kids learn many life lessons from travel.

Traveling means many things to many people. Some value entertainment and night life. Some value relaxation or adventure. And some, like me see travel as the ultimate classroom

Here’s my top ten list of what kids learn about life while traveling:
1. You aren’t the center of the universe. When children travel, especially internationally, they gain a new perspective about their place in the world. They see beyond their own backyard and their minds are opened to different cultures, standards of living, and ways of life. Through travel, kids can learn that happiness can come in many forms.

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2. Things don’t always turn out the way you planned. Surprised by a deluge of rain on your camping and hiking trip? Put on a poncho and make the best of it. Travel rarely goes 100% as planned, so kids learn to be flexible.

3. Trying new things builds confidence. While my daughter is always up for something new, my son would usually prefer to stay in his room. But when we travel, he experiences first-hand the sense of accomplishment that comes with trying something new, and that confidence transfers over into all areas of his life.

4. Reading a map is an essential skill. Learning to navigate, recalculate, and not be afraid of getting lost is a life lesson all kids need to learn. And this isn’t just driving a car without a GPS. Too many kids today fear the world outside of their own neighborhood. Travel can teach them that if they are armed with some basic knowledge, going outside their comfort level can be rewarding.

5. Being with your family can be fun! Travel time is a great opportunity to bond with your kids and share new experiences together. Instead of quieting your children with DVDs and headphones, share family history stories or play games. Sure, it takes more energy to keep kids engaged on the road but they will appreciate the attention.

6. Memories are made by people, not by places or things. Do you have memories of childhood family vacations? What do you remember most, the destination or some hilarious (or horrific) event you shared with your family? My grandmother traveled around the world – alone – when she was in her 60’s and the stories that meant the most to her involved the people she met along the way.

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7. Patience is not only a virtue, it’s a necessity. Flights get canceled or overbooked. You have to wait in a really long line for a rollercoaster. We wait all the time, all through life. Travel helps your children hone this skill.

8. Games are a wonderful way to learn. My family has built some of our best travel memories around Letterboxing. We recently had to climb behind a bench and lift up some rocks and cinder blocks in a wall to find a letterbox at a zoo. The people walking by us probably thought we were nuts, but we were on a mission and it felt so good when we accomplished it! Geocaching is another challenging travel game loved by families worldwide.

9.History is alive and all around us. There’s nothing quite as captivating as a history re-enactment or a living history museum, especially with a “local” or historian that will talk to your family about your destination. Traveling can immerse your children in history if you take the time to look for it. Plus, seeing cannons fired in person may get children interested in a unit study on the Civil War and give it more meaning rather than taking the trip after the fact.

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10. The destination is not always the best part. Travel can teach your children to enjoy the journey. Don’t rush through vacations or through life.

Shannon Entin is a homeschooling, traveling mom who loves a good road trip. She is the Northeast Editor for Road Trips for Families and her personal blog is 100 Routes Across America. Her goal is to drive through portions of all 50 states in the United States and bring her family along for the ride.

Traveling with young children presents particular challenges: You have to figure out what to pack and how to keep them occupied on long plane rides and car trips. But it also offers certain benefits, such as experiencing the wonder of new places through your child’s eyes. Many parents of little ones debate whether it is worth the trouble or if it is better to simply wait until their kids are older. What should you do? Here are some things to consider:

Traveling with small children

Great part: In some ways this is the easiest stage for travel because most babies are so adaptable. Young babies can eat and sleep on the go, especially if they are breastfeeding. And before they are mobile, you don’t have to worry about them wandering off like a toddler would do or getting into something they shouldn’t. For the most part, they go where you go – and only where you go. Also, depending on age and temperament, they are often more likely to let another adult tend to them. This is especially nice if you are visiting SE Asia countries for example, since they just adore kids there.

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Tough part: Small kids require a lot of gear. Even if you try to pack minimally, there’s no way to get around carrying a certain amount of diapers, wipes, extra clothes, and some kind of carrier/stroller. Also, not all babies are so adaptable. Some babies do much better with routine, or they may have a specific health problem, such as colic, that makes travel challenging. Any problem with a baby can become a big one, since they can’t tell you what’s wrong. They also don’t understand your explanations and aren’t open to negotiations (“Only 20 more minutes!”) It can be hard to know what’s wrong, and you have to worry more about potential illnesses, since their health is more delicate. Finally, as babies get older, they are more distractible, so you may need to spend lots of time in a quiet space so they can sleep or eat. If you are staying with family or friends, you may not visit as much as you had expected, if your baby requires that you spend lots of quiet time in your room.

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Travel with Toddlers
Great part: These little guys are just discovering the world, and it is so amazing! Toddlers are curious about everything, and it can be enchanting to experience the wonder through their eyes. This is also a particularly charming age, as they experiment with words and games and hugs and kisses, so if you are visiting family they will have priceless interactions with your little one. Toddlers’ grazing habits also come in handy here, as you don’t have to worry about sticking to a strict mealtime routine.

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Tough part: For me this is the most exhausting stage for travel. Toddlers’ curiosity and seemingly boundless energy mean you may spend most of your time chasing after them or pulling them away from the dangers of a non-baby-proofed hotel room or home. (Hotel rooms are rarely baby proofed, and homes are usually not either, unless they happen to have a toddler at about the same age and happen to have the same ideas about baby proofing as you do). Nap times can be tricky, as they tend to get overstimulated in their new environment and find it hard to wind down. It is also easy to get into a rut with meals. Since they are often not hungry at mealtimes (or are too distracted by all of the new stimulation), sometimes at the end of the day you realize that they only ate snack foods. Without access to a kitchen (or time to prepare foods), whipping up something fresh for them usually isn’t an option. Luckily there are many healthy convenience foods available, and depending on where you are, lots of fresh fruits to snack on!

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Travel with Preschoolers

Good part: Now we have reached the point when kids are really building memories and relationships. They travel lighter (at least, potentially!) and you can prepare them for travel and build anticipation about the trip. You can also bargain with them through difficult patches (ice cream!). They can do more walking on their own (though it can be easy to overestimate this), and they might try new foods (or at least sample ice cream or candy from a new land). Preschoolers can also participate more in the planning, though still within limits. In short, you can start to take a breather and really enjoy discovering with your child, as many of the physical burdens of the earlier stages begin to lift.

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Tough part: The main difficulty we have found with this stage is that preschoolers have a definite mind of their own. While they are often open to negotiation, they also tend to have strong opinions about what they want to do. A baby doesn’t have to be persuaded to visit a museum or a temple, and a toddler just sees it as an opportunity to do more running, but a preschooler may need bribes to abandon what he’d rather be doing (in all likelihood, watching TV in the hotel room or swimming in the pool). And while it’s great to enjoy what a “big kid” your child is becoming, beware that travel – even really fun travel – can create extra stress, so they may be more prone to meltdowns or exhaustion than they would be at home.
So now we come to 1M Dollar question – Is Traveling with Young Children Worth It?

There is no right answer to this question, as it really depends on you and your child. You may have a child that is very easygoing and adaptable through all of these stages, or you may have one that at any age is difficult to get beyond his/her set routine at home. But even if you have a reluctant traveler, it may be worth it to you, if you can’t imagine delaying travel plans until they are older. And what about the benefits of travel for your child? Despite the potential discomforts of travel, you are exposing your child to other ways of living, which can expand their horizons and help them be more willing to try new things. But will travel as a baby make for a more adaptable older child? Hard to say, but you are more likely to really see the effects as your child grows and is more able to understand what is going on around him. Still, I can’t help but feel like the sensory input from travel in early life doesn’t simply disappear but is somehow imprinted on a child, though perhaps in less obvious ways.

Is travel with young children right for you and your family? Only you can answer that question, and I would love to hear what you think in the comments! As it for our family…we can’t imagine traveling without them anymore!