Why Travel With Kids is an Enriching Experience

Holy water, Amritsar, India

Holy water in Amritsar, India. Photo by Ardy.

A few weeks ago, my wife Bec and I were enjoying breakfast with a two old friends we hadn’t seen in a while. We talked about what we’d all been doing, and our plans for the future. We mentioned that we’d considered travelling next year, but had changed our minds recently.

They urged us:

“If you don’t go now, you never will. You’ll get pregnant, and then that’s it. You’ll be tied down.”

Ironically, they weren’t too far from the truth: Bec is pregnant. And yes, it’s put our travel plans on hold for a while.

But I disagree with their other assertion, that having kids ties you down. Since I started working as editor for TravelBlogs.com, I’ve come across blogs of many parents who travel with their children, from the British couple who sold their home and quit their jobs to travel around Europe in a campervan with their toddler and dog, to the parents who are cycling with their 10-year old twin boys from Alaska to Patagonia.

Travel with kids is possible.

But I don’t want you to take my word for it. I asked some of the travelling parents out there to share why they believe travel with kids is not only possible, but why it’s an enriching experience for both the parents and the kids.

Debbie Dubrow (Delicious Baby)

Travel is one of many things parents can do to help their kids grow into well-rounded adults with perspective that extends beyond their own neighborhood. At home, we live a fairly routine life, with friends who are similar to us in many ways and a comfortable set of activities. It’s easy for kids to get isolated, and begin to believe their comfortable lives are the norm for everyone.

The world is getting smaller and there is no better education for our global citizens of the 21st century than world travel.

When we travel, we tend to break free of those bonds, talking with new people, and gaining a broader perspective through our new experiences. Sometimes we bring those experiences home with us, for example, the street performers in Rome helped us realize how much my son loved live music, and we started to find more opportunities to see live performances at home.

Even at a young age, kids can start to understand different lifestyles. At 3 years old, my son was fascinated to visit a Pueblo home in New Mexico and talk to the owner, a woman who chose to live without running water or electricity. When he learns more about Native Americans this Thanksgiving, he’ll bring that perspective and memory with him, and the idea of Native Americans living in Teepees won’t seem so foreign to him.

As my kids get older, and especially as we begin to visit more developing countries, I hope the travel will help them understand world events better, and help them realize that our responsibility to help extends beyond our own family and our own back yard.

Jeanne Dee (SoulTravelers3)

As we start our 3rd year of traveling the world as a family on an open ended tour, I can honestly say that traveling and seeing the world with your kids and as a family is probably the greatest thing that you could ever do for your kids and yourselves! The world is getting smaller and there is no better education for our global citizens of the 21st century than world travel. Some say it is a way to peace for our world.

Family travel is much easier, cheaper and more rewarding than most people realize. We started our open ended tour of the world when our daughter was 5 and have visited 4 continents, 25 countries, traveled over 50,000 miles ( most on land and sea) and live large on 25K a year ( even though much of it has been in “expensive” Europe). We hike, we bike, walk and have taken every mode of transportation, although our little RV is primary, it often sits as our base.

We are motivated to travel the world as a family as the very best way to educate our child and to bond deeply, spending quality, plus quantity time together, building unsurpassable shared experiences. My daughter rode a camel into the Sahara at 6 to do a violin concert for 60 Berber nomad children who never saw a violin and live without running water. We also fed them after wards and they played despite having no language in common. None of us will ever forget that experience or any of the others that took us from a very typical family to one living a treasured dream! I am convinced now that this is how life is meant to be lived, always on vacation, always Saturday.

She was reading a child’s version of Homer when we went to Troy and Ephesus in Turkey, along with Knossis in Crete, Pompeii and many other ruins. She got to talk with archeologists working on these sites and even dug up some ancient shells herself! She was reading Harry Potter as she floated down the River Cam in a punt, rode a double decker bus in London, and while waiting to watch Shakespeare at the globe and at one of his houses in Stratford. She had her sixth birthday atop the Eiffel tower, 7th listening Mozart’s Magic Flute in Salzburg, and her 8th visiting Junibacken in Stockholm where many of Astrin Lingren’s characters sang happy birthday to her in traditional Swedish style.

Life as a field trip is simply amazing!

How could you NOT think traveling with kids is worth doing?? I have traveled as a single, as a couple, with a group of friends, we have done some 3 generation touring with family on our trip too, but traveling as a family is the most sublime!

Stacy (Rambling Traveler)

I believe traveling with children is worthwhile because it exposes them to new experiences and provides unique opportunities for learning about the world we live in. In a “start as you mean to go on” fashion, we started traveling with our sons when they were very young so they would grow up as travelers who respected the earth and the people who live on it.

When we visited state and national parks, they learned about earth sciences and the importance of protecting our land. They also learned about Native American religious practices and how to show respect for those customs. When we visited historical sites and museums, they learn about the past, and when we visited sand dunes affected by deforestation, they learned even more about earth sciences. There are so many examples of this kind of hands on learning, including one of their favorite experiences, a hawk walk in Ireland where they learned a lot about birds of prey. These are all things they could have learned staying home and reading books, but the actual experience of traveling gave them first hand knowledge that not only tells them, but shows and involves them.

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand. – Chinese Saying

Travel Tip: When our children were younger, we found our travels were more successful when we kept our itineraries flexible, included activities that appealed to our children, and worked within their schedules for eating, sleeping and playing.

Nancy Sarthre-Vogel (Family on Bikes)

It always makes me sad to hear people say kids are better off sitting in a classroom than they are out traveling and seeing the world! I can say wholeheartedly that my 21 years as a classroom teacher have taught me otherwise!

There about a million reasons why travel in general is good for kids, and a million more why traveling on bicycle is even better! Unfortunately I’ve been limited to about 250 words here, so I’ll be short… Here are some reasons why I believe travel (by bike) is great for kids and parents!

Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Photo by Ardy.

Linda (Travels with Children)

  1. Traveling with kids is good for kids. They find new interests, or expand on interests they already have. Trips to museums and other sites make information come alive for kids, and make it so much more exciting than a textbook or even classroom experiment can. They learn how to handle new situations, and interact with new people. They learn patience; sometimes it takes a long time to get to somewhere really exciting or interesting.
  2. Traveling with kids is good for parents. Taking the time to enjoy things with your kids creates a special bond with them. Traveling with kids also helps you to see more; kids notice so many things that adults miss. Kids help us take time to smell the roses. They also remind us that “seeing it all” isn’t the important part. Spending time together is what matters.
  3. Traveling with kids is good for other travelers. People enjoy seeing kids who are interested in history, or geography, or science, or nature. It helps remove the stereotype that kids are plugged into TV or video games all of the time, and it shows them that “kids these days” actually can interact with adults and behave appropriately (most of the time!) in public places.

Shannon Hurst Lane (Traveling Mamas)

Travel can be more educational than a textbook. When people become parents, it doesn’t mean they should take travel out of the equation. It also doesn’t mean that parents are required to bring the kids along on every trip (I enjoy solo travel as a parent). My children have been traveling since each was three weeks old, and while having little people presents more of a challenge to the parent, I also don’t ever think of my children as a burden. Bringing a life into the world comes with so many responsibilities, one of which is educating our children. I’m so thankful that my parents had enough sense to take me on family trips during my formative years. I learned that there is more to the world than the insular little world I was living in, so of course I want to pass these travel experiences on to my children. Also, I’ve been traveling solo since I was seven years old and to halt travel for me is to take something away from my soul. I wouldn’t be who I am without travel, and if I can’t be me then I can’t be a good mother. Whether people travel with or without children depends on the individual family unit, the personalities that make up that unit, and the lifestyle they are able to achieve. I cherish the memories I have traveling with my children and I know they will always remember these experiences when they are grown and leave the nest. Our children have an entire universe to explore and as a parent, it is my duty to introduce them to as much as I can.

Michelle Duffy (Wandermom)

Travel is education, it’s as simple as that. I can travel with my children without leaving my home, using books and the internet to show them people and places around the world. But when I can, I prefer to actually travel with them, to explore and discover the wide, wide world together. Travel with children is so much more than the details of how to get to your destination and where to sleep, it’s the feeling you get when your older child accurately explains the intricacies of a divided country such as Cyprus to your younger child because he’s seen and learned through being there.

Alice and Scott Smith (Living the Rural Dream)

As long-time travellers we had reservations when our daughter arrived 18-months ago that we could take her on the road with us at such a young age. Lots of people seem to have a negative view about travelling with children as if it’s some nightmarish experience … and I guess we did wonder if they were right. However, our daughter received her passport at 8 weeks and has covered a lot of ground since then, so we now feel in a position to dispel the myth that you can’t travel with children!

OK, so you can’t go out drinking at bars all night (although Spanish bars are pretty accommodating to youngsters), but you get to see a new side of town and experience destinations through fresh eyes. Yes you have to be more prepared and think ahead a little bit: clothes, bedding, bottles, toys etc, but as long as you’re prepared to master the art of changing nappies one-handed on the back of your truck or in plane toilets (Scott is particularly good at this), as well as train your child not to be a fussy eater, you’re halfway there.

With regard to our situation, we feel that by hitting the road as a family we get to spend valuable time together, sharing experiences and building a strong bond and our daughter gets to enjoy life with fewer restrictions. Not only that but we feel (and hope) that by being exposed to varied cultures and languages from such a young age she will grow up with a more open and understanding view of the world. And ultimately, far from being nightmarish, it’s just plain and simply fun!

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Discussion »

  • #1Dave

    Firstly, many congratulations to both Eric and Bec!

    I can only say from a single 30+ male outsider looking in I have seen a few travelers with kids. It’s crazy to think it is not manageable. But it is completely different. And I think that difference has to be taken into context.

    We all change as travelers, either through age, experience, destinations or due to children. I think the two key areas are trying to travel with children like you ‘used’ to travel. Which in my mind is a mistake. And having a strong relationship with your partner, a good thing for more than one reason.

    Anyway I see only one traveling Dad out above, so it will be good to get the view point of Eric once you hit the road, bottles, nappies/diapers, harnesses and all!! ;-)

    Congrats again, and well done to all

    Dave

  • #2Stacy

    Congratulations, Eric! I hope you will share the experience of travel with your child, and then share the stories with us!

  • #3jamie

    It’s unanimous! Travel with kids = good.

    The number one reason people tell me they don’t travel with kids is that it will be wasted on them. The perception is that older is better for travel. Discuss. ;)

  • #4Clint

    Some people say that traveling with kids is hard, but we’ve travelled with our three boys since they were little and they are excellent travelers. They love to fly, see new things, and can fall asleep on any floor mat we might end up crashing on.

    And in terms of the perception that travel is lost on younger kids, I think it’s a huge myth. My 4-year old is constantly talking about the travels we’ve had and keeps asking when he’ll be able to go back. To know that our travels have left an impression on our youngest is validation enough for me that it is worth it, no matter how old your kids are.

  • #5Eric

    Thanks for the dad’s perspective Clint. It’s interesting you mention how much your kids love to fly and see new things. Do you think this is a personality thing, or is it something they’ve grown into through experience? To put it another way, can parents encourage that kind of love for travel in their kids?

  • #6Jenny

    Traveling with kids is good! They learn and have fun along the way.

  • #7soultravelers3

    Thanks for a great post Eric, for including us and congrats! My husband agrees with me 100% on the traveling with kids issues, I just happen to be the writer in the family. If this did not work for all three of us, we would not be doing it. We have found it to be a strengthener for our marriage and family!

    Yes, I do think parents can encourage a love of travel in their kids and also find ways to make it more educational and easier to remember for a lifetime. Books, videos, photos, discussions before and after are important for preparation and for later remembering.

    There are amazing books for kids that add so much to travel & helps them make it their own. We have used children’s literature continually to create family itineraries which adds so much and are great fun!

    Kids are natural travelers so do not really need much encouragement.One of the greatest things about family travel sometimes is just doing ordinary things in extraordinary places like our video above in the Sahara. My child was just 6, but that is not an experience that she will ever forget. Today at 8 years old, it is as fresh as the day she did it and a cherished memory for her and the kids we came to adore.

  • #8Sam

    I clearly need to get out there and travel more with Malia!! A recent idea is to visit the Solomon Islands with her next year as part of an Australia trip. It would be cool to show her the country her dad grew up in!

  • #9Beth Whitman

    Love it! Great roundup from some very insightful folks. No kids for me but I have a Little Sister (through Big Brothers Big Sisters) that I can’t wait to travel with!

  • #10jessiev

    inspiring, and lovely to read. we love traveling, and i agree – i would MUCH rather travel with our daughter – she brings a new perspective!

  • #11madeira

    brave! i guess it’s a great education for the kids though.

  • #12Shelly Rivoli

    My husband and I always figured our travels would end with familyhood. Now I’ve changed diapers on four continents and a handful of islands, and I encourage anyone who loves to travel to share that love with their children. You might be interested in my book Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children (self-plug, but it did get a 2008 Gold in Parenting Resources in the National Parenting Publication Awards and was a finalist for two Foreword Book of the Year Awards!). FWIW, I also blog at http://www.TravelswithBaby.blogspot.com. Congrats on your forthcoming traveler!

  • #13Jane

    I recently read a brilliant article by Kayt Sukel on TravelSavvyMom.com (http://www.travelsavvymom.com/). on this VERY sublect. It’s called “Why we travel” (http://www.travelsavvymom.com/blog/family-travel/why-we-travel/). It answered the question, should we take our kids to Disneyland or the Louvre? And got a big response.

    Jane

  • #14Four Go RTW

    An important thing to point out is that travel with children is only fun if the parents think so too. While I obviously agree with the above having just completed a year long RTW with our children I know plenty of parents who think the idea just horrible. It takes all sorts to make a world.

  • #15Asha y Glen

    We have been “training” our two daughters to be good travelers, but nothing beat what we did this summer… we drove from Boston into Central America, and although the first two weeks were tough, it changed us all. We shifted completely, connected as a family, and as a couple. I wanted them to see life outside of this incredibly privileged community in New England, and for us to be closer. I care less if they remember the details, but how could you not be affected (hopefully not scarred!) by traveling into communities where the food, dress, language, and culture is different from your own, no matter your age.

    I invite you to take a look at our photos…

    http://www.travelingfamilycircus.com

    Thanks for this post!

  • #16Blended-Families.com

    It’s no argument that travel is a great learning experience. People who are well traveled are more open minded than those who aren’t (this is just my opinion but i believe this is true). On the side note, how would you handle your kids traveling alone?

  • #17Family Smudge

    Congrats on the baby news!!! and I look forward to reading about your own family travelling adventures in the future! Thanks for featuring us :-)

  • #18Enjoying Travel With Kids

    Fabulous article. Couldn’t agree more that travelling with kids is a terrific thing to do. When I was little, my parents took us on a month’s trip around Australia. We were out of school for that time, but we learnt SO much about our country. Now that I have my own family, we take our kids with us on all our holidays, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. They are such sponges for knowledge, and travelling is a great way to soak it all up. And one of the best things you can do to foster great relationships is to create shared memories together. “Do you remember when…?”

  • #19Claudia

    Travelling with kids is excellent. They learn a lot, we lear from them, they have adventures and nice memories for coming years. Yes, I believe that children can learn the art of travelling through their parents. This is the reason why I joined Royal Holiday, a great vacation club which gives me the opportunity to share many holidays with my kids!!!

  • #20shelley cheny

    Your articles are excellent. The thing we value most about travelling together ( our 2 girls aged 4 and 6 ) is that we actually spend quality time together without the distractions of everyday life like mobiles and emails. The look of amazement on our daughters faces when they see people doing things differently or taste different food, or sleeping in different styles of accommoodation challenges my own beliefs about what is right or how we teach them they have to behave. Children are more accepting of different cultures and more flexible and adaptable that I would ever imagine!!

    Keep writing and inspiring!

  • #21Christine Malin

    I have really enjoyed reading your research and revelations. My husband and I decided when we had kids we were not going to let kids hold us back from exploring the world (maybe finances would, but not kids). And since having two boys we have enjoyed taking them to places such as Hawaii all the way to London and Switzerland. They are the best little travelers imaginable. They fair better than we as older folks! Seeing new sights, experiences and adventures through their eyes makes it even more amazing. And not only that, but the cultural experience and education for them is undeniable. Hope you will find the same experiences with your little one(s). Enjoy!

  • #22Charity Osborn

    My husband & I have been traveling in the US & Central America for 8 months with our two young sons (now 4 1/2 and 18 months), so I find this conversation very interesting. We are 100% glad we’ve done this trip, for many of the reasons cited above & more: we have all spent so much wonderful time together; the boys (& we) have learned so much about places, cultures & life; it has fundamentally changed who we are (for the better); we’ve all had to be creative about entertainment; the boys have become great friends with one another; and my husband & I have become much closer with one another & the boys. I love the family story we are writing with our kids: even if they don’t remember much, they will know that we are the kind of family that embraces adventure, loves spending time together, & wants to learn about the world.

    BUT: Traveling with kids requires a tremendous level of energy, that’s for sure. Put simply, they don’t pull their weight at all (metaphorically or physically!), so instead of being responsible for ourselves & the things we need & prefer, we are responsible for the boys, who are in turn vulnerable & fully reliant on us for their safety & happiness. I think it’s wise to realize this as fully as possible before setting out on a trip like we’ve taken.

    Simply planning for & taking care of health needs, procuring food & drink (especially in countries where food is exotic & water is not safe to drink), working with traveling & sleeping preferences, managing peer relationships (or lack thereof), & hauling everybody & their baggage around is a huge job. Plus, looking out for everybody means almost constantly prioritizing others’ needs & desires over our own. For example, for us, this has meant things like traveling around less (and with more stuff) than we would prefer; visiting more zoos & children’s museums (sometimes at the expense of visiting art museums or cathedrals) than we would prefer; planning ahead more than we would prefer; eating fast food instead of fresh or local; having less personal time than we would prefer; and staying in instead of going out most nights. It has also meant feeling like a burden to other people, at times, and facing their disapproval & my own (more substantial than I anticipated) fears regarding the potential consequences of the myriad of decisions we have to make every day in unfamiliar circumstances. Often, there is a fine line between (appropriate) risk & (inappropriate) recklessness, & for better and for worse, traveling obscures & sometimes pushes us over the line in ways we wouldn’t be pushed at home.

    Basically, as some people have noted above, traveling with kids is wonderful, but very, very different from traveling alone, & I think the level of sacrifice required may (justifiably) make it unappealing to many people. I interject this not to be negative but in order to equip people to realistically evaluate whether they are up for the task.

  • #23KRS

    Traveling with kids can be extremely rewarding, you just have to make sure that you are prepared before you go, especially with younger kids. Thing of everything that they might need or could possibly happen and plan for it. Even if they are pretty young traveling is something that they will probably remember when they are older because it can be such a great experience.

  • #24Ashley

    As an educator who chaperones teens as part of their education, I can’t agree with you more about the incredible value everyone gets out of traveling with children. Of course, not all parents have the time, skill, or interest, which makes companies that specialize in this kind of travel so valuable. They are more familiar than parents with the particular problems, concerns, and issues involved with traveling with teens. Educational travel broadens everyone’s perspective and increases their awareness of the differences and similarities of other cultures.

  • #25Danny Desjarlais

    Very informative Dear parents travellers,

    We are thinking about travelling in South America in 5 years with our daughters(they will have 5 & 7 years old!)..is it too young to enjoy & take profit of this long journey or better wait for 7& 9 ??

    Danny Desjarlais
    Thank’s for your reply

    (Would like “please”… to have some feedback from parents who have done long trip with early age toddlers!)

  • #26shelley cheny

    We have done some really great long trips with our little girls especially around Asia. They pick up everything, and accept everything. They are fascinated by the simplest and purest of experiences. Being a travelling parent is humbling and exhilarating!
    I am grateful for this Blog.

  • #27angela

    HI, JUST WANTING TO HEAR FROM ANYONE WHO HAS TRAVELLED WITH YOUNG CHILDREN TO THE SOLOMON ISLANDS. MY HUSBAND IS WORKING THERE FOR 3 MONTHS AND I’M WONDERING IF IT’S A SUITABLE PLACE TO TAKE OUR 3 BOYS AGED 3, 4 AND 10, JUST FOR A WEEK OR SO?

  • #28alex

    Hi
    We try to travel as much as possible with our kids before they start school as then it get a lot more complicated.
    It is always good to read about new palces to visit.

    Alex

  • #29Clark Vandeventer

    If you read the “About Us” on our website FamilyTrek.org we share that when we were pregnant with our oldest son we head the same thing over and over again…. once you have kids your traveling days are over! Thanks for sharing these great perspectives!

  • #30Laine

    Traveling with kids is great, they are skill and able to learn so fast, even some words in a new language, they assimilate so easily even the accent of a new language.
    However sometimes, with kids you need to canalize their energy, because with new excitement, you have a deployment of energy which can be difficult for adults.

  • #31Anonymous

    As I read this I’m traveling to Florida with my three kids, it’s a challenge at times but they add a little something. I wouldn’t want to be with out them.

  • #32Stuart

    Having a family is an extraordinarily ordinary adventure and travelling with them just more so. We’ve travelled with our kids since they were babies, on bikes, boats, canoes, backpacks, you name it and of course it’s a challenge at times, but then what family isn’t? In some ways that’s the point for us, being challenged through acive independent travel both individually and as a family group tests and builds relationships, understanding, skills, and personal and family resilience. And who doesn’t need a little of that in this crazy world. Whatever age your kids are matters not, the limitation is usually more in the mind of the parent than the kid! If you’re unsure think big, start small, ask for advice and take it one step at a time. Whether you go local or to the ends of the world, if you travel with the right spirit it will be a rewarding experience for you all.

  • #33angela

    Great blog see for me growing up my parents took us traveling all the time every summer I t brought us closer to each other not only my sisters and brother but also to my parents. vacation always made us work to gether to either make dinner or visit or even get ready for bed it helped our family stay strong and connected as a family. and for me growing up it meant alot to me to continue to keep things together and strong and as I got married and had a family of my own I was also able to to keep my family to gether through family vacations and were able to continue to keep that conectivity as well as any thing else but as we stopped going on family vacations my family dicipated and I found my self a single mother tring to find vacations that will bring me and my children to gether I think in this is something that people have to change as we have such a epidemic on the family being torn apart and I know vacationing with our family would make the world a difference

  • #34linda wilson

    It was most heartening to read these family stories and comments. We have always travelled (cash permitting) with our boys – now both young men and always planning their next trip to somewhere. When they started to ‘go it alone’, life became very boring as a traveller by comparison. I feel so sad when people ask if there’s internet, sauna, dvd etc in our holiday chalet , especially if they have children in their group. Yes we have some of those things – but with mountains, lakes, wildlife and local customs and traditions to explore, why would any child want to be plugged into what I call the ‘gogglebox’ – even if the weather is less than the best? Children don’t dear the elements – only if the adults tell them or teach them to be afraid by hiding indoors.

  • #35vicky

    Travelling with children is always great. This is the best experince that your children can have. They can learn new things, customes, languages, culture, etc. Most of all a great time with family.

  • #36Ciel Clark

    I grew up traveling with my parents, and traveled with my first son until he started school. I’ve been writing about the amazing experiences and one I just finished is about a year I spent in the West Indies when I was 9-10 years old.

    I recommend traveling as much as possible with your kids– they will remember these experiences as I do– so many years later!

  • #37Dora "the Explorer"

    Traveling is a philosophy. Traveling to the local zoo, downtown, across the country or around the world…it’s about discovering new things and having new experiences. If you want a “holiday”, maybe traveling with kids is not for you…it’s not a holiday, it’s a change in venue! You still have to parent on the road…and yes, it will be different than when you traveled childless…but rarely is life the same after you have children anyway! If I have the opportunity to broaden my children’s horizons and have them gain an appreciation for the commonality and diversity in this world, I’ll take it!

  • #38Micki

    Great post! We travel with our little ones (now 3 and 6) and have a wonderful time. Sure, it’s sometimes difficult, but the good far outweighs the bad.

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