From planning kid-friendly itineraries to surviving long haul flights, most parents know it takes effort to travel with kids. The good news is that experts say that the benefits can help shape the kind of adults they’ll become.
Many children are already remarkable travelers, simply by virtue of being open to new experiences. They soak up what each destination has to offer with all of their senses, and don’t carry around a lot of the preconceived notions that many adult travelers have. Travel with kids reinforces these positive qualities and deepens them.
Traveling Gives Kids Perspective
Sure, they may see on television or social media that their way of life isn’t the only way but the impact is deeper when they have real-life confirmation.
Seeing more of the world helps kids understand that people grow up wearing different clothing, eating different foods, playing different games, celebrating different holidays, and embracing vastly different value systems.
It can also inspire gratitude in children, as they see first-hand that there are many people in the world less fortunate than they are. Some kids return from their travels more open to volunteer opportunities and helping people in need.
Travel Gets Kids Off Screens and Out Moving
Most Americans don’t live in walkable cities, but some of the best destinations in the world are pedestrian-friendly.
Kids won’t feel like they’re getting exercise when they stroll through museums or run across public parks, but they’ll be learning to appreciate the slow joys of wandering the world on their own two feet (even if the walking is forced sometimes).
Traveling Builds Character and Courage in Kids
While traveling, children will sometimes have to push through discomfort — whether that means trying unfamiliar foods or crossing a swaying rope bridge over a river. Doing unfamiliar things can actually take a lot of bravery.
Stephanie Korpal, owner of Marble Wellness (a St. Louis counseling practice for moms), believes navigating the unfamiliar during travel benefits kids in the long term. She had this to say:
“One of the greatest benefits of travel for children is that it tests the limits of their willingness to push beyond the familiar. And instilling a sense of ‘trusting oneself’ is one of the biggest and most important jobs of parenthood. After all, when your children are adults, you want them to go out into the world and be able to navigate their own lives — from the small tasks like scheduling doctor appointments and paying their credit card bills to the large events of navigating a career path and living independently. This sense of dependence on themselves, even in the face of the unfamiliar, should be fostered during childhood.”
Travel Helps Kids Perform Well in School
This isn’t an exaggeration. Multiple studies have shown that children and teens who go abroad do better on tests when they return, and a survey of almost 1,500 teachers found that 74% believe that travel has “a very positive impact on students’ personal development.”
Jennifer Fontaine, editor of Outdoor Families Magazine and a family adventure travel expert, confirmed findings like these, saying, “Science shows us that traveling with children is an investment in their brain’s development and exposing them to new and enriched environments can have a profound effect on their success and happiness well into adulthood.”
Traveling Is the Best Education
During a single trip, children can learn about languages, history, geography, architecture, and more — no formal lessons required.
Activities as simple as finding your next destination on a world map, sketching an interesting building, or trying to decipher signs and menus are all educational.
Chances are that the lessons kids learn while traveling will last much longer because they feel a deep personal connection to the information they see it in real life, versus in a book or in the classroom.
Travel Teaches Kids That We’re the Same
It’s counterintuitive but true. As children are immersed in other cultures and learn first-hand about the beautiful diversity in the world, they also see the similarities we all share.
A new friend in a foreign country may look very different and live very differently, but kids will notice they also have a favorite toy, love sweet treats, and go swimming. Through travel, kids can learn both to respect other people’s cultural traditions and to recognize that people all over can have much in common, too.
Traveling Means Freedom
Hitting the road for a new destination means leaving life’s everyday worries behind, whether you’re five years old or fifty.
This can be very liberating for kids because they’re often at the mercy of their parents’ schedules, the school schedule, mealtimes, and bedtime.
Travel can give kids a small taste of what it means to live in the present and show them that the day-to-day grind isn’t all there is. They’re happier, you’re happier, and you can simply enjoy new experiences together.
Travel Teaches Confidence and Flexibility
Hiccups happen when you’re traveling, and well-traveled kids learn to deal calmly and confidently with the unexpected.
“When our children are at home, they have a similar routine every day,” Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health expert and the social media manager at Maple Holistics, told me. “They know where their friends are, they are comfortable in their bed in their room, and they have food that they are used to. All of this changes when you’re traveling. Even though it sounds crazy, all of this will help teach your children patience. They will learn from watching you adapt to your surroundings and will, therefore, become more flexible.”
Travel Collects Moments Not Things
The famous saying is true and experts believe that happiness is tied to memory and not physical objects.
“Children don’t grow up remembering the material gifts they received,” Christina Furnival, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, told me, “but they will remember amazing quality time spent with the ones they love. Traveling with children builds your family’s memory bank and fortifies your family’s story.”
Traveling with Kids: The Bottom Line
Traveling with kids isn’t always easy (for little ones or their parents), but it’s worth it. I know from experience that flying with kids can feel brutal, even when you’ve done all you can to prepare children for long-haul flights when you travel overseas with children.
Even when your travel plans don’t unfold smoothly, and even when you don’t go far from home, your kids will learn and grow so much on your adventures — and (fingers crossed) they’ll become exceptional grownups as a result.