Why Kids Need Travel

kids need travelThe number one reason kids need travel is simple. They need to spend time with the travel version of you. I’m not talking about the I-need-a-break-from-life, gotta-getaway travel version of you. Save that for girl getaways or bromance weekends or couples vacations. The parent your kids need to travel with is the fully engaged version of you. Game-playing you. Silly you. Staying-up-past-bedtime-because-there-are-fireflies you. Actually-in-the-pool-splashing-around-with-them you. Sand-castle-building you. Teaching-them-fishing you. Relaxed you.

And that you is a far cry from the Saturday morning soccer sideline dad or the proudly clapping gymnastics mom. Kids need time with “travel parent” more than they need the parent they are performing for when they participate in all those activities that are keeping your family from traveling more.

Let me restate the key part of that sentence in case you missed it: When your kids are participating in sports they are performing for your attention, even when they are doing something they love.

I know that may feel like a punch in the gut. You are busting your hump providing them with a great life. You are there for them. You never miss a game/meet/match/tournament/recital/performance. They need those activities to get them outside and off of electronic devices. Those activities connect them with other kids and teach them sharing and cooperation and keep them physically fit.

So do family camping trips. Which do you think they would remember the most fondly?

Travel gives your kids the unconditional you.

Gary and I don’t travel much in the summer. For twenty years we have spent our summers playing host to couples and families by renting them rustic lakeside cabins on our property. We have seen every imaginable family travel dynamic. Last week we hosted a family with one nine-year-old girl. They had been to our place before and the little girl was the one who chose to spend a whole vacation here rather than at the theme parks of San Antonio.

Want to know what they spent most of their time doing? Sitting in lounge chairs in the shade. Oh sure, they hiked a little. They swam in the pool. But each day they spent hours just hanging out together laughing and talking. On the day they left I apologized that it had been a quiet week with no other children to play with. The giggly response I got was, “It was fun. This way I got to hang out more with Mom and Dad.”

The Key is Balancekids need travel

The good news is that you don’t have to give up extracurricular activities entirely to travel more with your kids. All you need to do is find balance. You do that by making family travel a priority. Here are a few pointers:

  • Plan weekend trips between sports seasons.
  • Talk to coaches, teachers, and trainers and let them know that your family travels are important and enlist their help in planning which weekends might be less critical in the event that your kids missed them.
  • Make sure you take advantage of school breaks. Everyone needs a break from the stress that comes with school.
  • Consider cutting back a little on the activity overload. If the activity roster is the one thing keeping your family from hitting the road, it may be time to re-evaluate.

The Second Most Important Reason Kids Need Travel

Beyond connecting with you, travel teaches problem-solving skills. What do I need at the beach? Which airport gate do we need? How do you bait a fish hook? What happens if I forgot to pack my flip flops? How do we know which trail to take? What will we eat?

At home, most of your kids’ problems are kid-sized. (We tend to solve the big problems for them, like stocking the pantry and fridge.) At school, your kids’ problems are either peer-to-peer or are problems manufactured to teach the curriculum. A simple change of environment forces kids’ brains into a different gear just to adapt to the new setting. Plus when you travel together, your kids get a chance to see you, their idol, solving real-world problems with every step of the journey.

We camped a lot with our daughter when she was young. Camping is all about problem-solving. On one particular extended trip in New Mexico, we forgot to pack a hummingbird feeder. We had been particularly excited to spend time watching the hummers that we knew would be in the area. Buying a replacement feeder meant a lengthy drive back down the mountain and nobody wanted to do that once camp was set up. By day two, as hummingbirds buzzed through our campsite without a second glance, we were really wishing we had a feeder. What began as a simple effort to concoct something that would attract the hummers soon mushroomed into an all-out competition to see which of the three of us could lure in the most birds. Hours were spent on the problem, followed by hours spent staring at the devices we constructed, counting any slight pause by a speeding bird. We still refer to that trip as the hummingbird feeder trip– twenty-one years later.

All travel with children involves problem-solving. We have to remember that kids need travel to develop problem-solving skills and more importantly, to let them participate in finding the solutions.

The Kinds of Travel Kids Need

Obviously, ages, temperaments, and interests should be taken into consideration, but almost any travel that lets you and your kids spend time together away from home is time well spent. Camping is obviously good. Almost any outdoor activity is good, consider hiking, biking, paddle sports, waterskiing, or snow skiing. Foreign travel offers incredible experiences, but remember to child-size your itinerary. Cruises offer opportunities for families to play together, participate in new activities like snorkeling, explore unusual foods, and usually still have enough downtime for simple game playing. Even staying at a hotel across town with a pool can help satisfy your kids’ need for travel. Having said that, there are certain travel experiences that may be more conducive to your goals than others.

Waterparks vs Theme Parks 

Waterparks usually require all of your attention be focused on the kids for safety’s sake, and that attention is a good thing. The atmosphere can also unleash playful you and giant water slides are a great way to push boundaries together. Theme parks may or may not give the same level of interaction. Children can be overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation and parents can be stressed, making that important connection more difficult to achieve. If the family really wants a theme-park trip, make sure there is enough downtime between days at the park to interact together on a quieter level.

Museums and Monuments vs Zoos and Aquariums

Adults and children tend to experience museums and monuments in entirely different ways. Unless you are really good at seeing things through your child’s view of the world, relegate these to a small piece of the family travel agenda. Zoos and aquariums, however, are ideal for allowing you and the kids to unwind and connect with each other as you observe the animals, usually without the experience becoming quite as teachy as a museum visit might.

Taking Friends vs Family-Only Travel

When you allow your kids to bring friends along on family trips, you risk losing some of the benefits. The kids pay less attention to you, and you tend to rely a little more on the friends for entertaining your kid. You also add peer-to-peer problems into the equation, something you were probably trying to give your child respite from by taking a family trip.

We recently hosted two aunts who thought they were giving their thirteen-year-old niece her dream trip by inviting three of her friends to come along for a weekend at the lake. Four thirteen-year-old girls. Two aunts. Unfortunately, the aunts learned a tough lesson as the fun melted into bickering.

Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Grandparents vs Parents Only

kids need travelKids need travel experiences that create stronger bonds with family, so bringing along extended family members is a great way to give them more of a good thing. Having extra adults available to help allows you to relax a little more, making the parent-child connection easier to achieve. And cousins don’t usually have the potentially negative peer factor that a friend might.

It’s also worth noting that adult friends who are like family to you and the children can be counted into the mix of people worth traveling with. There are also families who travel with friend families who also have kids. Those arrangements usually work well, as long as the adults aren’t disguising a weekend trip with their buddies as family travel.

One Last Reason Kids Need Travel

Travel is a great way for kids to learn to appreciate what they have while exploring the similarities and differences between themselves and others. Whether you go across the state or around the globe, kids need travel to see how other people live. Young children especially, do not have the capacity to imagine other lifestyles unless they see them for themselves.

Family travel done well helps children feel like they are the center of your universe while helping them understand that they are not the center of THE universe.

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Need help figuring out the basics of how to travel with kids?

Get expert advice from Shelly Rivoli

Want a dad's perspective on why kids need travel?

Turn to Eric Stoen on Travel Babbo
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