4 Reasons Your Kids Need to Travel
I remember a particularly painful and poignant night when the simple act of tucking my four-year-old daughter into bed brought me to tears. It had been a standard weekday for our family. My husband had picked up two of our girls from the school’s aftercare program, and I’d taken the other one to ballet class. When I got home, I started dinner while helping our oldest with her homework. After dinner, we cleaned the kitchen, I threw in a load of laundry, my husband walked our dogs. Before long, it was time to get the kids ready for bed. As I came into my youngest child’s room, I found she was already asleep under the covers.
And I realized in that moment that I hadn’t had an actual conversation with her all day. I didn’t know what she’d learned at pre-school. I had no idea what she’d been doing since we got home, other than when she quietly ate her dinner with the rest of us. I’d lost an entire day of her life. It had blurred by me, and I would never get it back. So, I sat on her bed and cried.
This was a wake-up call for me. Soon after that night, our family found an antidote to what had become our “family rat race” disorder.
We started traveling together.
Like many other families, we’ve learned that going to new places allows us to hit the pause button on the chaos of our busy life. Yes, vacations might take some planning and require time off work. It might mean the kids miss a couple sports practices or don’t get to go to a friend’s birthday party. But these sacrifices are worth it. Travelling together has long-lasting, positive impacts on both family dynamics and children’s brain development.
We need to collect our stories
Think back on the most memorable moments from your own childhood. How many of them happened during a vacation or a special event? A time when you were doing something outside of the ordinary, day-to-day activities?
There’s a phenomenon known as the Yerkes-Dodson law which essentially says that we humans need a healthy amount of interesting stimuli in order to remember events. If something is too ordinary or too stressful, our memory pretty much turns off. The experience blurs into background. We don’t want our family’s time together turning into a big blur, right? That’s why we need to periodically insert those stimulating moments into our lives. And travel can be the perfect stimulus.
When we get out of our normal environments, we engage our families in memorable experiences. Maybe it’s just a weekend camping trip. Maybe it’s a major overseas vacation. Adventures together, both big and small, turn on our memory receptors. It’s these special moments that will take hold in the minds of both parents and children, helping us keep those family memories for years into the future.
We need new experiences early in life
I’ve heard a number of parents say they’re going to start traveling with their children “when the kids are old enough to remember it.” And let’s face it, older kids who can carry their own stuff and sit still for long periods of time are also much easier travel companions. Waiting until the teenage years to take that family trip abroad certainly seems more practical.
However, recent studies have documented the importance of giving young children a wide range of rich, diverse experiences to support healthy brain development. Throughout the early years, the human brain is undergoing a critical process of developing and pruning millions of connections between the neurons. Exposing a young child to a new, unusual experiences and physical environments increases the complexity and efficiency of the brain’s architecture.
Every time you take your children to a new place, you’re supporting their cognitive development. While a little one may not remember the details of a trip, the new sights, sounds, and people encountered through travel will create lasting connections that improve the structure of their brains. This rich, experiential learning lays the foundation for all future learning and decision making in a child’s life.
We Need to Tackle Challenges Together
When organizations want to build strong teams, they use a common strategy – they create challenges for those teams to overcome together. In corporate America we call this “team building.” The same concept applies in our own households, too. When parents and children work together toward a common goal, they build trust and learn about each other.
Does that mean we should we be running obstacles courses and doing trust falls in the back yard with our kids? Well, that’s one option, I guess. However, family travel creates an even better opportunity for families to take a leap into the unknown together and become a stronger team.
The key is to involve the kids in the process. When you let your children help pick the destination and plan the trip, they become part of the group effort. Our girls have put their technology skills to work in researching flights and hotels. They’ve helped us master mass transit systems, navigate the maze of stalls in ethnic markets, and translate the baking instructions on cake mixes we bought in foreign countries. Our family has had to rise to the occasion together in our travels, and in the process, we’ve begun to trust each other more and lean into one another’s strengths.
In short, travel helped us learn to pull together as a team. It’s a skill that serves us when we’re back home in our normal life, too.
- We need to get sick of each other
The most powerful benefit of family travel, is also the most painful part in the beginning: the constant, 24-7 togetherness.
Do siblings fight a lot when suddenly forced to be together nonstop?
Will you have moments where you want to strangle all of them, including your spouse or partner?
Most certainly, yes.
Will you get through it together and come out on the other side better and happier than before?
Deep, authentic connections between family members have a multitude of benefits, from improving children’s confidence to lowering parents’ blood pressure. Time is the essential ingredient for reaching this level of authenticity in our relationships, and yet, the data shows that American families spend less and less time together. Jobs, school, activities, and technology can keep parents and children separated in daily life, reducing family interactions in both quantity and quality.
Travel offers an opportunity to play catch-up. It’s gives us a chance to cultivate the intimacy we lose as we’re rushing around in the world. Whether it’s a multi-week trip or a series of weekend excursions, being together in the same space without distractions helps us get real with one another. We learn things about each other and ourselves that we didn’t know before.
Warning: This might be painful at first.
I can recall many times when either my husband or I exploded with unbridled fury over the girls’ backseat bickering. But if we stick with it and get through a little turmoil, the treasure is waiting on the other side. Uninterrupted time together shifts a family dynamic in precious and profound ways that are difficult to measure.
So, get out of Dodge! Hit the road! Or, as they say in New Zealand, “go coddiwomple!” Be intentional in taking the people you love to new places, and you’ll see the benefits it brings to your family.
Tracey Carisch is an international speaker and leadership professional. Her memoir, Excess Baggage: One Family’s Around-the-World Search for Balance, chronicles her family’s 18-month, nomadic journey, in which they shed the stress of their busy, overscheduled life and found balance through the lessons of international travel. www.traceycarisch.com