The greatest gift my mother ever gave me (other than life, of course) was traveling with me from as early as I can remember. I have stamps on my birth certificate from the first time I went to St. Maarten–I wasn’t even one yet! For me, going to St. Maarten as a child connected me to the place where my (father’s) family was from.
We also went to Freeport, Bahamas religiously every year for Thanksgiving, we took bigger trips to Mexico, Aruba, Jamaica and to Disneyland in Orlando, Florida and smaller trips to Niagara Falls, Poconos, Baltimore, and Virginia Beach, regularly.
I have vivid memories of each trip and I can honestly point to experiences I had while traveling that shaped who I am today.
I get it, though. It can be tough to travel with rugrats! Let’s see: You have to worry about your kids crying and embarrassing you while your stuck in a cramped space with strangers like on a plane or train. You have to jam toys, diapers, formula, clothes, and all the other 10,000 necessities for them (and don’t forget for you too) in just one or two luggage! You have to pay sometimes full adult price for tiny humans that don’t even take up that much space (ridiculous!) And then you have to actually be responsible and mind your kids (although so many parents don’t) while you’re sightseeing and exploring the place you’ve traveled to. It’s not easy at all.
Some lucky folks may have relatives or nannies that can tag along and help out, but generally it’s an uphill battle that I wouldn’t judge anyone for foregoing until the youngsters get older.
But here’s what really smart people know about traveling with young children and why I think you should tough it out:
1. Remove them from their bubble
All your kids know if you never travel with them is their neighborhood. Are there pyramids, oceans, skyscrapers and mountains in your neighborhood? Are there people speaking multiple languages in your neighborhood? Are their people of all classes, colors and walks of life in your neighborhood? I’m guessing not.
It’s easy to get comfortable in your safe place. Then your kids get comfortable. They grow up and move around the corner. Before you know it life has crept by and none of you have ever left! It’s time to pop the bubble!
As a child my bubble was Harlem in New York City. Although I was happy there and I didn’t “see” the poverty or the crime around me, when I traveled outside of that environment I got to see that Harlem wasn’t all there was. I got to pet horses, run through fields of green grass barefoot, swim in blue shores, and see how other people live. I can’t tell you what a difference I think this made for me! When I see certain friends and family that never left Harlem their mentality seems small and closed.
2. Open up the world for them
It’s important to show your kids while they are young that the world is a big place and that they have access to it all! I guarantee it will shape the way they think about everything and it will also make them appreciative of what they have while making them dream big about what they want. Just a small shift in perspective — suddenly Africa won’t seem so far and China isn’t just a fairytale.
One year my family went to Cancun, Mexico and I saw a bull fight that forged my thoughts on animal cruelty. I was probably in my early teens and the brutality of it opened my eyes to a larger struggle. But I also began to understand how that event, the bull fight, was part of a culture that didn’t view killing the bull as bad, but instead saw its matadors as brave warriors.
On the same trip we traveled about an hour and half to Tulum to see the Maya ruins and that rich history of strong warriors came even more alive for me. I truly got a sense of history! But most important, I came to appreciate two sides of one issue.
3. Expose them to different cultures
Seeing how other communities across the country and the world live will open your little ones up to different languages, foods, music and art. Traveling to places where people are less fortunate will expose them to the troubles of the world and seeing those same people express joy in dance, music, art, etc. will teach them appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. They may be inspired to one day return and volunteer their time for some particular cause.
Funny story but relevant: also on that Mexico trip I realized that what I thought was traditional Mexican food (i.e. Taco Bell and Chili’s) was all American! When I tried to order nachos in Mexico what I received was totally different. It was my first lesson that our American version of things can’t always be trusted!
4. Peak their interest
It was also on these trips that I was introduced to things like skiing, snorkeling, visiting archeological sites, boating, and a range of fun activities. Luckily by growing up in New York City there was never a shortage of museum trips with my schools, but even visiting museums and zoos away from home exposed me to different interests.
Driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to get to Virgina Beach got be excited about bridges. That long bridge that dipped under the Chesapeake Bay every so often was the most frightening and fascinating thing ever. And once when a huge jellyfish washed up on the beach outside our hotel it sparked a year of copying the names and definitions of every animal in the dictionary (I was a nerd and a loner!)
5. Educate them
Kids can’t learn everything from a text book! Sometimes you have to see it and experience it to really get an understanding. You can’t honestly say reading about the pyramids is the same as seeing them first hand. The same goes for understanding the history of various countries and how and why things are the way they are today there and everywhere. It’s important for children to have knowledge about the world not just America.
Today I’m so jealous that I don’t speak another language fluently like so many of my foreign friends that speak two, three and four languages (show-offs!!) One thing I know is that when I have children I will make it a priority to teach them other languages and take them to those places where the language is spoken so they can speak with native speakers.
6. Create memories
The MOST important reason to travel with your kids is because you will create the most treasured and unique memories! Traveling with family can be a challenge but ultimately it brings you closer together. I have sad memories of cooking live crabs in Baltimore (I was inconsolable), ecstatic memories of dancing with Snow White at Disney Land, scary memories of nearly drowning when my family was tossed of a speeding banana boat, and happy memories of being buried in the sand on a beach. The prevailing theme is traveling gave my family a chance to bond (outside of the day-to-day grind).
This traveling tradition has continued even though me and my siblings are grown adults. Every few years the entire family gets together to travel. We’ve gone to Turks & Caicos, Italy, and Greece. We’ve taken more cruises through the Caribbean than I can count.
So the next time you think about planning a vacation but decide to postpone until the kids get older — think again. Do it now so you can give them a better tomorrow!