Jiquillilo Nicaragua

Why We Travel with Our Kids

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Our kids are getting older now, but when they were babies, we often got raised eyebrows when we told others about our travels.  Many wondered why we were taking our kids halfway around the world when they wouldn’t remember the trip.  Initially our motivation to continue to travel with kids was selfish – we didn’t want to stop.  However, time and time again I have seen the incredible benefits that travel has given our kids.

In fact, I will go so far as to say there is no better education in the world, than seeing the world.  My kids go to regular school and quite enjoy it, but I would happily world school them.  I don’t think you need a classroom to learn; in fact I think classrooms often deter some learners.

kids and travel

Travel has certainly exposed our kids to many different types of food.

There have been many articles in the past year that question the value of travelling with young kids, like this article in the Telegraph.  The author claims that you shouldn’t travel with your kids until they are teenagers.  He says, “The dynamics of travelling with young children – wonderful though that shared time undoubtedly is – simply don’t lend themselves to expensive foreign jaunts. Children are always inconveniently tired, have very little interest in culture, can’t walk longer than 45 minutes without needing sustenance and moan if burgers aren’t on the menu.”

Luckily, not all agree, and in fact, there is science that says holidays are good for kids.

These are the benefits I think our kids receive from our travelling adventures:

Opens Their Eyes to Other Cultures and Ways of Doing Things

While globalization, multi-cultural societies and technology are making the world a smaller place, it is still all too easy to fall into ethnocentric thinking.  Our kids have heard different languages, seen different types of housing, and learned that how we do things in Canada, is not the only way to do things.

In 2015 when we were in India, we got to experience the Onam festival.  Staying in a local home stay, the kids got to see the symbols and decorations of the festival, helped prepare poppadoms in a typical Indian kitchen, and ate the traditional holiday meal with our hosts.

Kerala home stay

The kids watching poppadums being prepared for Onam in India

I can remember the excitement in their eyes when they experienced their first Chinese New Year celebrations in Malaysia; they were enchanted by the firecrackers, dragon dances and red envelopes.

When we visited Japan last year, they learned the importance of following traditional Japanese customs, like taking shoes off before entering a room, bathing without clothes in a public onsen, and cleansing their hands and mouths before entering a temple.

Japan with kids

Washing before entering the temples in Japan

In every destination we visit, they soak up the culture, and they see different ways of doing things.  Even very young kids can benefit from this.  I remember visiting Thailand when Ella was about 4, and she loved praying at the offerings and statues.

travel with kids

Our spiritual little girl

Spurs Curiosity and Authentic Learning

History and world issues come to life for children when you travel.  I don’t think I can think of a trip or destination that didn’t provoke interest from the kids. We don’t plan these things; it is completely driven by them.  A visit to a museum might bring on a huge discussion about the Holocaust or a hike will lead to a discussion on ethical travel.

While we were in the Bahamas, we were often confronted by plastic waste washed ashore.  This led to so many good discussions on over-consumption, waste facilities and environmental degradation.  It also led to us using more eco-friendly travel products.

Bahamas Abacos

Creative use of ocean waste in the Bahamas

Visiting Port Arthur Penal Colony in Tasmania allowed the kids to learn about what life was like for the men, women and children that spent time there.  Travel is like being on one continuous field trip of real-life learning.

Builds Life Skills

When a report card comes home from school, it is the soft skills or learning skills that I want to see first.  It is probably the teacher in me that cares the most about my kids’ teamwork, initiative and self-awareness skills.

Some of the life skills that kids learn from travel are practical – how to read a map and stick to a budget.  They learn how to socialize and interact with adults, make friendships quickly, and problem solve when things don’t go according to plan.  They develop resilience in adapting to changes in routine, getting through bad travel days, and dealing with bureaucracy and sometimes confusing ways of doing things.

Strengthens Family Connections

One of the things we love the most about travelling is spending so much time together as a family.  That can also be one of the biggest challenges of family travel, and there are definitely moments when we could all use some time apart.  When we are travelling and away from all of the schedules and distractions of our regular life, we have the best conversations, we play games together waiting for meals, and we all get to sleep in one room together!

I saw this closeness when we lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas for 5 months.  We have always been a close family, but on the boat, our lives were completely inter-connected.  The years I spent as a teenager living aboard and sailing with my family helped create the tight-knit relationships I still have with my parents and brother.

sailing with kids

Nightly game nights while living on the boat in the Bahamas

Focuses on Experiences, Not Things

We have always been strong proponents of spending money on experiences, over things.  We are always talking about the great memories we have of those experiences.  “Remember the time we went canyoning down that river in the rain forest?” “This reminds me of all the chai we used to drink in India.”

Chai India

The kids became huge chai fans in India

I wish I could say that our kids don’t yearn for things, they do.  But I do think that deep down they realize that these experiences are so much more valuable than the latest toy or gadget.

Builds Appreciation

We tend to travel in developing countries where our money goes the furthest, and we can learn about different cultures.  Our kids see what life in the developing world looks like.  They have seen homes in Asia and Central America made of mud and thatch.  They have met kids that own one set of clothes.

When we visited Papua New Guinea last year, the kids had the opportunity to see untouched islands.  They saw the basic conditions of the schools, and they saw that the children didn’t have shoes or toys.  The kids gave out some school supplies to the schools and children, and I hope that those small acts will motivate them to give in the future.  Miles didn’t even protest when I gave away his thongs to a little boy on the beach. At 6 years old, he realized he had a whole closet of shoes at home, and this boy had none.

Papua New Guinea villages

Kiriwina, Papua New Guinea village life

When we stayed in a home-stay in rural Nicaragua, the house and food were very simple.  We were mostly given rice and beans, the staple diet of the region.  One night the kids were very excited to be given a piece of chicken with their dinner.  Gavin, who was 6, gobbled his up and asked for more. I tried to shush him, but our host mom understood what he was asking for and took the chicken that she had set aside for her family to give to him.  What he didn’t realize at the time (we did spend time talking about it afterwards) was that for the family to have meat was a luxury.  He was used to being able to fill his plate with meat at home, something he wouldn’t even think about it.  But maybe this little incident opened his eyes to the abundances in his life, that not all enjoy throughout the world.

Nicaragua with kids

Gavin and our home stay Mom in Nicaragua

But perhaps the biggest lesson for them is that often the people we encounter in developing countries are no less happy then those in developed countries.  Yes, we have a lot of things in our home countries, but that does not necessarily equate to a better life.   In fact, we often encounter stronger family connections and happier people when we travel in developing countries.

Builds Resilience

Resilience is one of my favourite words, and if you asked me what one trait I would like my kids to possess, it would be resilience.

Living overseas hasn’t always been easy for our kids.  They have had to adapt to a new school, new terminology, new friends, and new ways of doing things.  In Australia, those differences aren’t so drastic, but when we lived in Malaysia, they were. While it can be hard for the kids to adapt, they do, which builds their resilience.

Travel also develops resilience as they learn to live without routines, eat different foods, and to navigate situations or a destination in a different language.

Sri Lanka with kids

Living out of backpacks, in different rooms, with different food, builds resilience.

Right now, they are travelling with us, but we hope that as they become teenagers they will also experience travel on their own.  We are already encouraging travel opportunities like Rotary exchanges or a gap year because we think these experiences create resilience, maturity and independence.

Thumbs Up to Family Travel

I am always perturbed to hear about schools that discourage or even fine families for taking their kids out of school to go travelling.  There is no question that my kids learn more from travelling than they do in a classroom.  And most importantly, they become better little global humans. If you are just getting started with family travel, check out these 7 steps to adapt to family travel.

So next time someone raises their eyebrow at your next family adventure, you can feel smug that you are giving your kids so much more than just a vacation.  If you are looking for ways to travel more with your kids, check out this post with some out-of-the-box ideas.  To maximize your travel budget, check out our budget family travel tips.

So, what are you waiting for?  Get planning your next epic family trip!

What other benefits have you seen in your kids from family travel?  I would love to hear – leave us a message in the comments below.  

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