Traveling with kids: the best way to help them grow.

Ian Carroll

I’m always amazed when I meet a family traveling with kids. Whether it’s one week on vacation, or it’s one year around the world, the logistics can be staggering. That goes for newborn babies, teenagers, and every age in between. Traveling with kids can be a lot of work. However, it can also be extremely rewarding for the parents as well as the kids.

A lot of parents think that their kids are too young to travel. After all, changing diapers, getting nap time, and dealing with emergencies can be a little different on the road. However, there’s nothing impossible about it. In fact, before they’re school age is actually the best time for traveling with kids. Once they hit the age of six or seven, they start to need more stability. They need to attend school and desire prolonged connections and friendships.

So, if you’re apprehensive about traveling with kids, we’re going to help you out. After all, the benefits greatly outweigh the challenges. Today we are going to cover all the reasons why traveling is especially good for children and why you should strive to travel with your kids at least once before they go off to college. We’ll also go over some useful tips along the way. By the end, you’ll be itching to get the family away on vacation.

Traveling with kids is good for sensory development

One of the biggest misconceptions parents often hold about their young children is that they need a safe environment in which to learn and grow. While in some respects that is true, it can hold them back as well. As a licensed vision therapist, I know a good deal about the brain and child development. One of the most important things that young children need is stimulation and challenge. That means everything from complex things to look at, to strange environments to explore.

traveling with kids
Kids need to experience all types of environments.

Visual disorders are on the rise in an unprecedented way. A huge part of the problem is that kids spend so much time looking at screens as they’re growing up these days. After all, it’s so easy to keep your kids busy if you just turn on a movie or give them a video game. And I’m not saying that screens are all bad. However, if kids don’t get a wide range of visual stimuli at an early age, their vision will not develop properly.

Traveling with kids is a great way to help their brain develop strong visual, motor, and other perceptual functions. At age three, walking on uneven terrain is extremely good for visual-motor development and balance. At age seven, feeding pigeons in a foreign city is a great way to develop hand-eye coordination. And if your kids are already in their teens, merely interacting with people in another country is an excellent way to develop a more diverse understanding of how the world works.

Traveling with kids improves language learning

Traveling with kids often takes you across language barriers. Even if your children aren’t actively learning whatever language is all around them, just being exposed to it helps the language centers of their brain develop. This will be especially helpful if it’s a common language like Spanish which they may wish to learn later in life.

antigua guatemala volcano
See new cities and cultures with your kids.

However, it’s not just about speaking. Learning to listen to people who speak a different language teaches you a lot. After all, as adults, we can often understand intention and emotion even if the words are foreign. For a kid, those are skills that need to be learned and honed. If your kids spend a lot of time communicating with people outside of their native language, they will develop greater empathy, confidence, and capacity to learn in the future.

If you’re traveling with kids who are older and are learning the local language, then the benefits are beyond my ability to express. I have the good fortune of having traveled as a teenager in Spanish speaking countries. By then I already had a solid foundation and was able to engage with locals and ask questions. That lets you use your skills, practice conversation, and learn new words.

However, one of the bigger and more subtle benefits of learning a language at an early age around native speakers is your accent. Learning to speak a language as though you were born to it is one of the hardest things for adults to do. Their mouths just don’t work the ways they need to, and it’s extremely hard to learn new sounds after you’re out of your teens. Learning how a language is supposed to sound, not just what the words mean is one of the best ways to blend in, become fluent, and open doors during future travel.

Traveling helps broaden kids’ horizons

We touched on this earlier briefly. But it deserves a little more depth. Traveling with kids has the potential to open their eyes in so many ways. Beyond just seeing how different people live around the world, travel will expose your kids to different flavors, smells, sounds, customs, dangers, and joys.

Trying exotic foods can be fun and also scary.
Trying exotic foods can be fun and also scary.

Food is a great example. A lot of American kids these days are very picky eaters. They never develop a palate for diverse flavors and unfamiliar foods. Yet, it’s no secret that most American cuisine can be pretty bad for you. By traveling at an early age, being exposed to strange foods, different preparations, and ways of eating, your kids will be far more adventurous eaters as they grow up. Travel is also likely to make them more aware of what they’re eating and how it affects them. Exposing them to diverse risks is another critical way traveling with kids will broaden their horizons. In the US there are just so many important risks we rarely have to face. From watching your bags carefully, to being conscious of purifying water. There are a lot of things that most kids would never even realize could be risks.

In the same way, some things that seem risky really aren’t. Traveling will help expose these falsehoods for what they are. For example, growing up in America, people from the Middle East are often portrayed as dangerous and violent by the mainstream media. Go there, and your kids are sure to realize that’s not true. Travel in Central America, and you’ll quickly get used to the sounds of random fireworks going off at all hours of day or night. (I’m still not sure why they do it…)

Traveling with kids develops tolerance and resilience

All of these foreign experiences will help your children develop a tough skin, a strong mind, and a powerful will. Inevitably, traveling with kids is hard. Both the kids and the parents will face challenges on the road you just don’t deal with at home. It can be as simple as not having a snack while waiting for the bus. Or it can be very difficult, like losing a bag or passport.

Kids as tourists
Kids as tourists

Your kids will develop resilience not only through the challenges and strangeness they experience themselves but also through what they see their parents do. Remember, that as a parent, you are their biggest role model. So, staying level-headed, curious, happy, and aware will make a big impact on how your kids experience the world. If you aren’t open to all the amazing, strange, and challenging experiences that come your way, chances are your kids will feel the same.

The difficult and strange experiences you have will develop resilience. But traveling with kids will also help them become more tolerant. It’s inevitable when you’re interacting with people from different walks of life. Especially at an early age, our minds are great at finding common ground and connecting with others. You could argue that that’s what we were made to do.

If your five-year-old makes a close friend who speaks a different language, looks a different way, and comes from a different upbringing, they will never judge a person based on these characteristics. It’s easy to be scared by someone who feels foreign and strange. However, once you get to know them, laugh with them, and eat with them, your kids will see that we really are all the same.

Traveling teaches kids to be world citizens

When you add it all up, you’re not just developing skills you’re cultivating a mindset. By taking your kids out into the world from an early age, you are showing them the possibilities. Kids who grow up in the US their whole lives not only have a far narrower perspective, they are also less likely to decide to travel when they grow up. They are less likely to think about world issues from a global perspective, and they are less likely to empathize with people from other places.

The world feels smaller when you’ve traveled and seen it.
The world feels smaller when you’ve traveled and seen it.

It’s undeniable that we face a wide number of global problems now that require empathy. If we are going to reduce war and poverty in this world, we need to look across country lines and see people, not foreigners. Traveling with kids from an early age teaches them that people all around the world are the same. They love and laugh and cry and need and share and fear all in the same ways. When they grow up, they won’t think of them and us, but rather of a whole world trying to work together to solve our problems.

If you can raise one or two more young people with such a mindset, you’ve made the world an immeasurably better place. After all, change happens slowly, and kids grow up fast. So, get them out into the world now while they have time to see it with the eyes of youth. When they’re grown, I guarantee you’ll see the difference.

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ian-carroll is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival