My son was six months old the first time I took him on a plane. When we arrived in Honolulu, the passenger in front of us stood up and said, “I had no idea there was a baby in the seat behind me! That’s a really good kid you’ve got.” I said thank you and smiled smugly because of course I completely agreed.
Fast forward to a week later and the passenger on the return flight didn’t have the same kind words to share. Maybe because Drew’s feet kept connecting with the back of her seat. Oops…
Although I tried to stop him, he just wasn’t cooperating that day. And that’s the point: traveling with your kids can be a piece of cake one day and the next day, not so much.
But don’t give up!
I’m here to tell you that the challenges are worth it. Your kids can gain so much from these experiences, even the ones that seem like a complete disaster. Yes, they can learn from museums and historical sites. Yes, they can cross places off their mini bucket lists. But there are also plenty of intangible benefits that they can gain from traveling with you.
A larger world view
Many people are content to stay in their little corner of the world that feels safe and familiar. And I get that. But seeing how other people live is incredibly valuable. Whether your small town child is seeing a skyscraper for the first time or visiting a country that speaks another language, realizing how big the world is, how small each individual is, and how our lives interconnect with each other, is so important as they move into adulthood.
This goes hand in hand with a larger world view. Let’s face it: childhood is a pretty self-centered time of life. Traveling helps kids see just how many people there are in the world, some of them with worries much greater than a crappy wi-fi signal. When they’ve ridden a subway that two weeks later gets bombed, the news is much more real for them. They know that place, they’ve seen those people. They can readily sympathize with the shock and grief. The world isn’t so foreign when you’ve walked those streets yourself.
When we visited New York a few weeks ago, I let my daughter navigate us around Manhattan. Did she always get the directions right? No. But I think being able to make the mistakes and then fix them on her own helped her improve her mapping skills. It also let her know that going the wrong way for a block or two wasn’t the end of the world. We just got to see a part of the city that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It thrilled her to be able to recognize landmarks and find her way around in such a big city. And I was thrilled to see her confidence grow.
As parents, a big part of our job is teaching our children the skills they’ll need to survive without us. Knowing how to move through airport security, how to hail an Uber, how to buy a subway pass, how to say thank you in four different languages, how to find their way around a foreign city: these are just a few of the useful skills they’ll pick up through travel. This past summer, my daughter had to fly on her own to meet us on the other side of the country. Was I nervous, putting a 14-year-old on a flight by herself? Of course. But I also knew she could handle it because she’d gone through the process many times before. When I picked her up at Logan, she was grinning from ear to ear. And so was I.
Despite our best efforts, travel plans can sometimes go awry. You may have booked your amazing trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas, only to arrive at the gate for your second flight and be told that you have the wrong kind of passport. (Yes, true story. This happened to us.) Even though I wanted to dissolve into a puddle or bang my head against the wall, I had to leave the childish antics to the kids and figure a way out of the situation. Kids notice things like this. They see how you handle a situation, how you react to the people around you. They learn from our examples. By watching us come up with a solution to salvage this vacation, they learned how to roll with the punches without having a breakdown. They saw how important it was to listen and to look for alternate solutions. They also learned that nothing can substitute for that reliable old passport booklet!
People are people
My kids were seven and four when they saw their first gay pride march in San Francisco. They’ve sorted cans at a food bank in Santa Barbara and helped build homes for people in Mexico. Travel isn’t just about seeing cool places. It’s about really seeing the people in the places we visit and realizing that we’re all human, that we all deserve to be treated with love and respect.
Becoming global citizens
If my son had his way, every vacation would involve a theme park. Even at 18, he still loves all things Disney and Harry Potter. But he’s also learned the historic value of a statue marking where the Bastille once stood, the beauty of a building that has survived for centuries, through bombings and fires, or a battlefield where people fought for what they believed in. My daughter understands why I nearly cried when I saw my first Van Gogh in person, why getting up close and personal with a real Matisse can be an uplifting experience. We don’t always agree on every activity, but we learn by experiencing what is important to each of us. And hopefully by giving them a chance to see the world, my kids will grow up to be good stewards of the world that is left to them.
I’m sure there are more intangible benefits that I haven’t even touched on, but these are some of the biggest takeaways that I’ve seen over the years of traveling with my kids. What are some of the benefits you’ve discovered from travel? Tell me in the comments!
This post originally appeared on blysee.com on November 23, 2017. Since that site is no longer online, I’ve reposted it here.