“What?!?! AGAIN???? It’s not like they are going to remember any of it anyway.” I get this line all the time and it drives me crazy. The older I become I find that there are two distinct circles when it comes to traveling with kids – the ones who “get it” and the ones who think you are crazy. I have found that the circle that “gets it” is far smaller. Why? Well, traveling with kids is hard (notice I didn’t say “bad” there). It’s unpredictable. It’s messy. And often it’s inconvenient. So why do it, right?
Well, if making memories is the main argument than why do anything at all? Every time I get that first line I wonder if that person thinks I should just stay inside all day every day and deprive my kids of the outside world: It’s not like they will remember that walk down to the park, that play date I setup with a friend, or that road trip to who-knows-where. However, showing your kids (no matter what the age) new things is essential. Here’s why…
1. Being uncomfortable yields learning.
Think about it, when do you really learn the most about yourself? Is it when you are sitting on the couch watching a movie? Or is it when you are pushing your limits a little bit? When you know you will excel at everything you attempt, there is little personal growth. However, when you try new foods, go new places, or attempt something that makes you inherently uncomfortable it allows you to re-calibrate how you see the world. Suddenly, that long hike doesn’t seem so daunting, or you don’t hesitate to jump right in with the “locals.” Sure, when you miss nap time it makes things difficult, but it also teaches your kids that sometimes it’s okay to be a little tired. This concept applies to life in general but also perfectly applies to travel. In a way, it’s a rewording of Navy SEAL Jocko Willink’s philosophy of “Discipline equals freedom.” Making hard decisions or making the uncomfortable choice inherently sets you on a path to get the most out of your day.
2. Exploring new things & testing boundaries creates a new normal.
You can’t go to a far-off foreign land every single weekend, but you CAN at least explore your city, county, or state. Don’t stay at home! There is so much in this world to see and do, and it’s addictive! Once you start to get out and explore, you start finding more and more things to see and do. After years of this philosophy, our son Miles now asks every weekend morning what the plan is. Almost always we have something planned, but often Miles follows up with, “Is that it?” THAT makes me happy.
3. Becoming a “world citizen” and seeing worldwide responsibility
We try to make a point to try and experience a little piece of the culture on every trip we take. Seeing how other people live gives you an extreme appreciation for the rights and privileges we have in the United States and other developed countries. Visiting the floating village in Cambodia to see where 75 kids have class in a small room with one teacher, seeing a 6 year old selling merchandise on a weekday at a night market in Thailand, or even visiting the “killing fields” of Phenom Penh where over a million people were killed provide valuable opportunities for your kids to ask questions that never would come up otherwise. We hope this shapes the way our kids see and interact with the world.
4. Hands on learning is powerful
Nothing gets your kids invested in learning something new as much as picking them up and dropping them smack dab in the middle of it. Getting your kids up to the top of the that mountain, letting them see how other people live, or exposing them to new foods gives them that extra sensory input that helps make memories stick and widens their horizons. Our kids have visited places of worship to see people pray in at least 6 different religions and at this point find Buddhism just as “ordinary” as Christianity. Recently we went hiking in the Aokigahara Forest in Japan and Miles asked why the tree roots were all above ground. It led to a great discussion about how we were walking on volcanic rock, where lava comes from, and the variation in different kinds of rock. He has been bringing it up ever since.
5. Family bonding is strengthened.
Life is stressful. No matter what your profession, it’s easy to get caught up in work, school, or the rhythm of daily life. Seeing and doing the same things over and over makes it easy to slip in to complacency and to forget that your family and the people that love you are the most important resource you have. Getting out of that normalcy, even if it’s just taking a weekend road trip, lets you see your life with more clarity and focus on what is important. There is something about spending a few days exploring that breaks down that barrier of normal life and lets you learn more about those you love. It makes you better able to listen, and others more likely to let you in. This works whether they are 7 or 70 years old.
Our kids are young, but we already know that travel is shaping who they are, how they respond to situations, and how they see the world by our daily dialogue. Our daughter, Penny, won’t remember taking an overnight train in Thailand or slurping down ramen in Kyoto, Japan. She will, however, be more open to trying new foods and going new places. She will understand that the world it too amazing to sit at home. We hope she will develop a thirst to live life to the fullest. The best part is that this works whether you go 50 or 5,000 miles from home! Either way you are increasing the chance you will actually have quality time with your family and introduce your kids to something that might actually make them a better person. So, the next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re simply torturing your kids by having them travel remember that things that are worth doing aren’t always easy (hence why not everyone does them).