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If you’re a new (or not-so-new) parent, the idea of traveling anywhere with your kids might seem daunting. Especially for larger families, the planning, logistics, and expense might make it seem not worth the hassle.
And yes – traveling with children can be a lot harder than jetting away on a spontaneous solo adventure or romantic weekend getaway. But the life-long benefits for the kids and the memories you’ll create far outweigh the extra effort!
I’ve been traveling with my 3 kids since they were infants, often for free or next to nothing thanks to miles and points earned from the best travel credit cards. We’ve shared incredible experiences. And although it hasn’t always gone perfectly, I wouldn’t change a thing!
I’ll share why I think travel is the best gift you can give your kids.
Why Travel Is Great for Kids
I recently had to get permission from the school principal to take the kids out for a ~3 week trip we’re planning to Abu Dhabi and the Philippines (they’ve never been out that long before). Expecting a little friction, I started explaining some of the educational activities we’re planning and how we’d bring along homework and reading etc., etc.
He said, “Stop.”
“It’s NO problem,” he continued. “The kids will learn things on this trip we could never teach them in the classroom. Enjoy it!”
I agree! It has been said that travel is the best education. And it’s even more true for children. Here’s why.
1. Life Skills 101
Planning and executing a trip with children can be a challenge, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for them to put into practice the skills they’ve learned at home and school. I try to involve my kids as much as possible in the decision-making process when we’re putting an itinerary together. They feel important and trusted when they’re allowed to participate and share their ideas.
While we’re on the road, they take responsibility for much of the travel experience. From finding the airline counter and security checkpoint, getting to the correct gate at the right time, presenting their own boarding passes to agents, or checking-in at the hotel – it’s all (mostly) them!
Sometimes they get annoyed with me when I tell them to “figure it out.” I tell them navigating an airport, making currency calculations, and having the confidence to ask questions are all important life skills. Insert pre-teen eye-roll here.
When things don’t go as planned, travel helps kids build resilience and learn to handle disappointment. Delays and cancellations happen. Sometimes you don’t get the room you’d hoped for or the weather ruins a big day out. Unexpected situations teach kids (and Mommy, too) how to be flexible and adapt.
For example, my mom, middle daughter, and I recently took a very last minute trip to Amsterdam. My daughter really wanted to visit the Anne Frank House because they’d studied her in school. Then we discovered tickets had been sold out for weeks. She was super bummed, but we visited the outside and took pictures to show her teacher and classmates. And took a canal boat ride instead!
2. Show Me, Don’t Tell Me
Getting to see and experience things you’d otherwise only read about in textbooks is an incredible education for kids! Hands-on learning about history, science, and culture is a terrific reinforcement for what’s taught in the classroom.
For older kids, travel can be an opportunity to tie-in the current events they see on TV with real world experience. For instance, I took the kids to Chicago last year to see Hamilton – An American Musical. We didn’t plan it this way, but our trip coincided with the Women’s March on Chicago which was attended by ~250,000 people – including us! Did they ever have a story to tell at school Monday morning!
Even if your kids are very young, don’t limit your travel to “kid-friendly” spots. They might not remember specifics of museums, monuments, or off-the-beaten-path destinations. But new experiences will help them develop a life-long curiosity about the world.
When they’re older, you’ll have lots of memories and photos to reminisce over. And they’ll have reason to go back!
3. Gratitude and Giving Back
One of the things I’m most thankful for is the ability to travel for free or cheap using miles and points. And I try to instill the same gratitude in the kids. They know they’re very lucky for opportunities a lot of other folks don’t have.
It’s easy for kids to take the basic things they have for granted, like a warm bed or a meal on the table. Travel opens their eyes to the fact that many others don’t have it as good as they do.
We visited Holguin, Cuba, last year for a week of sunshine and fun. Before the trip, we packed items to donate, including the kids’ outgrown sporting equipment and name-brand clothing. In Cuba, we made friends with a local family and the kids were able to share the items with a group of neighborhood children.
Later this year, we’ll participate in a mission to the Aeta people in Pampanga, Philippines. The kids’ contribution will include new school supplies, toiletries, toys, and clothing. I’m hopeful these experiences will give them a lasting desire to share their good fortune whenever they can.
Giving back doesn’t have to be a big production. It can be as simple as having the kids leave a nice tip for the maid who cleaned up the hotel room (which always looks like a bomb has gone off) during a stay. Or chipping in their spare change for a homeless person in a big city.
4. Becoming a Global Citizen
There might be more hoops to jump through when traveling internationally with kids, but these are the trips I value most. Experiencing different cultures and traditions at a young age encourages kids to try new things and find common ground with folks from all over!
My kids have learned that, despite differences in language, religion, food, and skin color, we’re all the same in being human. And they don’t hesitate to ask questions, sample unfamiliar cuisine, or make new friends despite a language barrier or different appearance. They don’t have preconceived notions about people like adults do, so it’s refreshing and heartwarming to see the world through their eyes.
Did I mention they’re not shy? 😉
Travel has given the kids a much bigger interest in global events. I’d like to think it’s instilled a better sense of social responsibility and justice as well. They know there’s a much bigger world out there – beyond the confines of their comfort zones.
My girls have already talked about working, studying, and living overseas when they graduate high school. I hope they seize every opportunity they can, and I’m confident they’ll have the maturity and skills to navigate any endeavor they choose.
5. Stuff Breaks or Wears Out … Memories Are Forever
Million Mile Secrets team member Meghan wrote about why it’s better to spend money on experiences, not things. And I’m totally on the same page.
Research has shown that family trips – and the memories you make – act as “happiness anchors” for kids later in life. When the drudgery of daily life gets you down, it’s uplifting to remember the fun (and even not-so-fun) times spent together on adventures.
We still get lots of giggles over the time my (then quite young) daughter “accidentally” ate fish food in Hawaii instead of throwing it into the koi pond (“Tastes like cat food,” she said. Wait, what?). Or the time we flew kites at the Washington Monument and the kids nearly went airborne because it was so windy.
I’d much rather save my money for travel instead of buying toys and electronics for the kids. Inevitably, they outgrow “stuff” and lose interest, or it breaks or wears out. But they’ll always have the photos, videos, and memories of the the trips we took. And one day, they’ll be able to share the experiences with their own kids!
I love that when the holidays or birthdays approach now, they ask “What are we doing?” instead of “What are we getting?”
Traveling with your kids, while sometimes challenging, is a huge boost to their personal growth. Creating memories as a family is far more valuable than spending money on toys and trinkets they’ll eventually outgrow.
Don’t be afraid to include your kids in trip planning! Having them participate in all parts of the travel experience helps them develop life skills and learn flexibility and resilience when things go sideways. It’s taught me to be patient, too.
And exposure to different cultures, historical sites, and off-the-beaten-path locales reinforces what they learn at school. Seeing firsthand how others live and learning to be grateful for what they have back home can’t be taught from a textbook.
We’re looking forward to many more years of family thanks to travel credit card rewards. I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling with kids in the comments!