Some of my friends have said they will wait until their kids get older before they start traveling with them because, "They will get more out of it then." Sure kids will appreciate some activities better if they are older, but if you plan trips that are appropriate for their age they will gain real-world knowledge. As a former teacher, I think there's nothing wrong with pulling your kids out of school for a week if you are going to go on a family vacation. Here are 10 lessons traveling teaches kids:
1. THEY SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW PERSPECTIVE. My kids are growing up in a town without much diversity. When we travel they are able to experience many amazing cultures. When we went to Portugal we stayed in three different locations (a beach town, a small town out in the country, and a city) so they could see that in one country people can live completely different lives. The world will not seem so unknown, but rather will make them curious and question where they want to go next.
2. THEY LEARN SO MUCH ABOUT THEMSELVES. When you're traveling, many questions about yourself will be answered. Do you prefer vacations where you're surrounded by lots of people or do you prefer solitude? Do you like to be adventurous? Do you like to hike, swim, snorkel, or parasail? Do you like to follow an itinerary or do you like to plan your trip as you go? Traveling helps you define yourself and a good vacation is one where you come home changed for the better.
3. THEY LEARN TO EXPLORE AND APPRECIATE HOW GREAT IT CAN BE TO GET LOST. I always do tons of research about the place where we're traveling but I always leave room to just explore and wander around. (Ok...and I get lost A LOT!) Our favorite times in Santorini were wandering in the maze of streets and coming upon a cute café or shop. Getting lost shows kids it's ok to let loose, go with it, and live in the moment.
4. IT BUILDS CONFIDENCE. Small accomplishments like ordering their own foods in a restaurant, paying for their own souvenir, or letting them choose what activity you do that day will make them believe in themselves.
5. THEY LEARN THAT FOOD CAN CONSIST OF MORE THAN CHICKEN FINGERS AND PIZZA. My kids will try most foods at least once. (Sometimes only after a double-dog-dare.) They've eaten octopus, squid, clams, pig's ears, and deer. Well...they did draw the line at blood sausage but who can blame them? When we go away I usually order the local fish or specialty dish and they always try it. They may not like it but at least they give it a chance experience it once.
6. THEY SEE NEW CULTURES. In Portugal, we were able to see local women wearing the traditional seven-layer skirts. In Greece, we saw the fishermen hang their octopus in the sun to dry. In Turks and Caicos, we were able to see the small houses that served as schools with multi-aged classrooms. All of this exposure makes my kids realize how distinct each country is. It is nice to see people continuing traditions their ancestors used.
7. THEY LEARN MORE ABOUT THEIR OWN CULTURE. If your family has a rich heritage it is your responsibility to teach them about it. I grew up in a household where we spoke both English and Portuguese. Traveling with them allows me to show them our culture by exposing them to the language, food, and customs. When you travel, it's easy to compare cultures to your own and it opens up conversations you never would have thought to have.
8. THEY MEET INTERESTING PEOPLE. Sure there are some crazies out there, but sometimes they can make your vacation a blast. There are many opportunities to meet fellow travelers and locals. Traveling shows them the benefits of getting to know people and taking the time to ask them questions about where they're from.
9. THEY GET OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE AND TRY NEW THINGS. My childhood was not filled with many adventures so I'm glad to be creating them with my kids. Whether we are swimming with stingrays in the wild, snorkeling in the caldera of a volcano, or exploring a dark cave, we can break out of our comfort zone and try something we never thought we would do.
10. THEY LEARN TO RELAX, DISCONNECT, AND BE IN THE MOMENT. In a time when our cellphones are constantly on, it's nice to disconnect with the world for a while and just be in the moment with each other. While on vacation, our phones stay off until we get home for the night. Only after the kids go to bed do we check emails and do some work online. Even then, I will gladly pass on electronics in exchange for a glass of wine on the patio listening to the waves crash on the beach.