If I had a penny for the number of times, well-meaning friends and family have looked at me and asked “why do you travel so much with young kids? It’s not like they’ll remember any of it!”
The words between the lines are of course this idea that travel is wasted on their young minds. That all they will have, are photographs to look back upon when they are older. That they won’t remember hiking up temples in Cambodia, or riding on mules to explore the lost city of Petra. They won’t remember feeding giant tortoises in the Seychelles, or visiting the memorial church in Berlin. That the true benefits of travel can only be enjoyed as a young adult. That the money spent on traveling the world with them is somehow wasted.
To this I usually respond tongue-in-cheek “well, then why take them to a playground or push them on a swing? Why read them a book or cuddle with them at bedtime? They won’t remember any of that either.”
Travel is the same. Except wait, it’s even better. It’s about the experience. Of making memories together. And this is the part they will remember. Sure, travel doesn’t come for free, but what is priceless are the learning opportunities and character shaping possibilities that it provides especially for young children.
For context, my children are currently four and two years old. They have been to over twenty countries together. The 4-year-old has been on over a hundred flights and the 2-year-old is about to hit his fiftieth international flight. One was born in Singapore, the other in Dubai. They are expat kids and third culture kids (TCK’s), growing up abroad with a German/Italian father and a Pakistani mother. Travel is second nature to them, since the day they were born. Passports, airplanes, stamps, immigration queues, airports and hotels are as much part of their everyday life as is kindergarten or a visit to our neighborhood playground.
Here’s why I love to travel with them.
Here’s why I think that travel is definitely not ‘wasted’ on young kids:
1. Travel has enhanced their developmental milestones:
Babies and young kids are learning from the moment they are born. Travel helps children experience a wide repertoire of sights, smells, sounds, colors, faces and languages from an early age. My daughter said her first words on a trip to Vietnam, where she was entranced by the motorcycles on the road. My son loved our cruise on the Bosphorus, in Istanbul, and has since enjoyed boat rides immensely. He loves the sensation of swaying in water.
2. Travel has helped them become adaptable and more flexible kids: Traveling with young children exposes them to a new ‘normal.’ It allows them to be more adaptable to changing situations and be more flexible in their habits. When in Pakistan, they eat with their hands, but when in Singapore, they use chopsticks. They understand a street stall/hawker center in Asia may not have high chairs, so they’ll have to eat on my lap. They are used to sleeping in their beds, sleeping in prams, sleeping on an airplane seat, sleeping in a crowded shopping mall or outside, under a blanket. Travel has also helped to ensure they are not picky eaters. They will eat spicy Thai curries, and try new foods such as an Arabic falafels.
“It allows them to be more adaptable to changing situations and be more flexible in their habits.”
3. Travel has taught them that multilingualism is a fun way to experience the world: The first question my daughter usually asks now each time we visit a new country is: “Mama, what language do they speak here?” She understands that different people speak different languages. She understands that language is a great way to be able to relate to the world. Travel to different countries has helped our journey as a multilingual family, by exposing our kids to switch between languages.
4. Travel has shown them that though we all look different, we are the same: I find travel as a great opportunity to teach our children about diversity in the world. A 4-year-old will ask you why ‘some people are black, some are brown and some are white?’ We use travel to educate her that even though people may look different from the outside, we are all the same. Travel has also helped them make friends. My daughter recently made a friend from Botswana at our hotel in the Seychelles. She came to me and said “Mama look we can both swim!” She is learning that kids from all over the world can be her friend, if they enjoy doing what she does.
5. Travel has made them more curious and instilled in them a love for adventure: Travel helps ignite children’s imagination and encourages them to engage in creative play; skills that they develop during childhood. I was nervous about traveling to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, with two kids under 5. I shouldn’t have been. Once I told them we were going to go explore the lost city of Petra, their imaginations took over and they soon came up with a game that involved looking for treasure as we made our way through the narrow ‘Siq’ (a narrow windblown tunnel which is the only way into Petra). They were being explorers In Petra and pirates on a deserted island in the Seychelles. They ask so many questions, no matter where we go, and they love going on adventures.
“Travel helps ignite children’s imagination and encourages them to engage in creative play; skills that they develop during childhood.”
6. Travel has encouraged them to try something new: Travel helps young kids in trying new things and saying ‘yes’ to new experiences. Riding an elephant, sledding in snow, zip lining in the jungle and camping in the desert are all new experiences that my kids have loved trying. Travel opens up endless possibilities in their tiny minds and they become open and used to trying new things.
7. Travel has made them interested in geography, world maps, and airplanes: Travel with young kids means exposing them and making them interested in geography, world maps and airplanes early on. They start to form a better understanding of their environment and the knowledge that it’s a big world out there. They are interested in learning capitals of the different countries they visit, and being able to look for it on a map. Their life skills are developing at an early age.
Although travel is never wasted on young kids, I think it’s fair to say that traveling with young kids is never easy and involves its own set of challenges. As parents, we need to re-think how we travel and a lot of it is letting go of our own expectations of “perfect trips” with picture perfect postcard memories. How enjoyable traveling with kids is, ultimately has a lot to do with the mind-sets of the parents. Don’t expect perfection, plan for some hiccups along the way. Those will be the fun stories and anecdotes you will remember at the end of a trip. Raising young little travelers, is exciting and tiring. But so, so worth it.
About the Author: Mariam is the founder and writer of the blog ‘And Then We Moved To’ and writes about life as an expat, trying to raise her multilingual and multicultural children in her East-meets-West marriage and of course traveling the world. You can follow her travels and expat adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.