I’ve heard it said that when you’re traveling with young kids, it’s best to call it a “trip” instead of a “vacation.” Parenting is parenting even when you’re in Hawaii or on an African safari. If you’ve booked a vacation somewhere and you are bringing your kids along, don’t expect to be swinging leisurely in your hammock: the kids still need to be clothed, fed, and put to bed.
Our family of four recently drove from San Diego to Michigan and back again, tent camping at several national parks along the way. We made some epic memories, including:
Elk walking through our campsite at Rocky Mountain National Park!
Several times during our journey, Max and I turned to each other and wondered whether the kids would remember any of it. Our boys are 5 and 7, and I only have very dim memories of when I was that young. Which begs the question:
Is it worth it to travel with kids when they’re too young to remember?
I’m arguing that yes, it’s still worth it. And here are the three reasons why it’s worth traveling with kids:
1. It exposes them to the world beyond their neighborhood.
The change of scenery, the change of local culture, the different accents, and the local food all serve to expand their world view. My hope is that they will grow up knowing that they are not the center of the universe, that their experience and perspective is not universal, that different people may think differently and that’s okay. Because they will also see the common humanity in us all: the Pakistani family was marveling at the Grand Canyon as much as we were; that heavily tattooed biker guy clearly loves his ice cream cone as much as we do; and those kids from Brooklyn, New York in the campsite next to ours can hold their own with a stick and a giant ball (and will invite you into their game as well!) Though they may not remember the specifics, I hope that they will internalize these truths.
2. It teaches them to be flexible.
Things don’t always go as planned when you’re traveling. Hiking trails are closed. A storm rolls in and you find yourself back in the car for several hours to get to the next campsite. The dogs you brought aren’t allowed at the exhibit. Getting kids out of their predictable routines is one way to grow, but encountering the unexpected teaches them to be adaptable, to “go with the flow” as my dad is fond of saying. And hopefully, when life throws them a curve ball, they’ll be able to change course all the easier because they have learned to be flexible.
3. You will enjoy the trip exponentially more through the eyes of your kids.
As adults, we have grown so blase about the wonders of the world. It takes a lot to impress us. But not so with the kids: they are experiencing things for the first time, and their delight is magical. Max and I have been to Yellowstone before, but we kept telling each other: “I don’t remember it being this fun” or “I don’t remember being this impressed.” That’s because the last time we were here, we weren’t with kids. Seeing the same sights through the kids’ eyes was way more fun.
I’m aware that there are other ways to teach kids these lessons, and I’m also very much aware that not everyone has the means to travel. But if you’re able to, I highly encourage you to do it – I guarantee it will be worth the hassle!