Why We Travel

My son, sister, two nephews and I recently returned from a road trip to the Bordeaux region of France. On the way there, my sister suggested that we should break up the 9-hour drive back by stopping for the night somewhere. Her suggestion for that stop? Disneyland Paris, a.k.a. Euro Disney.

When I balked at the idea, she said, “I just thought it would be nice for Chet. I mean, after all this traveling, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for him?”

The implication, of course, is that our previous travels to non-Mickey-approved destinations don’t do anything for him. That they are for me and perhaps even at his expense.

I wholeheartedly protest that notion.

I suppose there are plenty of reasons for us to stay home. As you’ve no doubt read in many of my posts and reviews, my son is a puker. Possessor of a hair-trigger gag reflex, the kid hurls from laughing too loud, crying too hard, eating too much or just sensing that my outfit lacks the proper amount of color.

When on the road, he tends to stick to two food groups – french fry and apple juice. And a born critic, he’s been known to let the world know how he feels about certain museums with ear-splitting shrieks or echoing monkey sounds.

We certainly don’t have to travel. And there are times (usually when I’m trying to figure out how to carry both the stroller and the car seat myself) when I think it may be more trouble than its worth. But – and perhaps it sounds self-serving – I know he enjoys our trips. The look of excitement on his face as the airplane takes off. His enthusiastic “Oh, wow, Mama! Horses!” when checking out the ceiling of a Louvre gallery. The way he manages to find children to play with, despite where we are and what language they may speak. His careful assessment of all that passes in front of his eyes. And most importantly, the fact that my son, at three years old, has indubitably become at home anywhere in the world.

As adults, we talk a lot about why travel is worthwhile. How we can see strange and unique sites, relive history, reassess our assumptions of the world and remind ourselves that, deep down, people are more the same than not. For some reason, many fail to see why those same lessons may be worthwhile for our children. I happen to think they may be even more important for the toddler set. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” And as parents, what better lessons could we help impart to our kids?

So how about you? Why do you travel with your young’uns? What have both you and they learned in the process?

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Comments

  1. says

    I learned that the only toy young kids need is rocks. (and you can find rocks anywhere). Also, language is not a barrier to play.

  2. says

    I traveled a lot with my kids when they were between 4 and 10 year old. We lived in England for a couple years and we visited something like 11 countries in Europe. Now they are 10 and 13 years old, and I’m so thankful we did travel with them. Traveling has made them more open-minded people, more accepting of other cultures. Once I heard a friend talk about the names of kids at her school – foreign names. She said that they were weird, and that they should have American names. The vigor with which my kids attacked this notion was wonderful.

    Also, as hard as it is to believe with a french fry and apple juice kid, travel made my kids more adventurous eaters. Keep traveling with Chet when he’s over 5 and you’ll see what I mean!

    Another thing I loved when traveling was how my kids learned to communicate with other kids, even when they didn’t share any words. Once they were in France, and my son, then 4 or 5, found out how to say hide-and-seek in French, and went around to all the kids on the playground, saying “cache-cache?” and covering his eyes, until he had organized a full-scale game. It was magical to see him connect that way.

  3. says

    Kayt, this is a very thoughtful article. I love to travel with my children. For all the same reasons. Sure, it is work to get there, but the rewards are worth it. And one thing I have noticed with my children, when we return from a vacation, they have changed a little (or a lot) in some positive way.

    Children can find joy in anything if we let them. It’s so great seeing things through their eyes at different ages.

  4. says

    Kayt,

    I think I might print this for my son’s baby book. Seriously, what you’ve written captures the argument for travel with kids very well.

    I remember when I was pregnant and someone asked me what type of parenting technique I was planning to use and I thought, “Huh? I thought I’d just try to make him a good, kind person.” I really can’t think of a better way to do that than to have him see and learn as much as possible.

  5. says

    I’m hoping that travelling with my son (19 months) proves to be worthwhile. Maybe most of my anxiety stems from the fact that we’re about to embark on an all-day trip (thanks to an indirect flight to San Diego from Virgina) while 6 months pregnant with a toddler. That and the fact that I will be taking care of him and providing all the entertainment for the both of us while my husband is in a conference all day, every day, for the duration of our trip.
    (We booked with Expedia but were later unable to cancel my ticket after deciding that it was best that I not go this time… Not a fun ordeal, and not a good reflection of their company, but that’s another story.)
    So, armed with a stroller and hopefully a really good map, we’ll be attempting to explore the area as best as we can without a car (I hear they have buses…) so wish me luck!
    Oh, and any tips on flying with a toddler would be great!

  6. says

    This is a very nice piece. As a response I would offer the entire book manuscript I wrote about traveling with my one-year-old for 13 months. Did I question my sanity almost daily? You betcha. But like you say, he is now utterly “at home in the world.”

    To offer a more precise example: On our recent trip to Paris my younger son fell in love with the Eiffel Tower. Head over heels. He can’t stop talking about it and gets a goofy grin on his face when someone asks him about it. His pleasure is a visceral, tangible thing. Every time I see that smile I remember the way he and his brother pasted there noses to the glass walls of the elevator as we ascended. It’s like going to the moon.

  7. Carolina says

    Right on! We all have our doubting moments.
    Last Sunday I decided I needed to go for a walk on the beach. I told my son and he dutifully began to give me a long list of complaints. His plan was something more along the line of staying home, watching 8 hours of T.V., playing with his toys, and eating ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, that can be an excellent plan on many a day. But that day, I was determined that he was going to get outside, and we were all going to get some exercise and fresh air. It was a perfect beach day and he had a blast. I had a moment where I had the “bad mommy” flash, doubting my decision to take him out. But I got over it, and he got over it (with some cartwheels on the beach and the best chocolate chip cookies in Santa Cruz).

  8. says

    Confession time. I read your blog and I like it ’cause I want to become a good traveler – but I’m not there yet. Traveling turns me into a basket-case. But we braved a road trip from British Columbia to Arizona with our three children this spring and it went pretty darn well. Next hurdle: airplanes.

  9. says

    A sample of all the things my kids have learned through travel:
    1. Watermelon tastes just as good in Peru as it does in Seattle.
    2. You can charm the local bakery owner into giving you free candy by learning how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “please” and “thank-you” in Greek.
    3. It is possible to make snow angels in the gravel under the Eiffel tower.
    4. Six-year-olds tire of castles. Enough to shout “Hands up everyone who’s DONE with chateaus” in the middle of a fancy French castle.
    5. You can get mac-n-cheese if you can say “Pasta bianco per favore” in Italy.
    6. There are enormous bugs in the Mayan jungle.
    and I could go on…
    Which is why we’re planning to bite the bullet and do an rtw trip in 2010 – with two kids in tow. I can’t wait.
    Michelle

  10. says

    Wow, I love that there are so many responses. Thanks for commenting.

    Meg, rocks totally kick ass. The only issue is when Chet decides he wants to cart them home. As if I didn’t have enough to carry.

    Jody, I love the “cache-cache” story!

    Kristy, maybe we’re starting our own parenting technique.

    Brianne, my best tip for traveling with a toddler is to remember a spare outfit for both you and your child. Then, put said items in a sealed plastic bag in your carry-on. If there is puke, you can (a) have back-up clothes for both of you (too bad for the guy sitting next to you!) and (b) put the offending items in that same sealed bag so that the barf does not contaminate your stash of animal crackers.

    Jennie C., even the hardiest Mommy traveler still gets the willies. There is a lot of stress in traveling with kids. I don’t mean to downplay it. But the takeaway here is that even so, it’s more than worth it.

    Mara, I couldn’t have said it better. My son had a similar visceral, tangible reaction to the ceilings at the Louvre a few weeks ago. Not the stuff on the walls, mind you, but maybe he’s saving that for later.

    Carolina, sounds like a great day. I do my best learning at the beach, myself.

    Rory, agreed.

    Michelle, I’m so jealous! One of these days, I’d love to take a year off and just do the RTW thing. You are inspiring me to think a little harder about how to do it.

  11. says

    I travel with my kids because I want them to realize the world is bigger then there little spot in the suburbs. I will never forget 8 years ago when I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with some elementary and junior high school aged children and sat in shock as I realized these children had never heard of most of the countries the athletes represented let alone had any clue as to what part of the world the countries were located. I vowed at that point to never have my children be that ignorant of the world. I now have two year old twins who may not have left the country yet (two children and one income playing a major role in their lack of world travel) but they have seen more of their area of the country than most people who have lived here for 20 years. They have seen elephant seals at home in their breeding grounds and watched a whale and its calf go up into Sacramento’s Deep Water Channel. They have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and they have Stood at the top of a peak high above Lake Tahoe. Will they remember this? Probably not. But it will shape the people that they will grow up to be. Life isn’t about who has the most Barbie dolls or legos. People don’t look back at those things with the same fondness that they do when they think of the family vacation where they spotted a bear in Yosemite or smelled the sulfur springs at Lassen. When they get older and start to become aware of environmental issues they will be much more likely to care about the environment because they have experienced its awe inspiring beauty. They will be more willing to fund art programs for schools because they have seen the brush stroke of a Renoir in person. They will be less likely to want to abandon the poor because they have seen that not everybody lives in a two story 2100 square foot house with a green lawn and two SUVs parked in the driveway. That is why I travel with my children.

  12. says

    Sharlene, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I remember once trying to explain this to my mother. I said, “I want Chet to realize that not everybody lives in cookie cutter homes and has their own battery-powered, character-themed Jeep Wrangler at the age of 2.”

    And she replied, “Well, I would have sent Chet one of those Jeeps already but it would cost too much to ship!”

    True story.

  13. says

    What an inspiring post. I have to admit, I never thought of things this way. Not with toddlers anyway, but you are so right. The DO get a lot out of it, most importantly — diversity. And if you can’t afford to go out of the country, just go to a new neighborhood. We live in Southern California and love to just drive somewhere on a Saturday and then just get out of the car and walk around the neighborhood or town and just experience a new place, different styled homes, different people. It’s a hassle with a toddler to travel, especially when they want to be up moving, not strapped in a car seat on a plane, but the memories are never of the few hours it takes to “get there” it’s always of the adventure we had once there. Thanks for REMINDING me of that.

    And so many good comments on here too.

    We’re going to Maui this fall, and I have been dreading the preparation and the plane ride (last plane trip my daughter had serious ear pain and screamed her head off) but this just gave me a much needed pick-me-up.

  14. says

    My just-turned-four year old said to me the other day “Mommy, I want to go to Uzbekistan” (I kid you not). Thanks to an obsession with her talking globe toy, she has learned the names, anthems and cultural factoids of virtually all the countries in the world she has developed a genuine interest and curiosity in the many people and places on the planet. She and her sister have already filled a few passport pages, and we certainly plan to fill some more (still trying to figure out how to make our rtw dream a reality, financially speaking). Exposing children to other landscapes, histories, music, languages, food and ways of life is a valuable part of their education as they are citizens of an increasingly interconnected world. A lot of hard work goes into schlepping kids from place to place, out of their familiar routine and comfort zone, but it’s ultimately worth it. It help creates character, understanding, empathy, insight and memories. I wouldn’t miss traveling with my kids for the world! Now, excuse me, I have to go and try locate Uzbekistan on the map myself.

  15. says

    Traci, we’re doing the Germany to U.S. trip TWICE between now and January. I know that uptight feeling. But honestly, it won’t be as bad as you think. (And you will have Maui to console any SNAFUS while I will only have box wine and family at the end of my trips. Come to think of it, can I come with you?)

    Catherine, the wife of a soldier I recently met is a pilot with Uzbekistan’s national airline. So you can get there! And I need to get me one of those globes. The old paper atlas is so not Web 2.0.

  16. says

    Hello, we just returned from Peru and Costa Rica with our 5 and 8 year old boys. What an adventure and education is was for them. We have been traveling and producing a travel guide DVDs for parents and kids for 4 years, which show the importance and the ups and downs of traveling with kids. Although we always get the “why bother, they wont remember it” we have realized it doesnt matter if they remember exact details, or the trip iteslf when they are 20. Who cares?… The point is we have amazing experiences and family time together now when they are young, and that has an impact on who they will become. Our family travel guide series “Travel With Kids” is available at Amazon and travelwithkids.tv with 10 destinations from Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Paris, England, Scotland and many more on the way.. all with young kids.
    Thanks!

  17. says

    Traveling with kids have a lot of issues to be looked into which is for sure, but does it mean that we wont plan for the next vacation with our kids? So there is nothing that can stop us from going around and seeing the world and meeting people.

  18. Jen says

    I go to a couple of professional conferences a year and always take my son. At first it was because he was a baby, I am a single mother, and who would he stay with? But we love those trips together! We usually spend a couple extra days, and I always take a couple conference breaks for museums, nature preserves, whatever the locale offers.
    He’s starting first grade in the fall, and I’m sure my parents will think he shouldn’t miss school, but I can’t imagine missing these experiences together. He even went along to a conference in Tahiti. My funding source required I also attend one in Australia right after. (I wish I had that kind of luck more often). The airline we took (New Zealand?) was wonderful with kids–handed out packs of games and toys, but also did little things like invite him (3.5 years old at the time) to hand out candy to all the passengers near the end of the flight.

    Jody, I wonder what your kids’ schoolmates would say re: a boy named “Barack Obama” who had a ‘terrorist’ middle name. One of the main reasons I voted for that man is that his understanding of the world was clearly shaped by experiences with various cultures at an early age. We’ll see what he actually does now that he’s in office, but I put a lot of stake in the benefits of really understand that difference exists.

    Kayt, I love your post, but can’t figure out why you lug so much baby gear along! We are living in Germany now, visiting the States in March.

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