Traveling can be hard work for parents. Multiple overseas trips with our 5 kids introduced us to the perils of sick infants on cars, trains, ships and aircraft, and jet-lag sleep schedule disruption, the wonderful task of hauling cumbersome baby travel gear around and siblings picking fights with each other when bored.
Despite all the work it takes to coordinate, entertain and supervise kids while traveling, children of all ages benefit immensely from travelling. Travel is a multi-sensory learning experience that is much richer than textbooks, videos or classrooms.
Beyond the obvious academics absorbed visiting science centers, zoos, aquariums, art galleries, wildlife parks and museums, children learn many important life-skills while travelling, skills that they will carry with them into adulthood.
Perspective – They learn that home is actually not that bad compared to some of the rest of the world. Tripping over each other in a 500 square foot cabin helped us appreciate that we have a home to call our own.
Group Decisions – They learn that they must either provide positive leadership to the group, or must go along with group decisions. Not everyone can get their way even some of the time.
Consideration – They learn that when we are guests of others, we must be considerate of their plans, their home and their possessions. They learn to ask permission, that they must limit noise and clutter, and cannot just raid the fridge. They also learn how to socialize with hosts.
Adaptability – Things go wrong, such as missing sleeping bags, not enough pillows, unexpected weather, no transportation, lost MP3 players. Children learn to accept and/or make-do. Our motto when things went wrong while travelling was “Oh well”. Sometimes it was either laugh about it or cry about it!
Problem Solving – When adapting to new situations or circumstances, children learn how to solve problems. They can brainstorm options and help choose the best ones. Our 15-year-old and 10-year-old son got lost on a hiking trip. I was astounded at their problem-solving ability to find their way back to the camp without knowing what camp, city or state we were staying at in Australia.
Different Rules – Rules and courtesies we take for granted in our country are not the same in many other countries. For example, chewing gum is illegal in Singapore.
Patience – Travel requires so much waiting around that children learn to be patient. They wait in long lines for check-in, for security, and for boarding. They wait for take-off, they wait for food, and they wait for the washroom. They wait for landing and more line-ups. It’s endless.
Self-Entertainment – Children learn how to cope with boredom from lack of media devices and electronic devices. When MP3 players, DVD players and laptops are not available for playtime, they get into sandcastle building, drawing, card games, board games, word games, scavenger hunts and good old-fashioned conversation.
Socializing – They learn to be polite to relatives that they have never met before, and discover to their surprise that they find them likeable. They learn that strangers can be friends for travelers, and it’s okay and enjoyable to strike up a conversation with them.
Logistics – For older children that wish to get involved in trip planning, they learn useful skills such as how to book itineraries, rentals, and accommodations. They can learn how to acquire documentation such as passports, visas and consent letters. They learn the protocol for security at airports and museums. They also learn mapping, budgeting, and documentation (photos and journals) skills. They learn how to secure transportation and groceries.
Tolerance – Travelling with family members means that for a few weeks or days, family members live in close proximity with each other full time. That means siblings constantly in each other’s faces. Children get very practiced at learning how to cope with different quirks, personalities and people’s feelings. They may discover a side of a sibling that they never noticed before and actually quite like.
With all these travel benefits, it’s no wonder that many families take several vacations a year together. Whether staying in a tent, trailer, cabin, cottage, hostel, hotel or visiting relatives, travel provides an experience of a lifetime for both parents and children. Guaranteed, it will never be boring.
Judy Arnall is an international Parenting Speaker, mom of 5, and author of the best-selling, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery” www.professionalparenting.ca