Why travel is undoubtedly the best university for your kids

The author tells us why getting her kids out of school for a year in order to travel was the best parenting decision she made

Kid showing seven wonders of the world

What could be more enriching for a child’s development than to explore the world with loving parents who are dedicated to helping him interpret everything he sees, hears, does, tastes, touches and smells? When we informed friends and family that we were going to travel around the world for a year with our children, we received a mixed bag of responses. Most people were positive and supportive, however they would also comment, “The children won’t remember very much since they are so young.” One associate declared that she could never take her child out of primary school for a year. Why not? I was convinced that taking my children out of school and into the world for a year was the right thing to do.

Every experience helps a child to grow emotionally. As a Child Health Nurse, my knowledge of child development told me that early experiences in life lay the foundation for further learning. Different experiences are critical at different ages for optimal brain development.

Every experience matters

How do you know which experience will be life altering for your child? Ultimately all children benefit from getting out into the big wide world and experiencing places, people and life challenges beyond their own backyard. The benefits of their experiences may not be seen immediately if you are travelling with young children, but remember, all experiences build to form children’s brains and the people they grow to become. Maybe a trip to the Great Wall of China might trigger a desire to study Mandarin and Chinese History or a trip to the Great Barrier Reef might spark a lifelong career in marine biology and environmental tourism.

My favourite quote is written on the wall of a backpacker’s hostel in Barcelona, Spain: “Travel is the best university.” Travel should have an element of challenge that can be embraced and teach children flexibility and patience. Travelling with children overseas to a five star resort where they spend their time in kids’ club, eating hot dogs and fries at every meal is unlikely to add value to a child’s development compared to a trip to a distant city where you can explore the sights, sounds, tastes on foot and by using public transport.

No such thing as ideal age

Travelling with children is not an easy feat. It doesn’t matter whether you are planning a short local beach holiday or an epic multi-country adventure. Kids are kids wherever you take them. If they are fussy eaters at home then they will be fussy eaters on the other side of the world. That doesn’t mean you should sit at home waiting for their manners to kick in. I asked Patrick, my nine-year old son, when the best time to travel with children is. His reply, “When they can follow instructions and not have hissy fits.” My response, “That means we can’t take your teenage brother anywhere for a while!”

From my experience I believe that there is no best age to travel with children. All ages and stages of children’s development have pros and cons when it comes to travelling. Plan your travel so that you build on your child’s current level of skills and abilities. Babies are portable and generally easy travel companions; toddlers are tricky and certainly dictate heavily on how and where you travel for their own safety; preschoolers are more aware of the world and have some self-help skills and budding independence; primary school kids can carry their own backpack and be quite adaptable; teenagers go back to being tricky. A fine balance between their needs and wants must be considered to keep family travel harmonious.

Why my kids thought travel is good for them

I asked my two sons, experienced world travellers that they are, why they thought travel was good for kids. They put a great deal of thought into their answers and were amazingly similar in their views. I truly couldn’t have put it any better myself. Harris, aged 13, believes that travel helps you realise you are just one of seven billion people in the world. He quoted a Cambodian saying, “Same same but different”; meaning everyone in the world is different but ultimately we are all the same. He said you realise that “…there is more in the world than just the little town that you live in; that money isn’t everything. Your head becomes filled with stories.”

Patrick, wiser than his nine years, said, “Travelling teaches you not to judge a book by its cover; people might sound different, speak a different language, dress and look different but we are all people.” He also said kids get better grades in school if they travel!

Involve them

Whether you explore you own “backyard” or go further afield, travelling with kids should be enjoyable and ultimately educational. Let your kids be as much a part of the planning as their age permits. Kids go at a slower pace than adults, so remember this when scheduling your days. Allow time for kids to take in their new environment. A wonder of travelling with children is that you get to view the world through two sets of eyes, adult eyes and the eyes of your children. Your child will not remember everything they see and do over the years but have confidence that their experiences will make them well rounded, caring, empathetic citizens of the world.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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