17 Reasons to Travel with Kids (and counting!)
As I wrote up this list of reasons to travel with kids, I had trouble limiting myself to just 17.
It’s no secret that I love to living abroad with my family. And I’ve found that traveling with my kids allows me to experience a location in a completely new way.
With more fun.
And a lot more wonder.
Sure, there’s also more whining and stuff to lug and people to manage — but in a weird way, that also makes me feel more zen about the whole experience.
Maybe it sounds bad, but I go into travel with kids sort of expecting the trip to be tough. My expectations for plane rides with my lap toddler or site-seeing with my preschooler are pretty minimal.
So basically anything above “terrible” means the trip was a success.
At the same time, these adventures (and mis-adventures) can be so energizing. When you travel with kids, even the smallest details can become mesmerizing — the colors on the traditional clothes in the village; the way the shadows move underneath an avocado tree; or the sour taste of a new fruit in the market. Kids force us to slow down, to move at a different pace in our travels.
There are so many reasons to travel with kids!
Our oldest daughter has lived in three countries (she is currently age four) and our baby has lived in two. And there are so many reasons why I love living abroad with these munchkins.
I’ve written before about why we chose to homeschool abroad with our kids. In a nutshell, we found life in American suburbia too expensive, too hectic, and too disconnected from our family values.
A year into our time living as a family in Guatemala, I can say without reservation — I love living abroad with my kids.
Here’s are the best reasons to travel with kids:
1. Language exposure
Our 17-month-old is fully bilingual, in her limited way. No one had to teach her to speak Spanish any more than we had to teach her the words for objects in English. She moves easily from asking for “agua” to pointing to a picture of a “fish.”
As an adult who has studied Spanish for ten years and lived in two Spanish-speaking countries, and who STILL struggles with the language — this is such a gift.
2. Growing up in culturally diverse areas
I grew up as a Navy brat, though we were only posted domestically within the US. Still, I grew up bouncing around Southern California, Hawaii, Florida, and the like. When I moved to a rural area in Maryland, I was shocked to find that 95% of the kids looked the same…and many of those kids threw out racist “jokes” as if they meant nothing.
I had spent so long hearing other languages and experiencing other cultures that it was a total shock to realize that some kids never get to experience other ways of life.
When cultural diversity is a primary part of your childhood, you can’t help but to value and respect the incredible variety and richness of the world around us.
3. More opportunities for family adventures
I believe that there’s something to explore everywhere, whether you’re in your hometown in America or trekking through the Andes.
But life in America can get so hectic that it’s much harder to make the time, budget, and space for family adventures.
On the rare days when we had nothing scheduled in America, we were cleaning the house, running errands, or just RESTING.
Living abroad allows us the opportunity to go out on many more family adventures. Since everything around us is so new and different, it’s also a constant reminder to make the most of this opportunity. It’s harder to get complacent when you’re living abroad.
4. Affordable childcare (depending on the country)
Daycare costs in Boston for one child were 80% of my salary. Yet I needed to continue working to keep the door open for future job opportunities and advancement. I felt so stuck.
Here in Guatemala, our world-class nanny (who works forty hours a week) costs about $520…per month. I’m able to work from home, moving seamlessly from breastfeeding a baby to taking a business call, without stressing about a kid not being able to go to daycare because of a fever.
More so, our incredible nanny is a wonderful source of support, instruction, and love for our kids (and for me!). She is teaching our kids about Guatemalan culture and language, all the while providing them with another adult in this country who loves them and cares for them. I sometimes wish she could adopt ME.
5. Affordable household help (depending on the country)
I am a strident supporter of paying all domestic workers a fair wage and for treating them with respect and kindness. And yet in many countries outside of the Western world, housekeeping costs just dollars a day.
I used to feel guilty about having housekeeping help. But the reality is that anyone can do the dishes. Only I can homeschool my kids. Only my husband and I can take them on family adventures. Choosing to have help with the house frees us up to do the things that only we can do.
The truth is that it’s impossible to do it all yourself — work, educate your kids, parent your kids, keep a clean house, prepare healthy meals, manage the family logistics of doctors appointments and playdates…and on and on and on. It is physically impossible to manage it all.
Moving to a country where we could afford help allows us to focus on these other family priorities.
6. Exposure to new ways of living
This is one of the best reasons to travel with kids. First, it gives us the opportunity to enrich our lives as we incorporate our favorite parts of other cultures in our own lives, like the Spanish siesta or the European tradition of a month-long holiday in August. (Yes, I particularly like those traditions that encourage rest!)
Second, it makes differences feel more natural.
It’s one thing to travel as an adult, seeing how other communities live and work and interact.
But when this variety is a part of your childhood from the very beginning, these differences become less, well, different.
Some people have blue eyes, some have brown eyes. Some people live in apartments, some in houses. Some people speak Spanish, some speak English. Some wear jeans, some wear colorful skirts and blouses.
As privileged, middle-class Americans coming into these situations as an adult, sometimes we can’t help but put a value on some of these differences.
For our kids traveling and growing up abroad, it’s just part of the general variety of society — no judgment needed.
7. Helps kids become global citizens
On the other end of the spectrum, first-hand experiences with other cultures helps our kids internalize the need to be good global citizens.
It’s harder to ignore the crisis on the border or the plight of refugees in another country when you’ve actually traveled there, played with kids in that country, eaten their food, and toured their religious and cultural sites.
When we travel, our family grows to include the people and places we visit. It’s harder to ignore the bigger issues of poverty and racism and disparity, once citizens from other countries become our friends and neighbors.
And while our four-year-old may not be internalizing all that much about poverty right now, except in very basic terms, the groundwork is being laid for when she’s 24 and just starting out in her first job, or choosing a field for her Ph.D., or deciding which causes to donate her money to.
8. Prepares kids for real life
When we travel, we rely on so many practical skills:
- reading a map
- interacting with people in other languages
- booking hotels or tour group reservations
- figuring out the best internet or cell phone plan
- renting or buying a house or apartment
- navigating around a new city
- determining which groceries to buy in the supermarket
- how to ask for help
Not only do our kids gain experience with these skills, but they watch their parents utilize the same skills frequently. This modeling helps kids learn that it’s okay to take risks, to not know what to do all the time, and how to ask for help.
When I was 18, I backpacked across Europe by myself. I got to Salzberg, pulled out my map, and started walking towards my chosen landmark. Then I started seeing signs for “Salzberg – City Limits.”
I had the map upside-down.
Wouldn’t it have been great if I had had the opportunity to practice that skill — not just in a classroom, but in real life, for real stakes — when I was a child, with an adult there to guide me?
9. Helps families grow closer
When travel with your family, particularly if you move abroad, your family becomes your bedrock.
Travel causes you to come together in completely new ways. Your family becomes one of the few constants in life, the safe place to come home to after a tiring or frustrating day.
As you travel, you have to be mindful of all the people in the family. Who is feeling overwhelmed? Who needs a break? Who needs a snack?
You take turns exploring items on each other’s bucket lists. You share in each other’s excitement and amazement. You see countries not just from your own eyes, but through the eyes of your brothers and sisters and parents.
And you learn how to help each other and look out for each other, much more so than when you grow up in one place.
If you’re looking to grow as a family, this is a great reason to travel with kids.
10. Meet new friends
It goes without saying that making new friends is an awesome reason to travel with kids.
Kids are a natural ice breaker, and a fabulous way to connect with other locals.
Once, while touring a cultural site in Guatemala, a grandmother-type figure came up and literally took my baby out of the baby carrier on my chest. She did it gently and with a smile and a coo, so I wasn’t (too) worried.
Then she walked outside. With my baby.
I was a little more nervous by this point, but it turned out she just wanted to show the baby to the rest of her family. They were an indigenous Mayan family and didn’t even speak much Spanish.
Next thing I knew, I was holding one of their babies and we were all laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
I love that my kids are growing up in this kind of environment.
11. Model how to pursue work that fulfills us
Sometimes we move abroad for work, but sometimes we move for family reasons or economic reasons, or simply because we want a change. Then, we have the opportunity to try new kinds of work without the constraints or responsibilities of our former lives.
There’s more freedom to try new jobs when overseas. Additionally, our kids see us exploring what makes us happy and fulfilled, so they learn that they too should value happiness and fulfillment when it comes time to find their own careers.
It also allows us to take risks in our professional lives that are sometimes too scary when we’re on the tenure track (or the equivalent) back home.
My jobs overseas have included:
- university teacher
- high school teacher
- graduate student
- human resources assistant
- medical editor
I literally would not be sitting here, writing this blog today, if we weren’t overseas right now. (And happier than I can ever remember being, to boot.)
12. Able to re-invent yourself
With each new move, we have the opportunity to re-invent ourselves. While I would never advocate for running away from your problems, I do sort of enjoy the chance to start over in a new country with a fresh slate.
I’ve gone so far as to try out different nicknames in different cities. During my six months in Scotland, I was “Beth.” Living in Amsterdam for the summer, I was “Liz.” (I eventually just shrugged and accepted that, yup, I’m “Elizabeth.”)
For our kids, they have the chance to try on new parts of their personalities and to pursue different passions, without getting stuck in a rut or being slapped with a label that follows them through school.
13. Opportunity to re-assess family values and priorities
This has been one of the key reasons to travel with kids for our family. Whenever we move, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves — what do we want from this experience? What do we hope to get out of this?
When we moved to Guatemala, we were intentionally choosing a slower pace of life that allowed for more family time and more connection. Conversely, when we initially moved to Boston before that, we moved to advance our (well, my) careers.
There are so many ways to travel — slow travel or short trips, backpacking through hostels or RVing, boating, camping, and everything in between. But how we travel is a reflection of our values and our priorities.
Let travel with kids be one of the ways that you choose to live with more intention.
14. Slower pace of living
I’ve yet to visit a country that rivals America in terms of the pace of living. While there is still a lot of world left for me to visit, I so appreciate that most other cultures put a higher value on time with family and friends.
I hated living in such a way that I only saw my husband a few nights a week, where we never had the time (or energy) to go out for a family walk or grab a cup of coffee with a friend.
Of course, you can choose a slower pace of life no matter where you live, and it’s possible to live a frantic, busy life abroad as well. But I find it easier to make time for family priorities while overseas.
No one looks at you funny for taking a few months off after having a baby here (in fact, they frequently wonder why you don’t take more time off). If you’re sitting in a cafe with a friend in the middle of the day, there’s no assumption that you’re lazy or unproductive. These aren’t luxuries, just the way things are.
15. New foods
It’s impossible to have a full understanding of a nation or a culture until you try their food. And I am SO glad that I now have foods like arepas con choclo and ćevapi in my life.
It still amazes me how my kids are fully comfortable eating pitaya and homemade tortillas, but are still pretty uncertain about hot dogs.
When bibimbap and albóndigas become part of your family dinner rotation, their palates expand along with their tolerance for new things.
16. Learn what it’s like to be in the minority
This is kind of a tricky one, but give me a chance to explain.
Sure, I’m a relatively well-traveled person who is pretty open-minded. But honestly, I didn’t realize the full extent of what it’s like to stand out just by virtue of my skin color and my language until I worked overseas.
At 24, I spent some time as a nursing intern in a community emergency room outside of Medellin, Colombia. Except for one doctor who wasn’t always there when I was, no one else spoke a word of English. With my white skin and terrible Spanish, I stood out like a sore thumb.
On top of that, nursing practices are hugely different overseas, both for financial and for cultural reasons. They use different medications. Different materials. Don’t even get me started on the standard of care — I poured gelatin from the grocery store into gunshot wounds, administered grain alcohol from the supermarket into NG tubes, and warmed up IV fluids in the cafeteria microwave during a code.
I remember standing there as my fellow staff yelled instructions at me, literally grabbing my face and shouting in my ear, as if that would help me understand better. I wanted so badly to explain, “I’m not stupid, I just don’t understand you!”
You can’t fully understand what this feels like until you’ve actually lived it. But I am really, really glad I’ve had the chance to experience this on such a visceral level.
When it comes to reasons to travel with kids, I love that my children will grow up with an innate understanding that OF COURSE we all speak different languages and have different color skin and live in different kinds of homes — and we are all worthy just the same.
17. Teaches kids flexibility and patience
Sure, kids can learn emotional regulation skills pretty much anywhere. But when every day is pretty much like the one before, it’s not that surprising that our kids can get, ahem, “set in their ways,” shall we say?
I remember one epic day at the Supango Kite Festival on Dia de Los Muertos. It’s an awesome kite festival and totally worth a visit, but we were there with an eight-month-old and a three-year-old, there were THOUSANDS of people crammed into this tiny area, there was no shade, and nowhere to rest.
We had gone with a group, and we couldn’t leave until the bus picked us up later in the day. It didn’t matter that after a few hours we had done literally everything there was to do there, the kids were hot, sweaty, and tired, and we were all done with being jostled and bumped into.
FINALLY it was time to meet the bus, which was supposed to pick us up along the side of the highway (!!). Of course they were late, and there was nowhere to stand except literally right alongside the road, next to zooming semi-trucks. And the sewage ditch. For forty-five minutes. At noon.
Yea, we were all a little cranky. But these mishaps give our kids opportunities to learn patience, flexibility, and creativity. More so, they look to the adults to learn how to respond.
Yes, I wanted to pull my hair out, trying to keep my toddler out of a) traffic and b) sewage. But by responding with patience and a sense of humor (and lots of hand sanitizer), we can help our kids learn to respond with grace, no matter what life throws at us.
So Many Reasons to Travel with Kids!
Living abroad with kids has been one of the most wonderful experiences of our lives, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
While it can certainly be tough at times, all of the amazing reasons to travel with kids far outweigh any inconveniences. With patience, a sense of humor, and an open-mind, there is practically no where that isn’t “kid-friendly.”
What are your reasons to travel with kids? Share in the comments below!
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- Homeschooling Abroad: How It All Began