Sometimes, when I have gotten off an eight-hour flight, and I am lugging two half-asleep children and three suitcases to a hotel in an unfamiliar city, in which I know neither the language nor my way around, bracing for a night of tantrums and jet lag, I wonder if I am actually crazy for doing this.
And then I remember I am not.
I grew up in Bombay, India, a large and dynamic city, partly responsible for my high threshold for excitement. My parents believed that travel is the best education and from an early age my sister and I spent holidays on planes, trains, and boats to wherever.
Today, my best memories of my childhood are from those travels: buying a sweatshirt at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco like every other tourist who goes there expecting Baywatch weather; my dad forcing me to eat shrimp teriyaki in Tokyo instead of the McDonald’s cheeseburger I so desperately wanted; making long-distance phone calls to my boyfriend from Kerala and racking up an exorbitant hotel bill.
Raising World Travelers
A decade later, I married a man infected with a similar wanderlust. Between us, we have lived in Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK, and traveled to most parts of the globe. Our kids didn’t stand a chance – they were going to be travelers, and indeed they are. They were both on planes by three months old and have been to more than 20 countries in the world and counting.
I travel with my kids because I believe that you can’t truly develop an appreciation for diversity until you experience it for yourself. I want them to go to different parts of the world and to understand some music sounds different, that some traditions are inexplicable but integral, that some food is best eaten with your hands. I want them to see that some people live in extreme heat, others in extreme cold, and many, in abject poverty. I want to raise culturally aware global citizens because we live in an increasingly interconnected world and cannot afford to be ignorant or prejudiced.
I travel with my kids because I believe it builds resilience and flexibility. Too often, particularly with babies, we get caught up in the routines and timetables, scheduling them like clockwork and forgetting that they, and we, are human beings with needs and desires that cannot completely be timed.
What Travel Teaches Kids
Traveling through distances and time zones teaches our children adaptability, and going to unfamiliar places teaches them tolerance for ambiguity, all necessary life skills. I am proud of the fact that my kids will sleep anywhere and that I can walk into any restaurant in the world and find something they will eat, even if what they really want is a cheeseburger.
One of the most inhibiting factors is the cost of travel. In my family, we make it a priority, sacrificing other activities for the promise of a future trip. For others, it may be planning for one big trip once a year, or many small ones. It doesn’t have to be somewhere far, international, or exotic. Going on a road trip to a nearby town or national park will afford your children a lot of these same benefits.
The goal is exposure, not expense. And I wish you and your family heaps of it.