My three year old daughter loves eating Italian food. When we were still at that stage where parents count the number of words their child knows, “pasta” was on the list. I’d love to say taking her to Italy was integral to cultivating her love for Italian cuisine, but that would be a bald-faced lie.
She wasn’t even eating solid foods yet.
There are tons of reasons I believe it is worthwhile to travel with young children, but the number one question I get for pushback is inevitably, “What’s the point of traveling if they aren’t going to remember it?”
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, and now that my oldest daughter is old enough to remember our travels, I believe I’m ready to share my answers.
So let me begin by answering that question with a question of my own:
So what if they don’t remember?
For me, I don’t make a huge deal about whether my child will remember a particular experience or not. When I take my kids to a children’s museum, I don’t expect them to remember what they did. I just want them to have fun!
Travel is just the extreme version of going to the museum – you’re exposing your children to new experiences that will help them in their development into toddlers, preschoolers, and beyond. And those new experiences aren’t just limited to the destination, but the journey as well.
Whether it’s going through TSA airport security, learning to take long naps in the car seat, or eating an in-flight magazine, children have plenty of enjoyable experiences when traveling.
And once you get there, the new sights, sounds, and smells will be sure to stimulate (and overstimulate) your child whether they remember it or not, an experience I find to be invaluable.
Even if they don’t remember, you will.
A few days ago I got into a discussion on Twitter about when was the right time to take a child to Walt Disney World (answer: there is no wrong time).
When it comes to children under two traveling, part of the reason you take them is for your memories, not theirs.
I still remember our daughter playing on the grass outside our Villa in Tuscany, walking hand in hand with grandpa in the Bavarian Alps, and running through Taipei Taoyuan’s terminal with her backpack on after 24 hours in the air.
I remember my son just staring in amazement at the agriculture in Living with the Land at Epcot (probably the most interested person on the entire boat) and freaking out at his first dip in the ocean. Those are memories my wife and I will treasure for a lifetime.
Family travel is about family first and foremost. Even when the entire family is into adulthood, will everyone remember what happened on every trip? Doubtful. Why should it matter when the kids are young?
Collective memory is a wonderful thing.
The other day my daughter started saying “The penguins air conditioning is broken” in this low, droll voice.M on the Star Ferry in Hong Kong just before she turned two.
The funny thing is, she was remembering something from a trip that she was “too young to remember.”
Back when M was two years old, we had walked halfway up the hill to the penguins at the Taipei Zoo when a very, very disappointed man told us those very words in that very voice. Years later, there’s no way she remembered that story on her own.
But it’s a story we’ve told her a few times and I guess something about it stuck – whenever something disappointing happens these days she uses that voice and then chuckles about it. And that’s the beauty of traveling with kids when they are younger.
Sure, they don’t have the memories, but your family has
the pictures. And with those pictures come stories and with those stories comes the excitement of any book you could read to your child – except it’s real life – your life.
We used to flip through our travel photo books together with M – now she flips through them herself and tells her own stories. She will ask us, “Have I been to X? Have I been to Y?” Just yesterday she packed a suitcase and took an imaginary plane to Canada, a country she has yet to visit. At bedtime she’ll ask us to tell her stories of when she visited Mickey Mouse in Hong Kong or ate lobster rolls in Portland, Maine.
And sometimes, when we sit down for a bowl of spaghetti, she just might ask if she’s ever been to the country where spaghetti comes from.
“Yes, but you probably were too young to remember.”
“Oh. Well…when are we going back?”
— Joe Cheung