The top 5 reasons to travel with children

Tonight I’m writing my 100th blog post, which seems like a milestone to me. Although there has been much talk online about the death of blogs (apparently, like everything else, they have been ruined by corporate greed and poor attention spans) somehow I feel like I’ve proved that I am around to stay. Certainly I have no intention of going anywhere, except, of course on many more trips with my kids.

I’ve found that as in my traveling life, my blogging life does not always go as planned. Since this is as-yet an unpaid enterprise and since my children are still pretty young, there are times when my ambitions exceed my output. So this post is coming to you on Wednesday, rather than on Monday. And it is not accompanied by a weeklong celebration during the course of which I will present you with a list of 100 reasons to travel with children (although isn’t that a great idea?). Instead you are going to have to settle for my top five reasons. I’ll do the best I can to make them good ones.

One thing I’d like to say at the outset is that although I was crazy and did take my one-year-old on the road for a year, I’m not speaking only of that trip when I talk of “travel.” For me travel covers a wide range of experiences that include not only airplanes but excursions to local museums. Travel is in some ways a state of mind: it is a willingness to step outside the easy, everyday boundaries that comfortably circle my life.

So here are my top five reasons why traveling with children is worth it:

Reason #5: Traveling with my children makes me a better parent. Heck, it makes me a better person. Why? Because it requires so many different things of me. To travel well with my kids I have to plan well and make sure that I’m prepared for contingencies. And then when circumstance requires me to abandon these carefully-made plans, I have to be flexible enough to make changes on the fly and find new solutions. I must be patient during trying situations and I must continually think about someone other than myself. And when I completely miss the mark – I point you here and here for just a few examples – I have to be able to laugh at myself and move on to the next thing, because of course I don’t want to spoil the trip.

Reason #4: Life is short and travel prioritizes experience over things. Everyone knows that the economy stinks right now. Since I am lucky enough to have income left over after bills are paid and donations are made, the question becomes how best to spend it. And with the Pottery Barn catalogues arriving regularly at my doorstep it can be tempting to think that money should go to feathering my nest (I refer to these catalogues as “PB kiddie pornography” with their curly-haired children wearing spotless smocks as they finger paint at a Mission activity table.) But somehow I usually manage to resist that temptation in favor of a weekend in Washington DC or a spring break trip to Arizona. I have never once regretted spending that money on a trip. When I get stressed out about how messy my house is or think that I really should buy some new stuff I ask myself what memories I’d rather my children have: sleeping under matching bedspreads or climbing mountains.

Reason #3: Whether it’s going across the ocean or up the street, travel exposes my children to the world outside the walls they inhabit. I have seen how this exposure makes them more flexible and receptive to that world. They both get up every day and ask me what kind of “adventure” we’re going to have, and every night they thank God for “the fun day we had.” They are always willing to try new things and they run into most new situations without hesitation because they assume they will be fun and interesting. To me, having children who are so open to new experience, who embrace the world so vigorously, are worth the effort that it takes to show them that world.

Reason #2: The expression on Teddy’s face the first time he saw the Eiffel Tower.

Reason#1: Travel may be less glamorous, more work-intensive, and sometimes more costly with children than without, but it is also more deliberate and meaningful. When I travel with my kids, I don’t waste time but spend virtually every minute doing things that are interesting and new. And even experiences that aren’t new (or interesting) say staying in a hotel or visiting a park, are revealed in a completely new light because my children enjoy them so much. In a way, I am forced to live life on the same terms as a child – moment to moment, completely in the present, with little thought for what came before or what will come next.

When I first started traveling with my children I flattered myself that I was going to show them the world and teach them to love travel, but in hindsight I’m humbled to realize that they have done these things for me.

If you’d like to try and add a few more reasons or your own (I’ve got room for 95 more!) please feel free to do so in a comment.

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  1. A. Jolly says

    Luv the article!
    One of my top reasons – Seeing things through their eyes; simply, honestly (this one sometimes leads to a chuckle moment), unbiased, with humility. Only the way a child’s pure heart and eyes can see things. Ahhh to be young again, but to relive it through them is twice as nice.

  2. wandermom says

    Chuckling at your description of the Pottery Barn catalog. Too funny! (I try to walk them from the mailbox to the recycling without stopping).

    My #1 reason (now that my kids are a little older): travel promotes their independence. Whether it’s walking ahead of us on a street in a foreign city or insisting on doing their own bargaining at a craft market, I thrill at seeing my children “grow” before my eyes.

  3. jamie says

    Nicely put Mara! It cracks me up to think of your children sleeping under non-PB duvets…I hope they’re not too badly scarred πŸ˜‰

  4. DeliciousBaby says

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more.

    Here’s my #6 – Because I’d be bored out of my skull if I had to stay home with them for the next 10 years

  5. Sandra Foyt says

    I can totally relate to everything in this post!

    For me, blogging is an as yet unpaid enterprise that allows me to assimilate and share parenting experiences. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

    One of those parenting experiences is local and long distance family travel. I love every bit of it, except the packing!

    But, my Top 5 would include travel learning with my kids. We absorb so much interesting information together, often on topics that I wouldn’t have considered exploring without them.

  6. Baby Bunching says

    I love this post. I think #3 is my main reason I love travel–both for me and my kids. It’s important for us to get out of our routine and our comfort zone to try new things.

    I would like to highlight this post over at this weekend. Not sure if you are a baby buncher or not, but your kids look pretty close in age.

  7. Mara from Motherofalltrips says

    Wow – such amazing comments!

    A. Jolly – I agree about seeing things through kids’ eyes. And sometimes they tell you what you don’t want to hear! But I love that too.

    Wandermom – I completely agree. Traveling gives one confidence (I’d say that of myself too). And that’s a beautiful thing to see in one’s kids.

    Jamie – Wait and see – probably they will grow up to have matching everything in their houses and to tell their therapists how traumatic their childhood was.

    DeliciousBaby – Amen.

    Sandra – On our recent trip to DC we learned so much about things I’d *never* considered before. Like soil and rocks and the winds at Kitty Hawk. It was great.

    Baby Bunching – I would be honored if you featured this post! I love your site. I don’t think I officially qualify as a “buncher” though, since my kids are 3 years apart. I have a great deal of admiration for those parents who have their kids closer together.

  8. Becky WJ says

    I hadn’t thought of the independence, but my nearly 18 year old son found that in traveling, and more importantly, showed me he could do it!

  9. Linda (minnemom) says

    I found myself nodding “yes” to all of your reasons.

    I’ll add another–it’s so much more interesting to learn by experience than to learn by textbook.

  10. says

    I enjoyed reading your 5 reasons why you travel with kids. Why do I travel with my daughter? One reason is it is a great way to truly learn about a topic! You can read a book about Snow Monkeys, but when you’ve spent hours observing them, you’ll never forget! Wow, I could easily come up with 5 ‘why’s’, too!

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