I often hear parents debating whether they should invest in a vacation with their children. It seems easy to argue that the kids will not remember the trips when they grow up, so it is not worth the investment. From my own travel experience while growing up, though, I have found that traveling at a young age had a large impact on who I am today. While I may not have realized how travel influenced me when I was growing up, I can clearly see the benefits today.
What do we learn from traveling at a young age?
The ability to adapt to change. Getting out of our daily routine at a young age teaches us that new experiences can be exciting. While traveling, we have to adjust to a new time zone, a foreign location, new customs, and new people. This adaption is an important life skill as we develop into adults.
An interest in learning a new language. When we travel to a foreign place and enjoy our time there, but cannot understand the language, we become more motivated to learn the native language. I have realized that my strong interest in studying Spanish in middle school, high school, and college, stemmed from my travels to Mexico and the Caribbean islands with my family. I associated (subconsciously) fun and memorable times with the Spanish language, which caused me to enjoy every chance I had to learn Spanish in my academic career. I continue to feel this passion for the Spanish language and culture as I volunteer teach English as a Second Language to native Spanish speakers in Cleveland.
Responsibility and independence. When we travel at a young age, we learn the importance of identity documents, currency, punctuality, following rules, and safety. Depending on our age, our parents may handle these issues for us, but we at least become aware of them. As we grow older, our parents may allow us to be more independent and handle travel issues ourselves. As I have stated in previous posts, travel is a microcosm of life, so children become aware of exposed to a bundle of life experiences and expectations in one trip. The responsibility and independence that children learn through travel are transferable to life in general.
Greater acceptance of diversity. When we travel, we may be exposed to different types of people and different lifestyles. In my opinion, the first step towards acceptance is awareness, followed by understanding. The best way for us to become aware of and understand diversity (besides through reading books) is to travel, step foot in new places, and meet new people. I have found that I can learn something new and transferable to my own life from each new person I meet and each new place that I visit.
Empathy for others. When we travel to other places, particularly to poor communities or developing countries, we begin to learn that daily life is a struggle for some people, who may have limited access to water, food, or shelter. It is only natural for us to develop a greater sense of empathy and compassion, which we can and should carry with us throughout our lives. I will never forget when I first traveled to Arizona in elementary school and was surrounded by the natural beauty of the red rocks. My parents still remind me that at the time I was more mesmerized by the homeless people in the park than anything else. I realize now that my exposure to those less fortunate fostered my curiosity and passion to empathize with and help others today.
Gratitude. When we are away from our everyday conveniences and have to put forth effort to find food, lodging, etc., we become grateful for the things that we have at our fingertips at our home. We also see that the world is so much bigger than ourselves, and we begin to appreciate the things that make our individual worlds unique and special.
Travel provides us with all of these benefits at any age, so why not start teaching our youth these principles as they are developing into the future decisionmakers of the world? Bon voyage with your children!