Inspiration and tips from parents who have ventured around the globe with their families
by Jennifer Mitchell
How fulfilled were you by your most recent Spring Break trip? If not so much, you may want to consider something more adventurous for your next trip as a family.
Understandably, many parents are apprehensive about traveling abroad with kids due to the cost or the work that goes into keeping kids focused, cheerful and safe. But after speaking with a few parents in the No Small Plan community, and doing a bit of research, we’re confident that the benefits of traveling abroad with kids outweigh the stressors. Not only will you get to see the world, but your kids will ultimately develop skills and learn lessons that they would never be exposed to at home.
So here are the top 4 benefits of traveling internationally with kids as well as 7 tips from the pros for doing it right. We’ll kick things off with an obvious benefit.
1. Learn to respect and appreciate other cultures
Things that are foreign to us can naturally be a little scary. Through travel, you can teach your kids to celebrate rather than fear our differences by finding commonalities with people of other cultures. The earlier you can expose kids to other nationalities, the sooner they’ll learn to see past common misconceptions and appreciate other cultures. This appreciation will innately teach your kids to be more respectful and compassionate towards others.
We talked with No Small Plan traveler Jenn W. about the benefits of traveling internationally with her kids, and she told us that introducing her daughter to other cultures has been a great teaching tool.
“We encourage her to learn a few phrases in the local language and use them,” says Jenn. “I believe this helps teach her that good manners and respect are important everywhere.”
Kids are naturally less inhibited than adults. They’re curious, trusting and can easily find common ground with others because they don’t get caught up in the semantics of race, religion and politics. Jenn told us of a unique experience her daughter had as a young girl when traveling in Japan.
“A Chinese tourist in Japan asked if she could take a photo of my daughter with her daughter,” said Jenn. “My daughter was able to make a connection with someone her age on the other side of the world. Learning to be both cognizant and appreciative of other cultures helps in all aspects of life, including being open to ideas and perspectives of others at home.”
2. Become adventurous, adaptable and creative
When traveling to another part of the world, you’re forced to step outside your comfort zone and say “yes” to new experiences. If you’re traveling to a location where the food or transportation is completely different from what you’re used to, kids are forced to become flexible and adapt to a new way of life. Without the option to order the Mickey mouse-shaped pancakes, kids are left with no option but to give new foods a try.
“Kids are often more adventurous when they are not at home,” says Jenn. “My daughter is a good, but not very creative, eater. However, she was up for trying everything in Japan. She even brought home some of her new food interests including eel.”
Beyond lessons in culture, language and cuisine, a trip abroad should offer organic lessons in history, religion, geography and politics. No Small Plan explorer Amy L. says, “Traveling the world with our kids brings the concept of history to life. When they study cultures or countries in school that they haven’t been to, it’s easier for them to imagine and get excited about those places.”
3. Improve cognitive development
Beyond expanding your child’s horizons, traveling with your kids can be beneficial to their brain development. In a Parents.com article, child psychotherapist Dr. Margot Sunderland states, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction." She goes on to explain that travel experiences enhance executive functions of the brain like stress regulation, attention, concentration, good planning and the ability to learn. The overall experience improves mental health and increasing a child’s IQ. The more involved your child is in the planning and management of the trip, the more their planning skills, troubleshooting ability and stress management are developed.
So while asking for your kids’ input on activities, restaurants or even where to travel might sound overwhelming, the life skills your children will learn make the effort worthwhile.
4. Encourage family bonding
Finally, traveling somewhere new is a shared experience that is sure to bring your family closer together. At home, we spend so much time trying to get everyone to the appropriate schools, activities and playdates on time that we don’t often have the time to sit down and talk about something real. On vacation, you’re forced to slow down, disconnect from technology and focus on your family.
“Going someplace new feels like an adventure that we are all in together,” says Amy. “Especially if it’s a new place for us parents too.”
In a recent Huffington Post article, Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., explains how taking your kids on a trip can also improve their self-esteem. By inviting your kids on a trip that you’re looking forward to, you’re directly communicating that you value them. You’re letting them know that they are worth your time and money and are a joy to be around.
7 tips for traveling internationally with children
Hopefully you’re convinced that traveling globally with your kids can be incredibly beneficial, though you may still feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry — you’re not alone. That first international trip with your kids can be scary. So we’ve gathered a few tips from parents that are pros at traveling with kids. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Start young. The earlier you start traveling with your kids the more accustomed they’ll be to trying new things, adapting to travel plans and sleeping in unfamiliar places.
2. Involve them in planning. Encourage your kids to be involved in the planning process. Read about the history, geography, animal life and food of a destination before you travel, so they’re excited to visit.
3. Be realistic. Don’t try to pack in several day trips or destinations. Start slow and plan for extra transportation time. If you’re planning on doing a lot of walking, know how far your kids can travel on their own and how far you can travel with them on your back.
4. Take the scenic route: Kids enjoy exploring and their attention span is short, so anything you can do to make transportation entertaining will be hugely beneficial for you.
5. Make a game of it. Jenn W. also suggests gamifying any experience you have. “Design a scavenger hunt to get a child excited about going to an art museum,” says Jenn. “Encourage them to find four paintings that include a dog or something that they can relate to in order to make the experience more interesting for them.”
6. Include family-friendly activities: While it might not be your first choice to spend a day at an amusement park, it will be a nice break for your kids. “It’s a good idea to offset the more adult-focused tours with fun,” says Amy. “And look for family day tours. I’ve found some good ones that balance cultural insights with kid-friendly activities.”
7. Solidify memories. Encourage your kids to keep a journal with memories from their experiences. Or start a collection of postcards, magnets or toys from the places you’ve visited. Having an object from the trip will help memorialize the memory. And of course, map where you’ve been together on t-shirts from No Small Plan.
Have you travelled the world with your kids? What tips would you share with parents who are just beginning their family travels? Share your advice on social with the hashtag #NoSmallPlan.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.
Map and share your travel quest on a personalized No Small Plan t-shirt