This is a guest post by our friend Mara Gorman, who graciously offered to pitch in while Christine is recovering.
If you asked me to describe myself and my family, the list would go something like this: I live with my husband Matt and two sons in suburban Cape Cod with more space than we really need. The finished basement is strewn with Legos and there are huge patches in my backyard where no grass will grow because of their perennial use as bases for kickball. Although Matt does a lot around the house, cooking and grocery shopping are my domain and I bake our bread and spend ungodly amounts of money on local organic food. An immaculate size-8 Ann Taylor suit hangs in my closet despite the likelihood I will never again wear it. The school bus stops at the end of our driveway and the Little League field where we spend a huge amount of time is a five-minute drive away. We have thus far resisted the impulse to buy a van or SUV. We vote. And, despite the fact that our 8- and 11-year-old sons are in school full time, we travel with them for a minimum of six weeks every year.
I’m sure a marketer or a pundit who looked at this catalogue would know exactly where to place us on the conventionality spectrum (somewhere in the middle), would be able to tell you what kind of toothpaste or dishwasher detergent our family is most likely to use—until he or she hit that last item.
I say this not by way of self-congratulation, but simply to demonstrate that the concept of travel with children is relatively foreign to my demographic. Many people I know never attempt much family travel beyond annual visits to the beach or to see grandparents. I’ve seen it time and again in the reaction of my peers – they want to know how we can pull off all those trips (the simple answer is that Matt’s job is flexible and we are willing to dedicate pretty much every extra resource we have to traveling). Then they want to know where we will be going (this of course varies – in the first half of 2013 the answer included Vermont, Williamsburg, Lake Tahoe, Georgia, Milwaukee, and Maine). But rarely does anyone ask me the question that I’d most love to answer: Why do you travel so much with your family?
To me, this is the most obvious question and the one that bears the closest examination – what is it about traveling with kids that makes it worth the hassle, the cost, and the risk? None of my kids’ friends’ families travel as much as we do – so just what are we trying to prove? What I want to do is share with them how much traveling benefits my family for the following reasons.
Traveling with kids will help make you a better parent.
Family travel requires you to be your best self. To travel well with kids you have to plan and make sure you are prepared for contingencies. And then when circumstance forces you to abandon these carefully made plans, you have to be flexible enough to make changes and find new solutions. You must be patient during trying situations and must continually think about someone other than yourself.
Children have inquiring minds.
When you go into the world with kids, you’ll find that they bring their own perspective and point of view, which is going to be fresher than yours. I once spent an entire month in London riding around on double decker buses because it was what my toddler loved to do. Did I sit in a lot of traffic? Sure. But I also learned more about the city’s neighborhoods during that time than during any previous visit when I relied only on the Tube to take me places. Children’s curiosity and need for engagement will make even experiences that aren’t new (or interesting) feel like grand adventures.
Travel prioritizes experience over things.
I remember on one of our summer road trips when both boys were little that Matt tallied up our expenses and remarked that for the price of our hotel room, meals, and activities over the course of a long weekend we could have purchased a new large screen television. It is true that that we are lucky enough to have income left over after bills are paid and donations are made, but that income is limited, leaving the question of how best to spend it. I have never 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.
Travel exposes children to the world and different cultures.
This may seem obvious, but I think it bears repeating. Whether it’s going across the ocean or up the street, travel teaches children about the world outside the walls they inhabit. I have seen how this exposure makes my children more flexible and receptive to that world. They are always willing to try new things and they enter most new situations without hesitation because they assume they will be fun and interesting. Having children who are so open to new experience, who embrace the world so vigorously, is worth the effort that it takes to show them that world.
Travel offers you the best kind of family time.
What we often don’t realize as we shuttle from the mall to soccer games, preschool drop-off, or dance class, is that we don’t fully inhabit our own lives. We take our neighbors, our friends, even out children for granted, falling into a superficial routine that allows us no time for genuine reflection. We don’t know the people who live next door. We never see or talk to our friends. We don’t get involved in our communities. We have little time with our kids that isn’t scheduled.
Because all of this is as true for me as it is for everyone else, I have come to realize that the biggest gift of our traveling is purposeful time with my children. When we are on the road, we live, think, talk, and breathe together for days on end. We have unplanned adventures and we learn about each other. We also accumulate shared experiences that define who we are as a family.I can’t imagine anything more valuable than that.
Mara Gorman lives in Delaware and blogs about family travel at The Mother of all Trips. Her book The Family Traveler’s Handbook: Inspiring families to see the world together, from which parts of this post are excerpted will be available in print and e- versions in the fall of 2013.