5 (Selfish) Reasons to Travel With Your Kids

By Jennifer Miller on May 13th, 2015
BootsnAll
Spend a few minutes Googling big time family travel, and you’ll quickly turn up a myriad of articles touting the benefits of taking your kids out of school for a year (or seven) and hitting the road. A dozen or so of my travel-blogging-mom friends will sell you on the idea with photos of our children riding elephants in India, SCUBA diving the Great Barrier Reef, and hiking to mountaintops instead of car pooling on Monday morning.
Wanna learn how to travel long-term as a family?

We’ll happily enumerate, for you, the educational, social and longer term benefits of giving your kids a little walk in the world. Travel is good for kids. It’s going to give them perspective, make them more flexible, expand their little minds, make them more marketable to universities, and perhaps change the course of their lives. If you want to do it, take your kids traveling. They’ll be better for it.

Of course what none of my travel mom friends will tell you is that those aren’t the only benefits to hitting the road with kids.

There are some others, some “mommy-life” upgrades, that are a direct result of not staying home.

1. You can let your kids take a walk

If you read my blog at all, then you know that I’m appalled by the persecution of the Meitiv Family, in Maryland, for letting their (perfectly capable) children walk home from the local park alone. It’s utter nonsense to begin with a presupposition that parents don’t have enough sense to keep their own kids safe and that children, themselves, are incapable until they’re 18.

How, exactly, is a child supposed to become an adult who can rock the world, without managing to walk home from the park without Mommy? There are people who disagree. I am aware. I’ve read the hate mail. Almost all of them are operating under the false assumption that their fear is as valid as the statistical realities in legislating against other parents. Nonsense.

“Maybe it’s time to opt them out of ‘the land of the free’ for a little while.”

In the rest of the world, you can let your kid take a walk, or a bike ride, without fear of persecution. When I arrived in Canada last week, the first thing I saw was a nine year old kid (wearing a helmet, abiding by traffic laws) calmly pedaling through the downtown of a city of 120,000 people. He was safe. He was responsible. No one was freaking out. As it should be.

Want your kids to have a freer childhood? Want to parent without fear?

Maybe it’s time to opt them out of “the land of the free” for a little while. Not forever, because America’s a great place to grow up, but maybe for a little while. You know, see how the other 6.6 billion, or so, live.


Kids playing

2. You don’t have to participate in “elf on the shelf”

Thankfully, this little gem of parental guilt inducing, added holiday stress didn’t exist when my children were elves themselves. What kind of creepy, Orwellian sort of holiday horror is it that we bring a “big brother” type spy into the house to intimidate our children into submission and good behavior for the month before Christmas? How does it make any sense to saddle already stressed out, worn out, over committed parents who are trying their damnedest to make every moment magical with one more tradition that only creates more work: coming up with the ideas for the mischievous elf, and then cleaning up after his peppermint scented ass?

NO THANK YOU.

Don’t even get me started on the concept of lying to kids as a form of “fun.”

If you take your kids traveling, you’re going to have to pack light. The elf won’t fit. Darn.

3. You’ll never have to drive a minivan

We’d been married for about five minutes. We were shopping for a “new” car, just out of university with our first “real” jobs on the horizon. My husband’s lanky frame unfolded from the driver’s side door of a Nissan Maxima that he’d been investigating under the supervision of a dealer, and he fixed me with one almond colored eye and declared, “If I ever find a mini-van sporty, just shoot me.”

“One giant perk of living outside the USA and Canada is that we do not need a vehicle.”

Of course we didn’t have kids yet. A decade later, I tossed that quote back at him as we drove off the lot in our first Toyota Sienna.

One giant perk of living outside the USA and Canada is that we do not need a vehicle. We owned one in New Zealand, when we were there for six months, a camper for exploring the crags and coves of both islands, but otherwise, we live car free. It’s easier in the rest of the world, where public transportation is ubiquitous and towns are set up for walking. Renting a car for a short jaunt is easy enough. You can be a parent and still be cool. No need to trade your ethics or your image for the unmistakeable badge of parenthood: the dreaded minivan.

Author’s note: Now that we’re back in North America for a while, I’m driving a giant truck with enough room for the spider legs of my four teenagers, six traveling backpacks and a canoe on top. I refuse to return to the minivan!

4. You’ll be spared the sports field Saturdays

I can hear the keys tapping in rebuttal already. I know, I know, some of you just love getting up at five in the morning to sit with your butts frozen to the bleachers at the hockey rink for practice. Your idyllic Saturday is spent freezing at a ball field with parents, who are less cool than you are, screaming at their kids. Attending Little League award ceremonies is the stuff of your dreams. Good for you. Enjoy.

For those of us who aren’t “true believers,” may I suggest that the answer to your Saturday morning woes is a year abroad?

“Just imagine, a whole year off of after school practices, running back and forth burning up what’s left of the dinosaurs in the gas tank of your sexy Grand Caravan, and weekends spent cheering for people who can’t tie their own soccer shoes yet.”

Just imagine, a whole year off of after school practices, running back and forth burning up what’s left of the dinosaurs in the gas tank of your sexy Grand Caravan, and weekends spent cheering for people who can’t tie their own soccer shoes yet.

Don’t worry, your kids can still do sports: three nights a week there’s a pick up game on the beach in Nai Yang, Thailand. Your kids can play, you can sip a Mai Tai under a table umbrella with your friends and watch. They can play basketball at the local cancha in Guatemala, and as an added bonus they’ll learn how to play for money. That could come in handy when it’s time to buy equipment at home. Oh, and they can walk there and back themselves, the police won’t kidnap them on the way home, as I’ve heard happens in Maryland.

Do SCUBA instead of swim team, ride horses on adventures instead of around a ring, hike mountains instead of running laps. Not forever, just for a year. Give yourself a year of Saturdays full of sports and activity, but sleeping in and adventures, too.


Playing soccer

5. You won’t have to attend (or throw) a single child’s birthday party

I have a confession to make, now that my kids are safely past the point of kid parties: I hate them. The parties, not the kids. I was the mom who spiked her water bottle to get through the afternoon. Of course there were a couple of notable exceptions, parents whose kid parties were not excess soaked marathons of indulgence. Parties where the kids actually seemed to have fun, the mother didn’t look like she was walking a tightrope of exhaustion and caffeine buzz, and where the children were all classy enough not to whine about why they weren’t getting presents, too. Those moms are my people. I bring them flowers and wine. I like their kids. Birthday parties in general? Kinda my worst nightmare.

Imagine a whole year in which you were not required to attend even one of Jr’s friends’ parties. A whole year in which you avoided Chuck E. Cheese, Bounce Planet, or the McDonald’s Party Room (is that still a thing?). Think of the money you’d save on gifts for kids you don’t really like. Imagine spending it on a hot air balloon ride in Turkey for your kid’s birthday, or a gondola boat ride in Venice, or train trip through Taieri Gorge.

Those are birthday memories that will keep.

There you have it, five good, selfish, reasons to take your kids out of the neighborhood and into the world for a while. Oh wait, there’s a sixth…

6. Your kid can eat peanut butter every single day

Apparently peanut butter has been banned at elementary schools across the country because 98% of American children now curl up and die from the mere sight of the stuff. I’m not mocking food allergies. I had a kid with some serious ones early on. I get it.

“Take off and travel. Eat the exotic. Devour the mundane, and discover a world in which there are bigger things to worry about than whether your peanut butter is organic.”

Still, wouldn’t it be nice to give your kid the freedom to eat peanut butter whenever he wanted? And gluten-filled wheat, and red food dye, and preservatives, if he’s not one of the kids who clutches his throat at the mere thought of such venerated childhood staples?

Imagine a world in which MSG was a table condiment (pretty much anywhere in Asia) and where chopped peanuts were sprinkled on pasta. Imagine a whole year free of the judgement of the other PTO parents about whether the apples in your kids’ lunchbox are organic or whether the rice krispie treats you made for the bake sale are made with vegetarian marshmallows.

Take off and travel. Eat the exotic. Devour the mundane, and discover a world in which there are bigger things to worry about than whether your peanut butter is organic.

Read more about long-term travel as a family:


Photo credits: matimix, BlueOrange Studio, Natee K Jindakum