Why Traveling With Kids is Worth the Trouble

Nothing strains my marriage like preparing for a family vacation.
“So, what’s the plan tomorrow?” my husband asked me in January, two days before the start of a weeklong cruise.
“We will do what we always do,” I said. “You will get up and go to work. You’ll be stressed all day because you’re trying to get everything done before you leave on vacation. And I’ll be driving you crazy by calling you constantly with questions like, ‘Do you want me to pack your black shoes?’ and ‘How much cash do you think I should get from the bank?’
“I, meanwhile, will live on the brink of insanity as I try to do ALL THE THINGS that need to be done, while simultaneously parenting our three children and cleaning the house. And you’ll be driving me crazy because I’ll need to know things like whether to pack your black shoes and how much cash I should get from the bank, and I won’t be able to reach you because you’re feverishly working.”
“And then we’ll leave for vacation, and it’ll be fine. Because that’s what we do.”
Every time.
We’ve always traveled with our kids.
For real — always.
Our oldest was conceived in France, born in England and boarded her first international flight at 13 months.
Our son went to Disney World at 4 months old, and our youngest child was just a bit older, 7 months, when we jetted off to Hawaii.
Traveling with kids is just … a lot.
I’ve sat on the floor of an airport’s family bathroom, lights off, as I sang and rocked my child in the vain hope of getting her to nap.
We’ve survived extended layovers, diaper blowouts, mad dashes through airports, keys locked inside a rental car, vomiting, and about three zillion “Are we there yet’s?”
And yet, as I write this, we have a two-week trip to the Grand Canyon all planned, I’m eyeing up a trip to Williamsburg, Va., for spring break next year, and if the cost of flights comes down a bit, we’ll be England-bound again in 2020.
Why is the traveling worth the trouble?
Because we have been entrusted with three adults-in-training, and my husband and I believe that travel is a key part of their education.
Here’s what we hope they’re learning.
Learning about the world is a key component of our family vacations. We took three bags full of clothes down to a Honduran orphanage in January as part of our Caribbean cruise.

Traveling is something people do

Your childhood experiences embed themselves in your psyche and build the foundation of the adult you become.
It’s why we eat dinner together, keep the kids active, go to church … and travel.
Our kids, quite simply, are more likely to explore the world for themselves if they’ve spent their childhoods traversing the planet with us.
If you’ve been to England, Africa’s not a big stretch. And if Africa’s in reach, Antarctica’s simply the next step. And if you’ve been to the South Pole, well … you might as well head north to see its pair.

Navigating the world

Our children may not grow up to be travelers.
Maybe after a childhood full of get-up-and-goings, an anchored adulthood will feel like a treat.
Fair enough.
But if they choose not to travel it won’t be because they’re afraid to travel.
Let’s be honest: Travel is intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Say I’m a newbie traveler who thinks Bali looks beautiful: Wow, I’d have so many questions.
“Where exactly is Bali? How do I get there? OK, I can take a plane, but how do I know which flight to take, and how long will the flight last and, ugh, they charge extra for luggage and what about getting through the airport and finding a hotel and then how do I know what I should do once I get there and they probably have different currency and how do I deal with that and … ugh, I just won’t go.”
With each trip, we chip away at our children’s confusion.
They know about flight numbers and baggage claims, hotel shuttles, rental cars and GPS. We’ve perused maps together and followed trail signs. Once or twice, we’ve gotten lost — and problem-solved our way to being found again.
Our children will arrive at adulthood knowing how to travel. Using that knowledge will be up to them.

We’re a team

Our 2008 minivan is 201 inches long and has 238,000 miles on it, most of which we’ve put on ourselves over the past eight years.
That’s a lot of togetherness in a rather small space.
Not every moment’s a joy. (Seriously, why do my kids care so much about where they sit?!?!?)
But all that laughter, all those tears, all the songs we sing and all the movies we watch …
Moment by moment, they send this message: “We are a family. This is your tribe. We are in this world together and if you ever need us, here we are.”
Sometimes, it takes Wales to make these moments happen.

Life’s its own education

I’ve been asked, several times, how we survived driving to and from Yellowstone (a 19-hour trip each way) with our kids.
I always answer the same: “Fifty Nifty United States.” 
We listened to that song, over and over again, until we had the names of all 50 memorized. It was a challenge, so it never got old.
I try to make every family vacation somewhat educational. We talk about each state as we drive through it, name the capitol, discover fun facts, etc.
And we build in educational stops as well: For example, on the drive back from New Orleans, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum and had a long (age-appropriate) talk with our kids about the history of racism in our country.
But a lot of their education just happens on the spot.
Driving through a wind farm, for instance, prompted my kids to wonder how big the turbines were. So we looked it up. (Answer: Generally they’re 212-foot towers topped by 116-foot blades.)
That, in turn, led to a discussion of how the turbines work and how electricity is generated. It was Science 101 in the middle of Minnesota.
Sometimes we take our kids out of school for a family vacation. Sometimes I feel guilty.
These kinds of moments, though, remind me that learning happens outside the classroom, too.

Anything is possible, it’s just a matter of figuring out how

Have you ever noticed that overcoming one challenge makes other things seem less formidable?
Confidence is contagious.
I don’t know who my kids will become, what their careers will be, what lives they’ll choose to lead.
But.
They’ve successfully navigated airports, even some under construction.
They’ve climbed boulders.
They’ve ordered food in foreign countries.
They’ve taxied, bused, trammed and trained, biked and hiked, driven and flown.
And all of that makes them more capable of tackling whatever life gives them.
“See how beautiful the world is?”, we routinely ask our children.
And someday, sometime around their 18th birthdays, my husband and I will gently nudge them toward the door.
Yes, I’ll be crying.
But the world won’t feel foreign to our kids because they’ll have lived in it their entire lives.
Armed, then, with that experience, they will stride toward the door with confidence.
That’s what my husband and I hope, pray and believe.
“Now go,” we’ll say. “Make it a better place.”
Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.

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