Afraid to Travel With Your Kids?

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My husband and I love to travel. It wasn’t long after our daughter was born that we began to discuss how and where we would travel with her. Getting out and going places with her has opened her eyes–and ours as well–in ways we never expected. So it frustrates me when I hear parents listing all their reasons to not travel with kids.

Gunn.-El-yunque

A popular argument is that small kids won’t remember these trips anyway, so why go? Well, yes, our daughter doesn’t remember trips we took at age 1 or 2 or 3 (even 4 is hazy), but we remember them. We enjoyed the places we went and have great photos and stories to share with her about them. Travel with kids doesn’t always have to be about kids, especially when they’re little.

One blogger on Project Eve wrote a story that was tongue-in-cheek, but her message was clear: Kids are perfectly happy in their backyards so why take them anywhere else? That writer, now a grandma, didn’t like family vacations for reasons many parents don’t: Her kids got messy, she needed to bring a lot of stuff with her and things sometimes went wrong.

Well, kids get messy at home, too. If your 5-year-old is going to spill ice cream down her shirt why not let her do it in Paris? Then, at least you’re in Paris!

The backyard argument is like asking, if kids are happy with pizza and hot dogs, why get them to eat broccoli or salmon or spaghetti carbonara? Why show them classic movies if they’re happy with cartoons? Why introduce a variety of books if they’re happy with Captain Underpants? Because our job as parents is to broaden their horizons and teach them all kinds of cool things.

Sure, things go wrong when you travel, but even that’s OK. Delayed flights, rainy beach vacations, or a destination that isn’t all you hoped are bummers. The bigger your family is the less likely that everyone will agree on the same activities. These kinds of glitches teach you to be flexible, adaptable and patient. You learn to cope with being bored, compromise and take turns. Aren’t these life great skills?

Gunn.versaille

Here is an example: On a beach getaway in Puerto Rico two years ago, we tore our then 5-year-old away from the resort with its pool and waterslides and chicken fingers delivered to your lounge chair. We drove to El Yunque rain forest and at a popular spot began what we thought would be an easy five-minute walk to a waterfall. It turned out to be a good 30-minute walk along hilly, slippery jungle paths (and then back out again). Our daughter, not an enthusiastic walker, spent the hike pretending she was on a Mickey Mouse Club House adventure. She sang songs, collected sticks, consulted an imaginary map and searched the treetops for bad guys.

Afterward I told her I thought she’s handled the hike really well. She answered reproachfully, “Well I didn’t have much choice, did I?” I was taken aback. But then I thought, Okay, she wasn’t where she most wanted to be, but instead of complaining (which she does as well as any kid), she found a way to make it fun. She wouldn’t learn to do that that if we never took her out of her comfort zone (or her backyard).

You can say we have it easy with only one kid—in some ways we do. But Steve Martin, who hosts the Big Family Travel podcast travels with his four kids and Dan Smith who writes the Points With a Crew blog travels with six. Any parent can take inspiration and advice from these intrepid dads and their kids.

One key to enjoying family travel is shifting your expectations and finding the upsides. You won’t ever sleep in if you’re traveling with a toddler, but you’ll have first dibs at the breakfast buffet, get the best chairs at the pool and beat the crowds everywhere. When we visit cities we check out as many playgrounds as we do museums, but we’ve discovered some beautiful parks and cool neighborhoods in pursuit of a good jungle gym.

Bilbo Baggins once warned Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” For kids and parents alike this can be a wonderful opportunity. So go with it, messy clothes, extra bags and all.