My friend Kelly has three stellar kids who are a bit older than my own three. I consider her and her husband to be model parents, so one day I asked her for her best piece of parenting advice. I thought she’d say something about love or discipline or consistency, so her answer took me by surprise.
“Always take the trip,” she said. “When you question whether or not you should go on the vacation, just do it. Spend the money. Take the time. You only have a limited number of years together as a family before your kids get busy with lives of their own, and building memories and having new experiences together are things you’ll never regret.”
I took that advice to heart. And now, when I think back on my 16 years of parenting so far, the times we’ve traveled as a family stand out the most. It’s not just about “being on vacation,” but about the various positive ways travel affects us, both individually and as a family unit.
Here are some of those ways:
1. Traveling puts your family at the center.
Even the closest of families can have a hard time finding quality time to spend together. Getting away from work, school, and extracurricular schedules — not to mention housework, homework, and other responsibilities — means you can really focus on your family. That’s not to say that all of that family time will be pleasant, but traveling together does force family time, for better or for worse.
2. Leaving home gets everyone out of their comfort zone.
Vacations can be relaxing and fun, but they’re also good ways to step out of our comfort zones. Sleeping in a different bed, eating unfamiliar foods, meeting new people — even simple things that shift our sense of normal can be good for us. And experiencing new things together forms bonds and memories.
3. Dealing with the unexpected builds flexibility and resilience.
Traveling inevitably leads to surprises. Bags get lost by the airlines. Hotel reservations get canceled. Weather forecasts change at the last minute. Having to problem-solve on the fly when we’re already outside our norm forces us to be flexible and resilient — two qualities everyone needs to thrive in an ever-changing world.
4. Seeing how other people live fosters empathy and understanding.
One of the best parts of traveling is experiencing different ways of life. International travel is especially good for broadening our cultural horizons, but even domestic excursions can help us see the diversity we have here in our own country. Leaving our communities shows us that life everywhere has similarities and differences, and makes it easier for us to understand that different people face challenges that we may not.
5. Experiencing new things with all our senses builds strong memories.
Our world is so full of beauty. We can look at photographs, but nothing compares to actually smelling the Redwoods, feeling the ocean tickle your toes, or peering into a vast canyon. When we travel, we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch things we normally don’t. The stimulus of all of our senses builds memories that last, and experiences as a family become shared memories. Our kids love to recall places we’ve been, and they’ll often remark that certain scents or songs remind them of someplace we’ve traveled before.
We’re thankful for every trip we’ve taken with our kids, including the year of travel we took around the country living as modern nomads. We aren’t wealthy (I wish — that would definitely make it easier), but we find ways. We buy our clothes at thrift stores, troll garage sales for used furniture, and pinch pennies in other areas so that we can travel. And travel doesn’t always mean a big vacation. Even a weekend camping trip nearby gives us the benefits of getting away as a family.
We’ve fully embraced my friend’s advice — always take the trip. We haven’t regretted it, and are quite confident we never will.