The most common response to my mention of traveling so much with my little bambinos (I visited all 50 US states with 3 under 3 in 2019) is, “Why bother? They aren’t going to remember it!” Sound familiar? Maybe you are wondering the same thing yourself. After all, traveling with little kids is no easy feat (for a round of all my tips for making traveling with little kids easier, check out my post 5 Practical Tips for Traveling Simply with Young Kids). I get it, travelling with kids is daunting, and when Johnny is in the middle of a meltdown in a museum, it definitely doesn’t feel worth it. But I promise you it is! I am going to give you five reasons why you should not hesitate to travel with your kids even when they are young and even when they aren’t going to remember it.
Reason #1: The Absorbent Mind
Okay who here has read Maria Montessori’s work? You have probably heard of her. She is famous for her work with children and her lasting legacy of Montessori education. I love Maria Montessori’s philosophy on child development. And there is one particular aspect that really sticks out to me and that is the concept of the absorbent mind. The absorbent mind is the analogy to a sponge that Maria uses to enlighten us to the development of a child’s brain from birth to age 6. So basically it applies to all those years where your child isn’t going to “remember.”
My favorite elaboration on this that she wrote in her book The Absorbent Mind, talks about how, unlike animals, humans learn how to survive in their environment instead of relying on instincts. Think of a spider (we just finished reading Charlotte’s Web with the twins). It instinctively knows how to spin a web, even though it never meets it’s mother. That’s what all spiders have done for as long as anyone can remember spiders. It just happens instinctively and they survive that way. Now if a spider was born into a world with no bugs to come to its web, it would die. It’s not adapting on the fly (no pun intended) to that kind of drastic change in the environment). It’s actions are instinctive and fixed. On the other hand, humans are conscious and learn how to survive in the environment they live in different ways. A human born in 1500 in Alaska would live a completely different lifestyle than a human born in 2020 in New York City. Because of that, humans are born with an unconscious mind that spends the first several years of it’s life absorbing the environment and time period he/she is born into, so he/she can adapt and survive in that environment. Montessori’s discussions on this are much lengthier, but I digress.
So what does this have to do with travel? The point is that even though our young children aren’t going to be able to recall from memory highlights from these trips in their early years, doesn’t mean that their brains aren’t being impacted by them. We all know that thousands and thousands of neural connections are made in the first few years of life. Again, this is science backing Montessori’s principles of the absorbent mind. Just think of what pathways are being formed when you travel with your kids. It might not show up as fond memories, but is certainly impacting the framework of their brain.
Reason #2: Life Skills
Travel is a great way to impart important life lessons/skills to our children. All parents can agree to the benefits of raising flexible, adaptable, and resilient kids to name a few life skills. But it’s hard to impart these life skills with mundane and predictable routines. When you travel with young kids, you are sure to encounter opportunities for life skills lessons (probably for mom and dad too). Think of trips as fun training grounds (or at least training grounds with fun moments surrounding) in these areas. How can I learn to gracefully handle dinner being pushed back three hours? How does sleeping in a different bed every night increase my flexibility? How do I interact with people who are different from me?
And remember from reason #1 that in those early years, children are forming neural pathways in their brain in regards to all aspects of life including adaptability. A common thread of advice to new moms is to let their baby fall asleep in light rooms and with loud noises in the background. The idea is to get babies used to falling asleep in difficult conditions so that they aren’t inhibited by a dependency on quiet and darkness. When you are traveling, you baby or tot will inevitability get this experience both literally with learning to sleep in all sorts of conditions but also figuratively learning to deal with the lights and sounds of life not always going according to plan. They can pick up on these life lessons not only by experiencing them in small ways themselves, but also in watching how mom and dad handle them as well.
Reason #3: Tangible Learning
There’s a flashcard for everything these days. And if you are talking about something, you can sure ask Alexa for more information on the topic or turn to YouTube for an informational video to show your kid. But I don’t think any of these options quite replace the magic and wonder of experiencing something firsthand. Nothing is going to solidify that piece of information into your child’s mind more than tangibly experiencing it. Explaining how big a skyscraper is to your toddler is one thing, but stepping out of the subway in New York City and pointing up to the Empire State Building is a whole other thing.
Now there is a whole lot out there in this world to experience, and I know it’s not realistic to think that you can go out and see it all firsthand. But with travel, more firsthand experiences are possible. And the amazing this about traveling is that so much learning happens organically. I would never have thought to introduce the concept of bison to my kids at the age of two, but here we are stopped by a herd of them in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and just like that my toddlers now have the word and concept of bison added to their database (and a new favorite animal).
This is just one small example of the academic learning (in addition to the life skills learning in reason #2) that can happen while traveling. But really the possibilities are endless. Just about any place you visit can offer lessons in all subject areas: sciences, history, cultural, etc. and reading, writing and math opportunities adapted to them.
Reason #4: Connections
This is my favorite reason for travel with young kids! You get to shrug off all the aspects of everyday life when you travel and fully embrace living in the moment with your kiddos. You don’t have to worry about keeping the house clean or keeping up with the mail. You can truly embrace just being together. There’s something so much more intimate feeling about experiencing something outside of your normal routine as a family. I focus more on conversations with my kids, I watch intently as they eat a new food in a new city. I point out a million more things and watch as their eyes sparkle with wonder. We share a bed as we camp, and they fall asleep in my arms.
This is what stood out to me the most from my childhood. I do have memories from some of our trips when I was older, but there are many trips in my earlier years that I don’t have specific memories of at all, but they all contributed to the overall feeling of fondness that overcomes me when I think of my childhood. I wouldn’t even say we travelled that extensively, though we did adventure together more than most families I knew. My parents worked upwards of four jobs combined during the formidable years of my childhood. We were left in charge of getting ourselves ready for school and on and off the bus and to play independently outside most days until mom rang the dinner bell (the quintessential 90s childhood). But whenever I think of my childhood, it is overwhelmed by the highlights of our family vacations and the happy and beautiful connections we made together as a family during them. These are the moments that stand out.
If reason #4 tugs at your heartstrings, I highly recommend the book Adventuring Together by Greta Eskridge. It was like reading the siren call of my mama heart and goes a lot more in depth about creating connections with your children through adventure.
Reason #5 Parent’s Memories
And last but not least, your kids might not remember the trip but you definitely will carry those memories with you forever. And whose to say that creating memories for yourself is not as important as creating memories for your kids? I have so many fond memories from our travels that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
So get out there and travel with your kids. Bring them along even if they won’t remember it. It is so so worth it! Here’s a few photos from our adventures to give you inspiration.
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