When most people learn that we spent nine months traveling the world with our then-2-year-old son, they always ask us fearfully, “Wasn’t it hard to travel with a toddler?” Before we made the decision to travel extensively with our son, we were just as fearful. We weighed all the pros and cons — and initially felt the cons outweighed the pros. But we both loved travel and didn’t want to give it up, so we took the leap — and it was a success. Other parents, even seasoned travelers, are amazed we made it through our “ordeal,” telling us they will someday travel as a family when their kids get a little older. But here’s the rub: The best time to travel with your kids is right now.
Was it difficult for us to go globe-trotting with a toddler in tow? Sometimes. But it’s also difficult to raise a toddler at home sometimes. And just like at home, parenting on the road is a struggle and wonderful. And although we have now returned to our home, we are still traveling with our son for vacations and have no intention of stopping. Heck, we’d even do a nine-month trip all over again if we could.
It’s tempting to say you’ll travel with your kids “someday” or “when they’re older.” And yes, travel is a privilege, and it has a cost — but it doesn’t have to be a luxury. There are plenty of ways to take affordable family trips and introduce your kids to new cities and environments right now. And if you don’t take the leap, just think of what you’ll miss.
Seeing the world through your child’s eyes
Witnessing how your child interacts with strangers, explores new places and simply enjoys the world around them is magical. You’ll get to see their innocent, unbiased opinions and natural reactions to new things. Seeing our son befriend and play with kids in a slum in India caused us to question our own assumptions about unfamiliar people and places; after all, our son knew nothing of economic differences. He just knew how to make a new friend.
Your kids growing to appreciate other cultures
As you help guide your children’s futures, so too will travel — especially during these early years. Your child will encounter different people and cultures. They will try new foods (a toddler rarity, we know!), meet new people and witness things they would never see at home. As our son shared with kids in Barcelona, ate new foods in Lima and chatted with elderly folks in China, he learned things, skills and ways of interaction that he’ll never forget — even if he won’t remember most of his 2-year-old travels very well as an adult.
Spending quality time together
Traveling together as a family creates a bond and memories that children cherish for a lifetime and will pass on to their own children. We will never forget our son saying “elephant” for the first time while on safari in Botswana when he saw them in the wild. We are reminded of our trip whenever we read a book to him with elephants in it and can share our memories each time.
A chance to become a better parent
After dealing with the unpredictability that often accompanies travel, you’ll become more flexible as parents, knowing that changes will happen and you will make mistakes — yet in the end, you’re all in this together. For example, our son had to adapt to various sleeping situations, and we discovered that if he didn’t take an afternoon nap or something else didn’t go the way we wanted it to, it wouldn’t actually be the end of the world. We just adjusted; so did he. And it helped us stress less.
Traveling with little ones is easier than you think it is. Kids are incredibly adaptable as well as easily distracted — and believe it or not, kids can actually benefit from instability and changes, according to Dr. Ken Ginsburg, the director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication and author of numerous books on resiliency in children. As long as you’re happy, they are happy — and they will adjust. Don’t let fear stop you. We’re here to tell you: Family travel is always rewarding. So why not do it now?