Why travel ISN’T wasted on kids

A while ago a reader pointed me in the direction of an article on MSN Travel about how travel is wasted on kids. I didn’t even have to read the article to know I seriously disagreed with the author.

The author, Bibi Lynch, said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, parents, but travel isn’t benefitting your kids in any way. Do you think you’re broadening their horizons? Well, yes, you would be — IF THEY COULD REMEMBER THESE TRIPS!”

in vietnam age 2What planet is this woman walking on? Has she ever been a parent? Surely, she knows nothing – absolutely nothing – about child development.

Seriously Bibi – travel benefits kids in ways we’ve never imagined and in ways we will never know. We can come up with some conjectures and all that but, truth be told, we will never truly know just how far-reaching the changes can be.

I can think of many reasons why one would believe travel isn’t good for kids. I could understand the belief that kids need to sleep in their own bed at night or that predictable food is critical to their growth. Some may feel that routine is critical to their development or that exposing them to different environments can compromise their health.

All of those beliefs would be perfect justification for keeping your children at home, but the idea that travel is worthless for kids because they won’t remember it is ludicrous. Flat out absurd.

babies held by ethiopian maidBibi maintains that parents should leave their kids at home because, as she put it, “travel is wasted on kids.” She feels small children won’t remember their adventures so parents should leave the kids with grandparents while they head out traveling. I think that is ludicrous.

“What exactly do you think your children will pick up from these travels? Malaria aside,” she continues. “A cultured international feel? A few key phrases in many languages?”

All that and much, much more. Travel is good for kids of all ages – yes, even babies. Here’s why:

Travel changes children’s brain structure

Environment has the power to enhance or minimize an infant’s potential

If one were accept Bibi’s reasoning for not traveling with children, there would be no reason to provide toys or walks in the park for their children. Hugs, smiles, and playtime would all be forgone because, after all, the child wouldn’t remember it. In fact, parents wouldn’t talk to their children either because the child won’t remember. Bedtime stories? Nope. The kid won’t remember so why bother?

The reason we, as parents, do all those things is to help our children develop both physically and mentally. Kids learn to speak by hearing others speak to them. They learn coordination skills by climbing on furniture and rock piles. All those skills are building blocks that will, in turn, be used for more complex skills later in life.

When children learn, the actual physical structure of their brain changes as they develop connections between brain cells. Those physical connections – called dendrites – grow in response to stimulating, challenging surroundings. Put a child in her playpen and few dendrites grow; take her to the park and she’ll grow more. Getting kids in new, exciting environments fosters the growth of those connections in the brain which lays the foundation for their entire life. Travel can provide that challenging, stimulating environment

Travel helps develop tolerance and acceptance

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain

blessed by ethiopian priestChildren learn to accept what they grow up with. If they grow up with people of many colors and languages cooing over them, they learn to accept people of all races. If they grow up eating a wide variety of foods, they learn to accept all those different tastes. Getting kids into circumstances where they experience those differences will help your children develop acceptance of them.

When children (and adults) know and love people from other races and religions, they are more likely to be tolerant of those races or religions as a whole. If my children – blond, English-speaking Christians – have good experiences with black, curly-haired Muslims, they are more likely to be tolerant.  When the media touts the evils of that entire cultural group, they will be better able to see through it.

While they may not remember being held and cuddled and sung to by that beautiful Ethiopian woman when they were small, babies’ attitudes and beliefs are being shaped as they grow. Those experiences, at six or eight months, lead to acceptance at age 1. Acceptance at age 1 means the fear is lessened and they are more accepting at age 2. And finally, as adults, they see lovely a person rather than an evil terrorist when they see a person of a foreign race.

Travel provides lessons in flexibility and adaptability

 Children are defined by what they take for granted

thailand age 3It’s easy for parents to take the easy road. Our children demand mac & cheese for dinner and we’re tired and don’t want a battle – so we give it to them. We have a ton of work to do so we park our kids in front of the TV rather than taking them to the park. We tend to do what is easiest, rather than always focusing on what is best for our children. It’s way too easy for us, as parents, to allow our children to get set in their routine and expect the world to revolve around their wants and needs.

While traveling, however, things rarely go according to what our children want. Nap time gets messed up because that happens to be when the flight is leaving, food is a bit late, it’s too cold or it’s too hot. While traveling, children have no choice but to adapt and accept it – so they learn how to do that.

Travel models chasing dreams

You are limited only by your own imagination

thailandIt seems that every parent I know says they want their children to chase their dreams. We tell our children with words that pursuing your passion and following your dreams is a good thing, but many don’t model that.

In one of my education courses at university, my instructor said, “There are three best ways of teaching: modeling, modeling, and modeling.” If we want our children to live their dreams, shouldn’t we, as parents, be modeling that idea? Can we realistically expect our children to chase THEIR dreams if we don’t chase OURS?

Travel gives our children options

All the world is your oyster

with trropical birds in baliWhen children travel at a young age, they learn that the world is their playground. Bibi has a point that toddlers won’t know the difference between Idaho and Thailand, but they will know the words. They’ll know that they had a great time playing with that group of children in northern Vietnam, although they have no way of knowing that Vietnam is on the other side of our planet. To them, any place is accessible for an afternoon play date. Growing up knowing those countries are options takes the fear out of them when you’re older.

If parents take it to the next step and provide a map as a play toy, toddlers will be able to point to various countries on the map, even though they don’t truly understand what they are pointing at. As those children grow, their comprehension and understanding of the maps and world geography expands.

I think my son, Daryl, said it best. When we crossed into Costa Rica as we cycled from Alaska to Argentina I turned to him and said, “Congratulations sweetie! You just crossed into your eighth country.”

burmaDaryl turned to me and said, in all his 11-year-old wisdom, “What difference does it make, Mom? A border is nothing more than a line on a map. It doesn’t change anything.”

When children travel they are learning that when you strip away all the wrappers – when you look beyond the language they speak, the color of their skin, the god they worship, or the currency they spend – that beneath it all, we are more alike than we are different.

If only people of all ages could understand that, this world would be a better place.


There are plenty of bloggers out there that disagree with Bibi. Here are few:

10 Reasons to Travel when Your Kids are Little

Traveling Helps your Child’s Education

Learning about Conservation Through Travel

Why We Love Traveling With Our Daughter

Traveling is the Best Therapy for a Child with a Disability

What a 9-year-old has learned as an expat

Traveling teaches kids to be citizens of the world

10 Misconceptions about Traveling with Kids

Why Travel with Kids is Important


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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30 Responses to Why travel ISN’T wasted on kids

  1. Christine August 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Of all my childhood memories, those that stand out most to me are of travel. I adored travel as a child and I try to provide my children with the same as often as I can afford to!

    • Nancy August 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      @Christine, I think every adult who traveled as a child has fond memories of it! We don’t remember everything, but that’s OK – it’s part of us.

  2. Travel with Bender (Erin) August 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    I just read the article, how ridiculous. My kids remember and they enjoy travel and they are only 3 & 2… for all your reasons and more. Thanks for responding, great article.

    • Nancy August 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      @Travel with Bender (Erin), All those memories they are creating now will drive how they look at things next year. And then the year after. Although they not “remember” their experiences from now when they are 20, those experiences are driving them for now – and that’s HUGE.

  3. Jenn Miller August 11, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    Can I stand on my chair and cheer a little louder?!!! Excellent. I hope the author of that “other” post reads this. TAKE the kids, the newborn babies. Ez is quite proud that his feet were in three oceans by the time he was 7 mos. old and he has actual memories, that he can discuss of trips we took when he was two. Why is it that people continue to underestimate children?! It’s a travesty! GREAT post, my friend.

    • Nancy August 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      @Jenn Miller, I have a feeling she will never read it – she doesn’t want to know she’s wrong.

  4. Cheryl August 11, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    Children really do remember incredible things! Most importantly, traveling with children allows lots of time to spend with the parents – that time is priceless. You can write about it, photograph it and remember it forever.

    • Nancy August 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      @Cheryl, They may not remember it their whole life, but they WILL remember it for a year or two and it will drive what that they do in that time. For example, my son fed giraffes in Nairobi when he was 2 years old. He remembered that when he was 3 and 4 and 5. Sometime when he was 6 or 7 he lost that memory but he did that very vivid memory for many years. I have no doubt that having that memory for those years affected how he saw other things at those ages.

  5. Bill Pigott August 11, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Traveling with kids is also good for parents, who are exposed to their children’s view of the world. I remember how much more I saw at an airport when I first traveled with a 2 year-old, and how much more when the boys were a little older. Then, when we moved with our three little boys, 5, 3 1/2 and 2, from Australia to live in Nepal, we became even more aware of how valuable it was to travel with them. Over the next 20 years we we re-located 4 times and continued to travel locally and beyond. They schooled with kids from other cultures, and in Nepal they trekked through villages and interacted with local children from a very different culture. 31 years later they are the finest of young men, adding value to others lives with tolerance and compassion.

    • Nancy August 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      @Bill Pigott, I agree. I need to get another post written about how/why travel with kids is good for parents. I wanted to put it in this post, but it was too long.

  6. Rachel Kowalczyk August 11, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    Daryl’s perspective brings a smile to my face. Yes, our arbitrary borders & limitations are exposed as such when children look at them.

    So many adult travelers cite a feeling of tapping into their inner child when traveling… who knows if this rekindled wonder would be possible had they not taken journeys to strange places as children?

    • Nancy August 13, 2012 at 5:41 am #

      @Rachel Kowalczyk, Good point. It’s hard because we will never know exactly. Kids have such a tendency to blast right through the superficial stuff we adults think is so important.

  7. A King's Life - Digital Nomad Family August 12, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Well said Bill. We, as parents, see new cultures in a different perspective. Our children are an easy door opener to play dates and extended meals with other families (local and traveling) which gives us an opportunity for conversation and insight into those cultures.

    Nancy, you made a great point about childhood memories when you stated if children really don’t remember…why bother reading, taking walks, etc.
    We do all those things because we inherently know that it helps shape them. Thanks for bringing it to a level that everyone will understand!

  8. Val in Real Life August 13, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for rebutting that absurd woman. High five! 😀

    • Nancy August 16, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      @Val in Real Life, She was crazy, eh? I cannot imagine only doing things with kids if they will remember it. Heck – I’ve done many things in my ADULT life that I didn’t remember!

      • Val in Real Life August 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

        @Nancy, No kidding. The kids seem to remember more than me these days! As far as the author goes…they say write what you know and clearly she ran out of material she was knowledgeable about.

  9. kate August 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Excellent blog post Nancy. I think one of the great advantages of traveling with kids is that it gets everyone out of their own little bubble. It means that parents are spending 24 / 7 with their kids. It means that kids are exposed to a parade of new people and new experiences. It means that kids (and adults) learn that people are people and that most people are good.

    • Nancy August 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      @kate, So very true. I really need to do another post on why travel with kids is good for parents. There are many benefits for the whole family!

  10. Lyn August 17, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m so pleased you ran with this – so great to hear a reasoned response.

  11. crazy sexy fun traveler August 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I am sure travel gives a lot to kids! I love traveling now also because I used to travel as a kid 🙂

  12. Bcn October 24, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    It is frankly a ridiculous comment that travel is wasted on kids because they don´t remember it. It is the enjoyment in the here and now that is important. Babies don´t remember us reading them stories, cooing at them and bouncing them on our knees either, does that mean it is a waste of time doing these things as well?

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

      @Bcn, Exactly. If we aren’t going to do anything our children won’t remember, well… that’ll cut out a LOT!

  13. Maddy January 3, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    You are so rights about kids and travel. My best friends have a 3 & 5 yr old. Mom is a teacher and dad self employed. Every school break they are off and running. They explore, hike, kayak, canoe, camp and their lives are so much richer for it. They are now farming their property so these youngsters “live” outdoors”. What a difference it makes.
    We never traveled as youngster but as a young adult I became consumed with mountaineering books, and spent every spare moment in the great outdoors. Still do. I did most of it solo with my dogs because i cam to appreciate early on that I would grow old in my rocking chair if I waited for peers to join me. I heard and payed no attention to all their dire warnings re: solo travel but
    so happy to say, I never payed them an ounce of attention and have never looked back.
    Thank you soooo much for website. It is wonderful!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel January 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      @Maddy, Thank you Maddy! I think kids of ALL ages need to get out in the great outdoors. Kids today are growing up chained to TVs and computers and I think we’ll see huge effects of this in the future.

  14. Heather April 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    I could not agree with you more! That was a great rebuttal. Nothing makes me happier on the road than when my kids are playing with local kids or other traveling kids. They may not speak the same language, but they always seem to find a way to play and communicate.

    It has always been one of my pet peeves when people ask me why I would bother to take the kids since they are too young and wont remember. I tell them that the kids may not remember everything, but I do and it makes my trips that much more enjoyable.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

      @Heather, That’s very true. A happy mama makes happy kiddos!

      But even so, the educator in me (I was a teacher for 21 years) knows how important that basic foundation is. And that basic foundation is laid when the kids are young.

  15. Jes @ INTLAdventures Blog October 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Travel is useful for teaching your kids about how lucky they are – if they are from a Western background. It’s hard to understand how privileged you are just growing up in one place.

    While you can do this at any age, they’d probably need to a teenager to really interpret the situation and change their views about themselves. Earliest holidays I can remember are family ones – fishing at sea etc. I don’t remember anything before that and they weren’t a waste of time in a sense of I probably had a lot of fun, but I don’t think they’d be the major contributing factor to my level of acceptance of other cultures. Kids can pick a lot of that up socially back at home.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 28, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      @Jes @ INTLAdventures Blog, I suspect that my children will, one day, look back upon all their travels and realize how lucky they are. Right now – at age 16 – they don’t see it. I think the real value of our travels is that our sons don’t see that privilege. They don’t see rich kids and poor kids – they just see kids. To them, everybody is all the same. I am so very glad they’ve learned that lesson.

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