On Children and Travel
This week, our Instagram featured a post created by LittleBaliLove, an account bursting with beautiful, colorful photos of very good reasons to take your kids with you on that dream vacation to Bali.
I’m convinced, and I don’t have kids.
The truth is, kids may not remember all of the fantastic details of the trip you take, but travel changes them just the same. It leaves a mark.
My parents took me with them on trips before I was old enough to ask, “Are we there yet?” and I’ll admit, it took me a while to appreciate them. In fact, I kicked up my fair share of fuss.
I remember being maybe fifteen years old, set up in the back of our car with a Gamecube and a mini tv my dad rigged between the front seats for the sake of blessed quiet. He stopped the car in the middle of the Redwoods in Oregon, and he and my mother urged me to get out and appreciate the wonder of nature.
There is a photo somewhere in our albums of me leaning out of the car, still plugged in, to look up at the trees before going back to my teenagerdom.
But there’s also a photo of me at ten years old, cocking my head curiously at my father while he made a funny face back. The street signs in the background are written in French, because we’re mugging at each other in Paris. I am in one of the foremost fashion havens of the world wearing neon bike shorts and an awkward mop that only a child can pull off, and my father is scrunching up his face like a lunatic while my mother fumbles with the camera.
I remember both of us yelling, “The big button! Just push the big button! Right under your thumb.”
My father is the reason I ever put my hands on a camera. He was always taking pictures, though he was rarely in them—which is why I will always ask other groups if they’d like their photo taken so they can all be in it.
I remember this about Paris:
- My father sat me down outside of a gift shop, right on the ledge of the building, a little cool still from the morning. He took his camera strap from around his neck and looped it over mine. He helped me hold on to the body of the camera and said, “Be careful with this, okay? I’m trusting you with this.”I remember him letting me take pictures, and not making fun of a single subject, only suggesting a few. He told me they were all great, even though they probably weren’t.(I also remember a trip to London where he let me waste two entire rolls of film on swans in the park.)
- My mother happily chatted to everyone she could in French, eager to practice a language she hadn’t been able to in quite some time. “I used to live here, you know?” She told me. “We would walk to the bakery every morning, and go to the English church to watch soaps and just…get in touch.”I was ten, and had no idea—but I do now.
- My father laid on his back under the Eiffel Tower to take a picture of both it and my mother and I. It was an unconventional sight, I’d guess—a man over six feet tall sprawled out under a landmark, with two people grinning down at him and his camera.
I may not have been avidly appreciating the historical significance of everything we saw. I may not have been awed by the sheer magnitude of the Eiffel Tower. The luxurious food was probably wasted on me.
But I took photos of the lamp-lit avenues, and developed an appreciation for photography. I would not leave my father alone if a single leaf caught my eye. I wanted to show people why things familiar and unfamiliar were beautiful.
We developed photos of graffiti, of irritated birds, and of total strangers, forming blurry lines as they walked right past.
Some things were strange to me, but they photographed just as well, and they became part of my understanding of the world. It’s the same way for everyone—the unfamiliar becomes familiar when you travel and experience it. It loses the edge that makes so many things scary.
I kept taking pictures. I learned to ask, in a few different languages, “May I take your photo?”
The answer was not always yes, and that was okay.
I learned new words, if not entire languages, and understood that though each culture was different, its people were the same. They smiled the same, laughed the same, and posed the same.
They were different, just like I was different, but we were both good—maybe a little better, now that we’d met.
When you travel with children, you open a gate to more than just a planned experience.
You teach them to be adaptable, unafraid of change and eager for adventure. Children who go camping will learn to sleep anywhere, children who experience delays at the airport—while prone to some whining—will learn to be patient, and (hopefully) kind to harried airline employees.
Children who travel learn to socialize not just within regimented school hours, or within their own age groups, but with people from different cultures and eras. They become comfortable not with strangers, exactly, but in the knowledge that strangers can be friends.
They become more sympathetic to others, more eager to be a better person, a more interesting person. They create stories to tell over and over, their tongues quick and peppered with new words and wonders.
Children who experience new cultures and languages absorb and appreciate them, ask questions about them, learn them. They become more likely to master new languages and understand differences without fear or aggravation. This is a story they want to be part of.
This is something new.
You could leave your children at home. Sometimes, you may honestly need to.
But never be afraid to take them along.
You don’t want to miss out on something amazing.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” — Anthony Bourdain