I will always prioritise travelling with my kids – and here is why 3 weeks ago

I will always prioritise travelling with my kids – and here is why

One of my very favourite things to do with my children is travel.

It always was.

Ever since before I had children, when I in my teens and 20s backpacked my way through Asia, Australia and the US, I always knew that one day, I wanted my future children to fall in love with travel too.

And so ever since they were babies, we have travelled to cities, islands, beaches and countries, and when my daughter turned two, she already had 100 flights under her belt.

And yes, travelling with kids – especially when they are really young – can come with some challenges, let's not sugarcoat things.

I have dealt with seriously gross nappies in very tiny airplane bathrooms – while having to keep one leg outside the door so that my eldest child could cling to it while crying because she couldn't fit inside the room. I have carried a stroller up five floors in a boutique Paris hotel because there was no lift. I have strolled around Bristol and Barcelona at 6am looking for open coffee shops with babies who were on holiday mode and had been wide awake since 4.30am.

Oh, and not to mention coped with tantrums, had to crawl under airplane seats to look for tiny bits of Lego or soothers that went missing, endured road trips that seemed to go on for decades – but in reality were just a couple of hours long – and many other minor dramas – but the thing is – it has been all worth it.


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Because I have also swam in rooftop pools and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean with them. And explored Harry Potter-esque streets in Edinburgh. We have skied on the city slopes in Oslo, ate croissants on the French Riviera, counted sports cars outside the Casino in Monacco, island hopped in Greece, ate gelato in tiny villages in Italy and ran through sprinklers on town squares across Denmark and Sweden.


And here is the thing – I am not rich. Not by a long shot. But I will always prioritise travel and experiences over most other things.

I don't have designer clothes. I drive an old car. I don't eat out much and not being a drinker, I rarely spend money on nights out.

So we save what we can for our trips and travels – and it will forever be one of the things I am more grateful to be able to do.

Not just because it has filled our memory banks as a family, but also because I cannot think of a greater gift to be able to give to my children.


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Travel can boost development

The thing is, even experts agree that travel – and it doesn't matter where you go or how far – can significantly boost development. They say travel can expand a kid’s world, making them more empathetic toward cultural differences and helping them adapt to changing situations. It can even shape their linguistic development as babies.

“They're going to start learning the tools for developing meaningful relationships, especially across differences, from an early age,” Dr. Robin Hancock, a global education specialist with Bank Street College, told Travel + Leisure.


“Travel has the potential to create a new narrative that teaches children about the similarities with others [and] lays a strong foundation, especially in the early years...We have the potential to raise a generation that knows how to live and coexist with each other."

Acording to Hancock, the most rapid brain development occurs in the first five years of a child’s life, and especially in the first three.

Surrounding kids from birth to about three years old with people who are different from them “normalize” that experience.

“Travel and educating children about their roles as citizens of the world when they’re young ensures they will retain that message into their adult years,” she said.

“When somebody begins a habit or a tradition... early in life, that becomes the foundation through which they view the world for the rest of their life.”


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"Travelling with young children – even as young as six months old — can also help them with linguistic development, said Erika Levy, an associate professor in communication sciences and disorders at Teachers College at Columbia University.


“We know that in terms of language, babies perceive sounds differently from adults. As they get older... they lose the ability to distinguish many of the other speech sounds,” said Levy. “If we surround them with speech sounds from all around the world... then we are keeping those categories going, which helps later on in life with their language.”

"And when they return home from a trip, their experiences can actually help them in school, according to Hancock.

“It makes them more open to try new things [and] less cautious of people and scenarios that are not familiar to them,” she said. “It will inevitably make children more open and remove bias.”

Want to maximise their experience when travelling with kids? Here are some things to try:

1. Take a stroll though a local neighbourhood

"While it’s great to see the major attractions in a destination, walking around a local neighbourhood can be one of the most impactful moments for children, said Hancock.

"A child’s brain tends to make connections based on what is familiar to them.

She explains:

“If you're in Venice, spend time on the Grand Canal, and if you're in Paris, spend time by the Eiffel Tower, but the pieces that really resonate with children are the experiences they can relate to."


“It’s going to be meaningful for your child if you just find a quiet neighbourhood and go for walk…Inevitably, you’re going to see people sweeping out their front yard and local vendors. And that's much more meaningful — you’re going to get a better slice of what everyday life is like and your child will, too.”


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2. Create meaningful traditions

"Traditions can help kids connect to a trip. For example, we always have lots of little traditions we do when we come to a new place. Like immediately, we go on a hunt for the best ice cream. And the best pizza. And then we always, always make sure we buy a fridge magnet from every place we visit.

“Traditions are meaningful for kids,” Hancock reveals.

“Anything that you can relate back to the child's world is going to be a meaningful experience to them.”

3. Have your kids play with other children

Grouping kids with other children around their age will help their development, even if they don’t speak the same language, according to Levy.


“Have them meet other children — they will play, learn, and find ways to communicate,” she said.

“And they’ll learn that not everybody speaks English.”

Everywhere we go, we look for local playgrounds, and trust me, you'll be amazed at just how quickly your children will make friends – and how they don't even need the language to do so.


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4. Turn your trip into a game

Ask children to point out things that are new to them, Levy recommended.

"Have them show you three things they've never seen before at home,” she said,

“You can do a treasure hunt for them.”


5. Prepare your children in advance

Preparing children for what they’re about to experience can go a long way, and as my children get older, I argue planning out trips is one of the best things about the entire trip.

We get out maps and books, use Google and Wikipedia, and it is so much fun having everyone weigh in, coming up with things they want to see and do once we get to our destination.

And ultimately, stop worrying: Levy said that children tend to be “more adaptable than we are in new situations.”

Honestly, sometimes I think we spend far too much time worrying about things that can go wrong, or be difficult or tricky. So much so, that we forget to focus on all the things that can be amazing. And trust me – seeing the world through the eyes of a child, it will be worth every tantrum, lost Lego piece and cramped airplane bathroom nappy change!