by Gelsey Brizo
Traveling with Toddlers: No Risk, No Reward
Have you ever thought about traveling with your child but have been too scared of all the obstacles you might encounter? I’ve heard horror stories from my parents about broken stroller wheels, exploding and spilling milk bottles, not to mention the crying and screaming that happens when your child is uncomfortable or unhappy.
If even seeing parents with young children in Disney World evokes my sympathy, I couldn’t imagine traveling with a toddler to a completely different country. As my mother has told me, “Taking you to see your uncle in a different state was more than enough for me.” Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from traveling with their child with my scary stories, but I’m sure that everyone has heard about one incident or another in which traveling with a toddler has been less than enjoyable. So, what could possibly make all this effort worth it? What makes traveling to a different country with your little one beneficial for both you and them? WiIth the help of some seasoned parents in this field, I’ll lay out a few of the best reasons for traveling with your toddler.
Steve and Lisa of Pixie Vacations have been traveling with both of their daughters since they were each only 6 months old! Brooke, one of their daughters, actually took her very first steps on a cruise (they even have a youtube video of it!). They’ve been to Norway, Mexico, Copenhagen and Paris with their children and they’ve had great experiences. They suggest that, “If you are hesitant to take your kids on an international trip, I would get my feet wet with a cruise first.” Cruises allow you to sample different locations that you can potentially take an extended trip to. It also gets your kids used to traveling to different places for extended periods of time. Most importantly, cruise ships provide a sort of “safe zone” for your kids. They make friends on the ship that go with them from place to place and play with them in the ship’s kids clubs. They can experience different languages, foods and cultures but always have a place to come back to that’s comfortable if they don’t like it there. It’s immersive but not fully; baby steps to big international trips, if you will.
Corinne McDermott, founder of HaveBabyWillTravel.com, has been traveling with her kids for eight years now and has gained a lot of experience when it comes to traveling with children. She says that she “truly believes that, while they won’t remember much of their adventures, the travels are helping them to become the tolerant and open-minded adults [she] hopes they’ll be.” She also says that traveling has helped her kids become “flexible and adaptable when life takes them outside of their usual routine.” More importantly, it has helped expand her children’s world view, exposing them to different cultures, foods and languages.
Since their daughter was 3 months old, Celine Brewer, of babycantravel.com and her husband have taken their child on 4 international trips. Their daughter is now two and a half years old and they believe that there are a multitude of benefits from travelling with a toddler. Celine says that “It is one of the best developmental activities you can do with you child. Imagine it from their perspective – it must stimulate all of their senses; the new sights, the new sounds (languages, etc), the new smells (different food, etc). We absolutely think she benefited from these trips. Most importantly, through the kindness of the locals we encountered while travelling, she has learned that people from around the world are good, decent, friendly people, no matter what they look like or sound like. I can’t think of a better lesson to teach a toddler!” Although she admits her daughter went through a rough transition between ages 1 and 2, the Brewers say that “Despite enduring some of the terrible two’s while on the road, we loved every minute of travelling with our family.” So much so that they ended up writing a book on traveling with young children.
If you’re worried about wasting your money on traveling because your toddler won’t remember the trip anyway, Eileen Gunn of FamiliesGo! offers a few points to make you re-think that. Regardless of where you go, it’s doubtful that your child will really remember anything from any trip when they are 2 or 3 or 4. Gunn has been traveling with her daughter since she was 6 months old and she says that even if her daughter doesn’t remember the first few trips they took, her husband and her do and they can share the photos and the memories with their daughter when she’s old enough to appreciate them more. She also says that just because her daughter doesn’t consciously remember the trips, it doesn’t mean she didn’t learn anything from them. “Kids are learning when they are that age even if they don’t necessarily remember things from then. So travel goes into all the data their brains are collecting and becomes part of the experience they draw on. It helps them to be more adaptable and curious and open to new places, situations and experiences. Your child might not remember going to Paris when he was 2, but traveling to Quebec when he’s 4 and Mexico when he’s 6 and London when he’s 8 will be easier because you did it.” So, you don’t have to think of traveling with your child as a waste of money because you can still enjoy yourself and make memories, and their developing minds can be enriched by the experience, as well as be a learning experience for you and your child’s future travels.
Traveling internationally with your kids is also good if you want them to be bilingual for family reasons or just because. Laura Hall, Director of Communications at Kid & Coe, is a mom of 2 (ages one and five) who frequently travels with her two girls, especially to France where her parents live. Before one of their trips to the south of France, she says she taught her eldest daughter some French and “she really enjoyed playing with the word for ice cream and please and thank you.” Traveling is a great way to promote exposure to a language because they get to be completely immersed in it and also gain positive feedback from speaking it. As Hall’s family readies for their next trip to Morocco, she is teaching her girls more French in hopes that they will continue to practice it on their trip. Hall says that, “It’s important to me that my children engage with other cultures and understand the world has infinite varieties and possibilities.”
Similarly, Matt Bennett of Boulder, San Francisco has taken his 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son on 4 international trips, 2 of which have been to Russia. His wife speaks to their children exclusively in Russian, but he says that on their trips to Russia “[his kids’] Russian language skills improved 10x while [they] were there because they were immersed and heard other people using the language on a daily basis.” Another example of how immersion through travel serves to strengthen language acquisition.
Even more amazing still, Laguna Niguel says that she spent her son’s first 7 years of life traveling the Malay Archipelago (4 primarily in Bali and 3 in Singapore). He ended up learning 3 languages fluently over his 7 years traveling Asia and Niguel says that, “Exposing [her] son to such rich and varied culture led to a brilliantly open minded child who can relate to anyone anywhere,” and strongly recommends traveling with children.
So, whether it’s to gain an early cultural understanding of the world, or to learn a new language, or even just to have a fun time and make memories, traveling with your child is definitely a worthwhile experience. It promotes a strong bond between parent and child and greater understanding of the vast world these children have been born into. I don’t remember much from my childhood travels, but I remember touching snow for the first time and building my first snowman with my dad in my uncle’s backyard. Snippets like that are what make my childhood memories, well, memorable. And I think having those small things makes child travel completely worth it.
About the Author:
Gelsey Brizo. A senior at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in English. Born and raised in Miami, Florida she speaks both English and Spanish fluently and loves to watch and play soccer. A book fanatic who enjoys to read and write, she can’t go a day without a cup of coffee, a good read or her favorite music.