I was interviewed recently by The Atlantic about traveling with children, as an enthusiast of both endeavors. This is what I said:
Should parents forgo enrolling their children in summer school in favor of travel?
“While classwork is important, I haven’t encountered any evidence suggesting it’s more educational than actual travel,” says Blake Snow, a father of five, avid traveler, and author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. “In fact, the opposite is true; travel is a wonderful mechanism for educating kids both big and small.” (NOTE: My politically incorrect answer would be an enthusiastic, “Hell yes, you should, and maybe don’t ever send them to summer school unless they’re really behind!)
Do you worry about your children’s safety while traveling?
“I do, but not to the point of preventing us from visiting places that the State Department deems safe,” says Snow. “We’ve even gone to places with special advisories, such as Mexico and South Africa, so long as the alerts are no worse than ‘be extra careful.’ The world really is a lot safer than our irrational fears make it out to be, but I do believe in taking precautions and trusting what the State Departments says when it comes to keeping American safe while abroad.”
Is it necessary for families to go far and wide?
“Not at all,” says Snow. “We’ve traveled and hiked our own backyard and region extensively and found them to be nearly as educational as going abroad. Maybe not quite as eye-opening, but still impactful. The trick is heading to places that are different than home. That could be cross town in less privileged (or privileged area), out of state, or out of country. Foreign languages help, but so do foreign accents and foreign ways of viewing the world (i.e. if you’re liberal, spend time in conservative areas and vice versa without feeling the need to judge or puff yourself up.”
What do children learn from traveling, from a social and cultural standpoint?
“The world is bigger than their little corner, filled with people that talk, think, and look differently than they do, and not as scary as they news makes it out to be. You can’t challenge your worldview by hanging out with the same friends, family, and coworkers all the time. This can only been done by meeting new people, which is often easier to do when away from home and in new settings and circumstances.”
Are trips better saved for older children?
“Although childhood amnesia is a real thing and limits our memory before the age of 3–7 (depending on the individual), there’s never a right time to travel other than as soon as you have the means and desire to,” says Snow. “I’ve taken babies, newborns, and toddlers on vacation because we like traveling and experiencing the world as a family. Sure, my one and three year olds probably won’t remember our trip to Crater Lake, but the rest of us did. What’s more, their presence often augmented the experience for the rest of us, even if they might not have individually absorbed it as well as our older children may have.
“That said, there’s no evidence suggesting that childhood amnesia is a complete waste. Until they day, I’d like to believe that an out of home experience can still have a positive effect on younglings, even if they might not remember it as adults. My short answer: Just go. There’s a 95% chance you won’t regret it. I’ll take those odds any day.”