In our early twenties, two of my girlfriends, Aly, Janell, and I had a crazy dream to travel the world. We saved all our money for over a year, quit our first "real" post-college jobs, and travelled to 13 countries and numerous cities from New Zealand to Australia, then Asia & Europe. Needless to say, it was one of the best decisions of our lives because we had an absolute blast, of course, but also because we learned so much about different people, food, cultures, perspectives and ways of living. Now, Aly is adamant that we pass the experience of travel down to our kids with our first stop being Tulum, Mexico in May, and research highly supports it, too!
New research shows that traveling with children is good for their brain development, overall happiness, and well-being. Experiencing new places develops parts of the brain that are associated with everything from stress management to improved ability to learn, and children who travel also score higher in reading and math. According to Bridget Sharkey in the article Here's Why Parents Should Spend Less Money on Toys and Take More Family Vacations, it doesn't matter where a child travels to, Paris, France or Jeffersonville, Indiana, all travel is good for brain development.
According to Kira Shaw in the article Travel Broadens the Mind, but Can it Alter the Brain?, spending time in a new location is very important for a child's brain growth because children have to process a new and different environment, which causes the brain to make new neural connections as it tries to categorize the novel stimuli. This grows the brain, and also keeps it active in a similar way as learning a new language. We were recently home visiting our family in Louisville, Kentucky, and I saw this first hand with my 16-month daughter, June. It took her a few days of exploring, but by the end of of our three week trip, when we'd pull up to my mom's house, she'd say "Mimi, Mimi", and when we would arrive at my dad's she'd say "Bumpa". Over the few weeks, she became completely familiar with her new environment, and knew exactly where to go to find the dog, food, toys, ice cream and candy (which she ate way too much of!).
Research shows that those who travel tend to be more creative, too. According to Shaw's article, Adam Galinksy's research found that the more countries people had lived in, the more creative their work tended to be. However, just being a tourist isn’t enough to see any benefit. “Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment,” he says.
If you, like me, are not a millionaire then a lesson in financial planning, prioritization, and making sacrifices will also be taught to children through travel. I had to work two part-time jobs in college in order to travel abroad to Perth, Australia, and it was worth every sacrifice I made. I learned this from my dad who always tried to make it work financially when it came to education and travel, but could care less if I was keeping up with the latest toys, technology or fashion trends. I hope to teach June that you don't have to be rich to travel, but that priorities and sacrifices have to be made for the experiences she will gain through travel.
Confession: I cried on a flight last week. We were traveling on a three hour flight from 8-11 pm. My husband and I thought we were geniuses to book a night flight because, you know, June will just sleep the whole time. Yeah, no. After an hour of her crying on me, scratching my lip causing it to bleed, and knowing she was probably keeping at least 20 other people awake (including San Antonio's former Mayor Julian Castro who just happened to be sitting infront of us) I lost it and started crying telling my husband this is pure torture. Traveling with kids is not all rainbows and butterflies, but its worth the experience for me.