©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / RYANJLANE

Despite inflation, families in the United States are splurging on travel. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association’s October 2022 report, travel spending is at its highest since the pandemic began. And after the last couple years, who doesn’t need a little vacay to unwind? While travel time with your clan is a great way to have fun and relax, it’s also an important part of your child’s development. Here’s what traveling teaches children, plus how you can maximize its benefits, according to experts.

FOSTER CHERISHED MEMORIES

Travel is an opportunity to form significant, meaningful memories, says Steven Tobias, Psy.D., director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown and author of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. “A lot of the things we remember as adults are the special experiences we had as children,” he says.

Marian Goldberg, a Japan and Asia tourism expert based in Rutherford, says her children’s lives were shaped by travel to Asia. When they were 4 and 8 years old, the family traveled to Japan to experience the hot springs in the snow. Goldberg recalls staying at a gorgeous inn on Matsushima Island that was attached to a glass museum. “We toured the museum and wound up in an outdoor gazebo where they served us hot green tea. That is, they served everyone except my 4-year-old son, Gavin, who was so little, he looked 3. Well, Gavin was so upset. He wanted green tea like everyone else. We convinced the staff to get him tea, too,” remembers Goldberg.

That moment had a lasting impact. “To this day, my son drinks green tea, never coffee,” says Goldberg. “In fact, when he went to his college dorm, he brought an electric tea pot and a large cardboard box full of enough green tea packets for the semester.”

WHAT KIDS LEARN

When it comes to instilling life lessons in your children, travel gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Just being in a new place and experiencing different foods, cultures and people helps our brain see the world in different ways, Tobias says, and that really helps with perspective-taking, or the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

From an emotional standpoint, travel helps you grow by getting you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown, which is both stressful and exciting, says Tobias. With travel, no matter how much research you do, or how detailed your itinerary is, at some point you’re going to have to deal with things that are new. “Learning how to cope with that and to deal with the stress associated with coping with the unknown really helps from a psychological perspective,” he says. Catching your plane, finding where your Uber is parked at the airport and arriving on time to a meal reservation can all add to the stress of travel, but it presents an opportunity to problem-solve as a family, too. “Having kids cope with challenges and succeed is what builds resilience.”

Travel also helps develop planning skills. When traveling together as a family, Tobias recommends involving the kids in the decision-making process. That means planning the activities, what the schedule is going to look like each day and what each person wants from the trip. By taking each individual’s needs into consideration, the experience is maximized for everyone. Another perk? Planning together as a unit increases family bonds.

MAXIMIZE GROWTH

To get the most from your journey, take a cue from your kids, says Michael Brein, Ph.D., known as “The Travel Psychologist,” based in Bainbridge Island, Washington, and author of multiple travel guides. Whereas adults fall into routines that are predictable and reliable, children are more adaptive, he says.

“Children are open, they’re receptive, they’re eager to learn, they make friends quickly. It’s just amazing how a kid [who is traveling to another country] will suddenly make friends with a local child. Maybe they don’t even speak the same language, they just learn how to interact together,” he says.

But it’s not necessary to travel abroad to get the benefits of a new experience, says Brein. The key is breaking from your day-to-day routine. That could mean taking a staycation–as long as you’re doing something different, like taking your kiddos to museums, zoos, concerts, festivals and other local events. Engaging in activities like these helps family members bond in a meaningful way, he says.

Before you set out on your next journey, near or far, talk over your goals for the trip, says Tobias. For example, maybe it’s to have new experiences, to learn different things or to strengthen the relationships within the family. “If we focus on the goal as being together as a family and experiencing new things, wherever the family goes and whatever they do is secondary,” he says.

—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and lifestyle coach based in Wilmington, NC.