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My daughter, just 16 months old when we visited Europe a few months back, will never remember the time she plunked a 2-euro coin into the palm of a Frenchman in Biarritz to take her very first spin on a carousel.

With the ocean stretching wide in front of her, it was the best view from a merry-go-round this mama had ever seen — and one of those sweet child-rearing moments you commit to memory since they come around just once.

For my daughter and her brother, these early memories will almost surely vanish before they are old enough to retain them. Some would say that the kids might as well have never seen that spectacular Basque coastline from the back of a carousel horse. 

The author
The author’s kids riding a carousel they’ll likely never remember in Biarritz, France. (Photo by Terry-Ward.com)

Wouldn’t a merry-go-round ride back home in Tampa have been just as good? In a word — no.

Knowing that my children will probably never remember the details of any of the travel adventures they’ve had before their third birthdays is hardly an argument for staying home. Here are a few of the reasons why it’s worth traveling with your kids even if they are too young to remember.

Related: Best Credit Cards for Family Travel

Travel Teaches You That Routines Aren’t Everything

At home, there’s a lot to be said for keeping kids on a routine and schedule. But when you’re on the road, you have to adapt. Teaching your kids to be flexible from a young age is a good thing. I remember the time a friend visited me in France with her toddler before I had kids of my own. We threw a party and she was determined to put her kid to bed at 7pm, just as she does without fail at home.

But summer evenings in France stay light much later and her little one wasn’t at all sleepy. When my friend saw French kids frolicking until 10pm and later, she decided to let her son stay up and play, too. We can be surprised by how adaptable our children are when they are exposed to fluctuations and different environments from time to time from early ages.

Kids playing in the evening in a square in Durango, Spain, during the long daylight hours of summer (Terry Ward).
Kids playing at 9pm in a square in Durango, Spain, during the long daylight hours of summer (Photo by Terry-Ward.com)

Lessons in Eating What’s Offered — and Trying New Things

Kids menus listing chicken fingers, bland pasta and grilled-cheese sandwiches are rare in many European countries — and in much of the world, for that matter. Ask for the kids menu in Spain and you’ll probably get a blank stare. Instead, this can be an opportunity to get your children to try a wider variety of food. (Here are tips to help your kids become adventurous eaters.)

Photo by Kirsty Lee / EyeEm / Getty Images.
Photo by Kirsty Lee / EyeEm / Getty Images.

During a recent trip with my two little ones in the Asturias region of Northern Spain, we loved the ubiquitous “menu del dia” (menu of the day) at nearly every roadside restaurant. For about 11 to 15 euros per person, my husband and I would order a starter, main course and dessert that came with a bottle of wine. Not only was it a serious bargain, it forced us to try out new foods on the kids. This included the delicious bean stew called fabada (which I’ve been inspired to try to make back home) and local seafood like sardines.

Quality Time Together During the Years That Go So Fast

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to stay home — close to your diaper-changing table, high chair and potty-training seat — than to hit the road. But try to remind yourself that these early years are ones you’ll never get back. The most truthful cliché about raising children, after all, is that it all goes by far too quickly (even if it doesn’t always feel that way). Vacations with your children can temporarily slow down time and create the quality time together that can be elusive back home.

Looking back on that recent trip (even with the epic, inflight meltdown by my 16-month-old that rivaled the decibel level of the rugby team a few rows behind us), I realize how lucky I am to have had this extended time away with my kids. During our adventures, my family is together 24/7, without work obligations and domestic chores (not to mention round-the-clock Wi-Fi) that can sidetrack our attention from each other. Along with my husband, navigating these new experiences put us in the kids’ lives and in the moment together during those weeks away.

Since everything is often new when you travel, it can mean more time in the moment than you’re used to back home. (Photo by Terry-Ward.com)

Travel Can Give Kids More Confidence

Certain cultures in the world are just more outgoing and demonstratively loving with children than others. If you’ve ever been to Turkey, you know what I’m talking about (and if you’re the type who’s uncomfortable with a server at a restaurant picking your baby up to whirl them around the restaurant, consider yourself warned).

colorful lights on street in Istanbul
(photo courtesy of 2DadsWithBaggage)

During a recent week with my toddlers in Morocco, I’m sure they got more unsolicited positive attention from strangers than they had during their short lifetimes in Florida. In every restaurant and shop the locals welcomed them with a smile and recognition — perhaps even a toy or sweet treat — that they’re wholly unaccustomed to. When we returned home, I swear I noticed my son with a new spring in his step and confidence sauntering into a room, a boost I link to the reception he received while traveling abroad.

Travel Teaches Patience and Adaptability

Travel, and particularly family travel, rarely goes as planned. Your kids won’t remember the time they had to sit through multicourse meals with you in Europe. (I recommend giving it a try.) But you just might find they’re better behaved at restaurants back home because they’ve gotten used to a new normal abroad.

Parents who take their kids traveling from a young age are rarely the ones leaving the party early, claiming their child simply can’t fall asleep unless he’s in his own bed. Like the rest of us, young kids learn by doing. Whether it’s sleeping in an unfamiliar Pack ‘n Play or taking out their passport to hand it to an airport security agent. There’s endless learning to be done when you step outside the comfort zone of home and hit the road with your family. When we travel, I tell the kids, still too young to understand, that strangers are just friends we haven’t met and new countries are just new playgrounds to explore. 

(Koji Aoki / Getty Images)
(Koji Aoki / Getty Images)

Bottom Line

Travel makes all of us learn to be more flexible, accepting and adaptable. Young kids are no exception. Make new memories together by traveling with your kids. Even if they won’t remember the specifics of the scenery, smells and tastes, they’ll still soak up new lessons for life that can forever become a part of who they are.

Here are tips for traveling with young kids:

Featured image by stockstudioX / Getty Images

Know before you go.

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