Want to Give Your Kids a Leg Up on Life? Travel With Them.
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Jennifer Fontaine still remembers traveling extensively with her mom as a young girl. Her single mom worked in the tourism industry and brought Jennifer along on many special trips. It was on a visit to Utah that Jennifer saw the Milky Way and got her first taste of wasabi. Fontaine, the managing editor and founder of Outdoor Families magazine, proves one of the points that a recent study commissioned by the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) makes: 76% of children who are taken on one trip want to travel more. As an adult with a child of her own, Fontaine is still smitten by the travel bug.
While Jennifer's story is unique to her, the theme is far from unique. I'd bet that many reading this had the travel bug first awakened at a young age.
Travel Helps Kids Become More Culturally Aware
The SYTA study, which surveyed 1,500 US teachers, makes a vigorous case for the benefits of travel for children. A whopping 74% of the teachers believe travel has a “very positive impact” on students’ personal development. Indeed, Fontaine has found that travel of any kind encourages kids’ ability to adapt to environments different from home. “It also highlights differences between cultures and shows kids that it’s OK for people to be different, while also having an ability to connect through our differences,” Fontaine adds.
The SYTA survey shows that a majority of teachers (52%) believed that travel helped children increase their tolerance and respect of other cultures and ethnicities. (Perhaps those stats will help if the school pushes back over a few days missed for a family trip.)
Dr. Matthew Stone, professor at California State University, Chico, quotes Mark Twain about the advantages of travel: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” Stone points out. He reminds parents to take advantage of the new setting and help children see the world through fresh eyes. “Even if they’re picky eaters, they can at least try food in a new restaurant and see what’s different. It opens their eyes to a new perspective,” he adds.
Both Fontaine and Stone agree that families don’t need to be global jet-setters for their children to reap such benefits. “I always drive home the message that it doesn’t have to be an international trip to Iceland. It can be about going to a national park or even a state park,” Fontaine says. “A weekend road trip with the family can be just as beneficial.”
Traveling Kids Fare Better at School
Not surprisingly, kids who travel also do better at school, the study reports. 55% of teachers surveyed said that such children showed more intellectual curiosity. Stone’s research has demonstrated that travel proves to be an important supplement to classroom education. “Imagine if your kid has visited the Alamo and they discuss the Alamo in school. The child then is much more interested in learning about that topic. If you go to Mexico City, then every time your kid sees Mexico City in the newspaper, she’s more curious about it,” Stone points out.
“I truly firmly believe that travel opens up a child’s mind to receive information in a different way than just sitting in a classroom,” Fontaine says. “Experiencing a different culture, trying different cuisines — these open your world to different possibilities.”
Traveling Kids Learn Skills for the Future
And while a majority (56%) of teachers in the survey believe that travel has a “very positive impact” on students’ education and career, the direct correlations might be a bit hard to justify, Fontaine and Stone say. Indeed, since travel helps the development of a variety of soft skills, which, in turn, might have a positive snowball effect on grades, and therefore, career.
“It’s also important to look at learning as more than just facts and figures,” Stone says. “It’s about a lot more than going to a museum and learning the history of Abraham Lincoln. Travel gives kids the opportunity to learn a whole host of soft skills such as problem-solving, independence, decision-making and adaptability.” Indeed, a TPG Family contributor noted that her children learned about teamwork on a recent vacation. Stone speculates that kids who have honed these soft skills stand a better chance in the career marketplace. That might explain why the survey showed a favorable tilt toward career success among kids who travel.
Stone encourages parents to nurture some of those soft skills while away: “Have your kids pack their own bags, or even a backpack, let them pick five things they can do, navigate from one place to the other, let them read a map — these are all great skills that kids can learn from travel,” he says. Here are many ways that family trips can become not only more memorable for kids, but also more impactful.
Both Stone and Fontaine recognize that not all families might have the financial resources to travel, which makes using miles and points all the more important. Even a weekend trip to experience free or inexpensive attractions in a nearby city should provide benefits, they say. Equally important, says Fontaine, is the role that nonprofit foundations can play in making travel accessible to all children, irrespective of socioeconomic status. “I would only hope that studies like this one encourage schools and teachers to implement more travel programs in school,” she says.
The numbers back up that the benefits of travel for children are numerous and far-ranging, no matter where that next trip might take them. So, if you can, take the trip. It'll be worth the effort.
If you want to plan more family trips using miles and points, check out these resources: