Don’t wait: travel with your young kids

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Some friends I made in South Africa. I don't remember them, but I'm sure I loved their company.
Some friends I made in South Africa. I don’t
remember them, but I’m sure I loved their company.

Last year Offbeat Families ran a post that asked if one should wait until their kids are old enough to remember travel before taking them on a trip.

As you may know, I am the copyeditor for the entire Empire, so I read that post the week before it ran. As soon as I saw the title, I said, “Hell yes!”

I have been travelling since I was nine months old. My parents took me to England and South Africa to visit my relatives five times between the time I was born until I was about 11, and I only really remember the trip at age 11. Some memories I have from the previous trip are the kind where I’m not sure if I actually remember it or if it’s me remembering photos.

As I got older, it was harder for my mom to take me on these vacations, but since it was her family she was visiting, she still went. This meant that we didn’t really take family vacations anymore at all, other than some trips to our cottage. While my friends would go to Florida or Cuba for March break, I would stay home. When I complained about this, my mom would say that I’m much more well-travelled than them and I shouldn’t be jealous of a trip to a domestic locale. All I thought was, what the hell do I care? I don’t remember all the great sights, or the trips at all. I’d much rather go to Florida for a week when I’m 14 than look at photos of my toddler-self on safari from ten years ago.

I especially resented my parents’ lack of understanding whenever they would tell stories about funny or adorable things I did on these trips, or amazing things we all saw. I don’t remember running around with warthogs, where I’d chase one for a bit in one direction, then he’d turn around chase me. I don’t remember seeing a pack of baboons chasing a leopard. I vaguely remember lying in a car for a long period of time. I decided when I was a teen that if I ever had kids, I would wait until they were old enough to appreciate where they were, so they could remember all of their experiences, and properly enjoy them.

When I first saw the blog post, I started thinking about what I was going to write in my blog as a response. I thought about all the stories my parents tell (over and over) about all the cute/hilarious/adventurous things that I have no recollection of. Then I realized something.

Sure, I don’t remember these great things, and I’m not entirely sure that the trips instilled in me any sense of adventure more than I would have had anyway. But one thing is for sure: my parents loved taking me.

When you’re traveling with your child, it must be a completely different experience than traveling alone. Even though I don’t remember it, I can imagine that seeing me with those warthogs must have been awesome for my parents. They have stories and fond memories that will last a lifetime for them.

Therefore my answer to the question has changed: don’t wait until your kid is old enough to remember it. Your kids might be a little bummed when they’re old enough to realize they don’t remember anything. But I’m sure my parents would agree that it’s worth it for you: for the memories you’ll make, which you can later share with them. Not to mention that your parents can now be your trip advisors if you choose to re-visit a place you were too young to appreciate.

Comments on Don’t wait: travel with your young kids

  1. This was a great story.

    I think it’s really easy for a lot of people to forget that our parents are just as much people as we are, you know? I didn’t realize that until I was much older, as well, and now that I’m pregnant with my first, this is really empowering for me. Thank you!

  2. I fully intend on taking our kids wherever we can afford to go! My daughter has already been to Bermuda and Puerto Rico before she was even two years old (she has the cutest little passport). I hope to go back to Europe with kids in tow within the next three years maximum. Kidlet #2 is due at the end of April. I am excited to share the experience with them. Even if they aren’t old enough to remember, I feel like it will still have an impact on the way they are shaped. Plus.. I would miss them too much to leave them alone for two weeks!

  3. Yes! It is indeed a epiphany we all have at some point when we realize that parents want to go on trips for themselves as well! I have some friends who truly don’t understand taking my kids anywhere other than kid-centered places like Disneyworld. I have always loved to travel abroad and that love has not gone away just because I became a Mom. When my son was 13 months old, my husband and I took him to Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria. Does he remember? Of course not. Did he learn to appreciate foreign cultures? Nope. But I got to sit in lovely cafes and drink coffee and let him crawl around and explore beautiful gardens in Konstanz. We still went to our share of zoos and parks but even the zoo in Germany had delicious beer and spatzle so I loved it. And being in a new environment provided learning opportunities for our toddler I would not have predicted–for example, because we stayed in a hotel with a low bed, he learned how to climb up and down in a new way. His ability to feed himself improved, too–probably b/c we were on vacation and had more time to let him try rather than getting him to eat so we could get off to work or wherever. I think all new experiences help everyone grow and learn no matter how old they are–one just has to let go of preconceived notions about what such learning looks like and when it is “worthwhile” and to accept that it’s okay to do something that will be enjoyable right now, even if it won’t be remembered later.

    • “one just has to let go of preconceived notions about what such learning looks like and when it is “worthwhile” and to accept that it’s okay to do something that will be enjoyable right now, even if it won’t be remembered later.”

      This is fantastic advice for life in general 😀

  4. I’m pregnant with my first baby and we’ve already got his first two major vacations planned.
    When he’s a year old we’re visiting glacier national park and when he’s 2 we’re hoping for a trip to Japan.
    Many friends have already given us the “you’ll see” but we’re going to go ahead and have interesting experiences traveling with our kid

    • My husband and I can’t wait to take our kid to Japan (I’m almost at the 2nd trimester, but I’m planning already)! We’ve been twice already, and it’s our favourite place (that and Cambodia). We want to shop for them! So many cute kids fashions!

      I think our first trips will be to Johannesburg (to see my sister and brother-in-law) and Japan.

      I’m saving any “kid-centered” (Disneyland) trips for when they can remember it! Frankly, why would I want to go to on a kid-oriented trip when the kid won’t even know what’s going on? Those are the trips I think people should wait to take until the child can remember because the whole focus is the kid. Vacations that are based purely on our interests can be taken whenever!

      • Hahaha. You have never been to Disney with my mom. Those vacations were for her, we just sort of followed along in her wake. Dont get me wrong, we had a great time. But I suspect she might have had more fun if she had brought along a babysitter for when we insisted it was time to go back to the hotel and go to bed and she still wanted to find Mickey.

      • My partner and I have already decided that we have no qualms about going on adventures with little ones in tow, but the one place we’re not taking them until they’re older is Disneyland. This is purely for selfish reasons: we love going to Disneyland– it’s the ultimate vacation to just be fun and give in to the magic–but can’t imagine how exhausting it would be with a little one (or more)! We’ll take them when they’re old enough to spend time with us AND go out and explore the park on their own– because yeah, Disneyland is for children, but it’s also for children-at-heart, and we’d like it to be as fun-filled (and stress-free!) as possible.

        I know lots of parents who take their very young kids and have a great time, but I think it would be just too much for us to handle (plus, Disneyland is kind of OUR place… that was the first place we vacationed to as a couple, we’ve gone like a million times). More power to the mamas and papas out there who make it work, though!

  5. I think the trick is to just KEEP doing things with your kids as they get older to. I have some friends who did lots of adventerous and outdoorsy things with their parents when they were small, but as they got older their parents stopped planning trips for whatever reasons. If you start taking them a lot when they are young I think it helps create a pattern where you aren’t afraid to go out with them, and you are used to the work involved, and adventures can be more spontaneous and less daunting. We are planning a bicycle tour and to go backpacking with our toddler this summer, and we know she won’t remember it but hopefully it is something we can continue to do for years to come. It is something we love to do and don’t want to stop, so we might as well seize the moment instead of postponing fun indefinitely (which can be easy to do with kids, because going to have fun is really a lot more work with them).

    • Speaking for myself, the reason my mom stopped taking us to South Africa after we were older than 12 was because the pricing for airline tickets for kids over that age was sky-high (ha puns).

      I guess what I’m saying is that if parents can afford to keep traveling epically with their kids as they grow up, then that’s awesome — but even if they can’t, they shouldn’t feel badly about traveling when their kids were too young to remember.

    • Ha! We are going to Disney this summer and it’s sort-of because this is one of our last chances to travel while she’s still young enough to get a free lap seat, but mostly because my wife was accepted to present a paper at a conference in Orlando and we want to go to Disney too (I haven’t been since I was 9 or so)! I think the kiddo will love it, but I know she won’t remember it at all. Hopefully we will!

  6. It’s a huge developmental time whether one remembers it or not. It MATTERS what you do with that time. Travel=parents feeling happy and awesome, kids having fun=positive brain connections being made.

  7. Love this! I completely agree that travel when the kid is a baby or toddler is primarily for the parents; but what’s wrong with that? I love to travel, and I have big plans for our little one when she gets here. So what if she can’t remember, my husband and I *will*, and my happy memories are important too!

  8. I can agree with a lot of what you said, but with some differences. I would say to choose the trips wisely. For example, I used to beg my parents to take us to Disney World, all through my childhood. My parents didn’t decide to finally go until I was like 14, basically in the prime of realizing being a kid sucks ass and I hate everything and everyone. Just starting to see the world for the ugly stinkhole it is and how much I hate my verbally abusive father. So I finally got my trip when I was too old and too young to appreciate it. Too old because, as a child, I woulda gone ape shit, but too young because now that I live alone and I’m independent I could probably appreciate it as an adult. I had more fun at Universal and MGM and other such places because they had more grown up rides and stuff to do. I got zero enjoyment from seeing Mickey as a teenager. It was just too late.
    So now I can only wait to experience it with my own kids. Oh maybe sneak a little mini trip before they start getting born.

    However, my parents also decided to force me into a religious retreat in Isreal shortly after. This was the point of my rebellion where I hated organized religion and resented being constantly forced to go to church every week, and my parents were going through mid life crisis’ and were becoming truly god fearing people. Both of my siblings were old enough they weren’t required to go but neither wanted to have to babysit me. That was the worst 3 weeks of my life. Definitely something I’d have rather done when I was too young to care or remember!

  9. We are also already planning our first trips with our little one (due about now).
    This winter we are going to take our by-then about 3-4 months old (Southern Hemisphere!) kid up to our tramping club ski lodge for at least one weekend.
    In October we’ll be travelling to see DHs parents – which is only an hours flight, but its still travel.
    I’m hoping that this time next year we will head off to one of the pacific islands for a week, and at some stage we will have to fly over to Australia (about 4 hours) for a couple of family weddings.
    Not to mention weekends at the beach house, hiking trips and the camping trip we have planned for this coming summer.

    We are working on the premise that the more we do in the early days, the easier it will be to continue on – and starting with places where we dont have to take “all the stuff” has the advantage of working to reduce how much we feel we need.

  10. Great article, and I completely agree– it matters whether parents have fun, too!! We’ve taken our daughter to Rome at 6 mos and are planning a trip to London when she’ll be 22 months, not to mention one trip at two months (with another planned at almost two years) home to the US to see my family (we live in Israel). We’ve also hosted tourists here in Israel. Some of my tips:

    1. Plan one “goal” destination each day, not a full packed itinerary… and beyond that, do what you feel like.

    2. Don’t be afraid to split up so that you can do things you want sans kids sometimes.

    3. Pace yourself! If you’re tired, take a break!

    4. Don’t forget that babies fly free until age 2… they won’t remember any of the travels for sure, but it’s a great time for YOU to get around.

    5. We plan to buy one nice souvenir for our daughter each time we travel, so she can feel like she has a tangible connection to the trip. In Italy we bought her a really nice Italian rag doll from a toystore in Piazza Navonna and named the doll “Bella,” because that’s what all the Italians (who LOVE babies) kept calling her. Bella is still her favorite, and someday hopefully she’ll like the connection to the trip she took as a baby. In London, I’m thinking she’ll love some toy double-decker busses and black cabs.

    But yeah, our travel right now is because my husband and I enjoy it and have a wonderful time… and I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  11. I traveled a lot as a child – by the time I was 10 my parents had taken my brother and I to Turkey, Bolivia, Venezuela, England, and Iran (all multiple times, too!) – and I now travel a lot as an adult. I have no doubt that my desire to live in new places and explore came from this childhood exposure to the world, but I also think a huge trip in my life was the first trip I went on without my parents. I was 15 and on a school trip to Costa Rica. I gained so much confidence and patience – so much so that three months later I went to the Galapagos with two friends (on an organized and supervised boat tour, but still without our parents). So the traveling before I could remember it was worth it, but being able to make own decisions later was great. My only regret is that I never saw very much of the US when I was growing up there, and now that I’ve moved I meet people that know my own country better than I do! So don’t think a trip has to be international to have a positive effect on your child.

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