My family does a lot of traveling together, particularly in cars. There's just something about a road trip--being stuck in tight quarters with the same bunch of humans for days--that's weirdly bonding. Yes, long-distance vacations can be expensive. Yes, my husband, our four kids (ages 13 to 20) and I have spent countless hours snarling at each other while waiting in slow-moving lines to snap selfies in front of national treasures. And yes, we are always glad to get home to reclaim our respective personal spaces.
But I'm convinced our kids are better off because of having new life experiences in faraway places. Here's how:
1. They can navigate public transit in huge metropolises.
This is something many adults in the U.S. don't feel comfortable doing. There's a certain confidence that comes with the ability to traverse a big city when you don't have wheels of your own. And while I'm still using paper maps, young people are adept at using mobile apps to figure out which subway trains or buses to board.
2. It pushes them to be outgoing.
For instance, they see the necessity of talking with strangers. I realize this is exactly the opposite of what parents teach little kids. In reality, though, not getting lost often entails asking a local for help navigating.
3. It strips them of some naiveté.
Again, this isn't something you want to see in a five-year-old, but as older kids prepare to go out into the world it's in their best interest to have some idea what's actually out there. We live in Minnesota where it can be deathly cold and don't see a lot of homeless people on the street. While traveling, my kids have seen plenty of tents, signs and sleeping figures on sidewalks and benches, particularly in warmer climes such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They've smelled weed wafting through the air at Venice Beach. They've wrestled with the moral dilemma regarding whether or not to give money to panhandlers in Chicago.
4. It makes them appreciate how blessed they are.
Driving through places where the houses look very different from their own helps them understand that millions (and billions, worldwide) of people live vastly different existences. We live on six acres in the middle of nowhere with a lake in our backyard. Enough said.
We also don't have to deal with traffic where we live. One time, driving to JFK from Philadelphia had us stuck in road construction in Brooklyn and Queens for a seeming eternity with no fuel stations in sight or showing up in our maps app. And half our crew vows never to live in LA after sitting for cumulative hours on roadways there.
5. It helps them to be open minded and try new things.
We have discovered root beer isn't much of a thing on the East Coast. At home, it's their go-to drink when ordering a meal at a restaurant. When elsewhere, they often need to switch it up.
6. They can live for weeks out of a backpack.
This is a valuable life skill. Traveling lightly makes a person agile and better able to change plans on a whim, instead of having to lug along suitcases full of unnecessary crap.
7. It takes them away from their screens.
Most kids have had screens in front of their faces and in their hands for as long as they can remember. Getting out exploring new places is a great alternative to watching TV or playing Xbox at home. And while you probably can't keep them off their phones during a trip, you can mandate device-free hours and banish them during meals.
8. It pushes them to conquer their fears.
Traveling often provides opportunities to do things you can't at home. My older boys tried surfing last month, which was pretty huge considering they are land-lovers who are afraid of fish (and especially sharks). Pushing through the things that make us afraid is always a good thing.
So, are kids more likely to succeed because of being well-traveled? Certainly, if confidence, open-mindedness, appreciation and fearlessness have anything to do with it.