Traveling With Kids - Do It!

David Murphy says travel creates unforgettable memories for your kids, and broadens their minds.

July 7, 2010 8:53:35 AM PDT
When I was a kid, my parents pitched the entire family into the sedan each summer and drove us to Kansas for an annual reunion with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the roughly 2,000 cousins we left behind when my dad took a newspaper job in Philadelphia.

Kansas may not sound like the most exciting destination (unless you happen to arrive when a tornado is touching down). But for me, the anticipation of those trips and the thrill of getting on the road was something I never forgot. Years later, when I had the chance to travel as a teenager for work, I went for it enthusiastically, because I knew how much fun travel can be, and because I was prepared for the challenge.

And so, I'm going to advise parents to set aside whatever reservations you may have, do a little budgeting, and give your kids the gift of going someplace else. My position relies partly on personal experience; I've always had a sense that my regular dose of the road aided my curiosity and widened my horizons beyond others who didn't have this luxury. But it turns out, there's official evidence, too.

Travel Makes Kids Smarter?

A 2009 study at Clemson University's International Institute for Tourism Research and Development found that travel may make kids smarter. Researchers Jessica Parker and William Norman analyzed U.S. Department of Education statistics, focusing on about 5,000 grade school students with varying summer vacation experience. Not only did the kids who went away with their families do better in school as first graders, the trend continued through fifth grade, especially if they kept going on trips. Specifically, the vacationing children scored significantly higher on academic achievement tests.

This may sound like bad news to those of you whose bank accounts do not currently support a two-week family trip to, say, Alaska or London this summer. But never fear. The research also showed that the number of days spent on vacation didn't matter much, and neither did the extravagance of the destination. In other words, a kid who travelled for 11 days to Spain did not fare much better than the kid who camped for five days an hour from home. Both kids did better in school afterwards. What's more, Parker and Norman also concluded that kids who visited certain attractions including plays or concerts, art or science museums, beaches or lakes, state or national parks, as well as zoos and aquariums also scored higher. There are numerous destinations that fit these descriptions either within our region or nearby, and many of them are not bank breakers.

The researchers admit that other factors may be at work with these kids, like economic advantage, family literacy and even birth weight. But the overall sentiment was that those who got on the road, or who at least got out of the house on numerous daytrips, benefitted in measurable ways.

A Family Time-Out

I'll add another personal observation, and this is coming from a veteran of many, many family vacations and daytrips spread out over more than 20 years. You'll enjoy your family much more if you take the time to get away together. Yes, there will be moments when one kid will go ballistic because their sister is sitting three inches away from them instead of four, or because the brother has two ketchup packets at dinner and they only have one. There will be moments on every trip when your nerves will be shot, especially when younger kids are involved. But there will also be times when the whole gang gets into great conversations that would likely not have happened in the daily maelstrom of family life. And I can very nearly guarantee that the memories of your time together will re-surface repeatedly years after the trip is over, especially if you plan well and make an honest effort to throw something in for everyone as you travel along.

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