Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Are you bringing the KIDS?

There are many great reasons to enjoy an adult-only get away. Maybe you want to focus strictly on romance and couple time. Perhaps the setting is a little bawdy (Mardi Gras in New Orleans anyone?). Some venues don't even allow children- such as the fun all-inclusive Sandals resorts. Cost considerations, mode of travel, health concerns- all valid reasons to travel sans-kidlings.

What I have found though, is too often parents feel as if their choices are limited to popular amusement park type locations or a friendly campground when it coms to family travel. Any time I have ever mentioned preparing for a cruise or a trip abroad, I have been asked, "are you bringing the kids?" or it's friendly alternative, "Just you and the husband?"  I always smile and explain it's a family trip, the kids love to travel too.

The truth is the kids usually like traveling. That is not to say it's always perfectly smooth sailing. There was the panic attack on a very small prop plane over very rural Alaska that one time. There was the great puking across the entire Virginian Eastern Shore incident of 2001. The lost tooth in a Baltimore Harbor hotel disaster was a doozy. We won't even discuss the time we were trapped between two factions of screaming protestors in Vigo, Spain and how one child reacted to THAT. Look, I'm not saying family travel is always smooth and seamless. There will be a time when "make sure you empty your pockets!" warning at the TSA counter is completely ignored and sirens go off.  And it's possible at some point in time should you find yourself on a large cruise ship, you'll realize too late you forgot to pack a child extra shoes and her only pair of flip flops just broke. The thing is, this is life, whether you are at home or on vacation. Might as well handle these small crises with a passport in your pocket and an umbrella drink in your hand! 

While many appreciate there is a subtle but real difference between traveling and going on vacation- each can offer kids an understanding of how interconnected we all are. When you meet strangers on a train, in an airport, at a resort, on a cruise ship- it can be a dawning moment of "wow, we look/sound so different, but we're both here looking of the same thing."  Make that train, plane, resort or cruise ship be someplace far away and the interactions become even more interesting. This is real life cultural interchanges- the stuff some kids just watch on Dora the Explorer. There is VALUE when a very American teenage boy meets a very Scottish teenage boy, and he learns to spew out a line of words in a thick brogue that you suspect may have been words he never could have said in plain ole American English. These little personal interactions, they affirm we are all so much more alike than different- we are so very human.  

Exposure to other people, other cultures, can also help affirm how incredibly blessed and lucky we are to live in the place we do, in the time we do. This has to be tread lightly though, and these very same scenarios can give parents the perfect opportunity to teach children about cultural relativism. We learn and we pass on to our children how to see the world in ways other than just through a "privileged" westernized filter.  When you're trekking across the countryside of Belize for example, it can be easy to get caught up in the sheer poverty of it. Seeing beyond the shanty's, to the huge smiles and pride on the faces that welcomed us through- that was something else. Listening to the proud oral history our Belikan guide shared, partaking in some of the best chicken we've ever tasted- every one of us including the children understood this was about more than jungle and poverty.

Travel is also the great professor of history. Books are wonderful, as is film- but they don't have the same tangible lesson as actually walking through rubble- climbing a pyramid, peering out of a castle window, digging for arrowheads- these are physical interactions that can not be duplicated. They embed in the memory, they will be recalled again and again, and will put those history texts into context down the road when this becomes a unit of study at school. Knowing where we come from has other values as well of course- and there is the whole observation that those who fail to learn from history and doomed to repeat it. History matters, and nothing connects a child with history quite like actually SEEING it.

Travel doesn't have to be international to be informative, educational, and moving. The United States is a large country made up of a very diverse backdrop. There are Hopi villages to visit, Chinatowns to explore, country swag and city pride to partake in. Kids who travel learn to have a more diverse palate- learn to recognize various music genres, become comfortable navigating pubic transit systems, and understand the world is their oyster! Beyond all of that though, the best benefit of traveling with kids are the memories. You will never forget those vacations, and neither will they. These are the memories of childhood we cling to forever. Just get out- get away from your comfort zone, travel beyond your norm... and yes, bring the kids with!

****Announcing a fun family vacation photo contest! Check out for the details and rules***

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