[Note from Margaret: Something to keep in mind for that much-anticipated future date when we can safely begin traveling again…]
Traveling internationally with your children: it can be expensive, it can be a hassle…but it’s definitely worthwhile. Your kids’ horizons will be broadened as they’re exposed to new ways of living and thinking, new languages and foods. Children are international conversation starters and ambassadors–you’ll likely meet more locals, and be more warmly welcomed wherever you go with your offspring in tow. And nothing brings a family closer than the shared adventures—and challenges—of travel.
But don’t take my word for it. I went straight to the source: I talked to two well-traveled young women about how their families’ trips abroad have impacted them.
Skyla is 23 and has traveled in the US, Europe, Mexico, Asia, and Turkey with her younger sisters and parents, on her own, and as an assistant guide on Rick Steves’ Europe family tours. In college she studied in Thailand, and, thanks to her travel knowledge, edited the closed captioning on Rick Steves’ YouTube videos. After graduating, she interned with both the US State Department in Rome and with the Washington State Legislature.
Elizabeth, 24, toured Europe with her mom when she was in high school, then spent a pre-college “gap year” studying Spanish in Seville and exploring Europe on her own. While earning her undergrad degree, she studied in Spain, Chile, and Cuba. Post-college, she taught English in Thailand for a year, and fell in love with Southeast Asia. Her next adventure: an MSW graduate degree.
Looking back on their families’ international trips in their childhood and teen years, here are some of their tips and memories to inform and motivate you to take the plunge and head overseas with your kids!
Margaret: How old were you on your first international trip? How young do you think a kid could be to appreciate and enjoy it?
Skyla: International trips are enjoyable at any age. At 13, I enjoyed learning, eating, traveling, and having a completely new experience, while my younger sisters enjoyed the warm weather and souvenirs.I think the best age is definitely when you’re a teenager–so much correlates to what you’ve been beaten over the head with in history classes. After traveling, my classes were so much more interesting with my experience to back up facts. Being able to recognize a landmark or a great battle scene allowed me to identify with the historical period, and I absorbed the information better.
Elizabeth: I was 16 when I first came to Europe with my mom. I had been an avid Travel Channel watcher from a young age and been begging for an international trip. To get the most out of the history and culture of an international destination, I think a kid should be at least middle-school-aged, though high-school-aged is ideal. It depends on the destination also: an 8-year-old may enjoy a day at the beach in Italy, but would probably yawn in the Louvre.
Margaret:When you were younger, did your parents give you some independence on your trip(s)–and were you brave enough to take advantage of it? And did traveling internationally with them give you the inspiration and courage to continue traveling on your own as an adult?
Skyla: This isn’t even a question for me—our family trips definitely inspired me to travel on my own and even live abroad. Jetting around Europe with my parents showed me both how hard, and how easy, backpacking could be. I planned my own trip in the back of my mind since I was little, and knowing how accessible independent travel can be made my dream that much more accessible.The older we got, the more independent my parents allowed my sisters and me to be–provided we stuck together and kept a map with us at all times. This made vacationing so much more fun. I love my family but being able to figure things out for myself and have the freedom of an adult made for a better experience.
Elizabeth: After my first trip to Europe, I knew I wanted to live there! My gap year in Spain was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m definitely glad I got a taste of Europe with my family as a teenager first. We were on a tour so my mom let me explore on my own sometimes, but I had the “safety net” of knowing where she was and that I had our hotel room to return to! It ultimately influenced me to take the plunge and live abroad by myself. Now I’m working towards my goals to visit every continent and become trilingual!
Margaret: Anything else you’d like to share with kids and parents?
Skyla: When my family traveled abroad, we learned to go with the flow. There’s no point stressing out when we’re powerless against a situation. The worst thing we experienced was probably the cancelling of two flights in a row. Instead of worrying about the school we were missing, we realized we had two more days in Mexico. Which is pretty awesome.
Elizabeth: I’m thankful to everyone who has sparked my love of traveling. Mostly my mom and dad, who took me along when I was younger—and then let me travel halfway around the world to conquer my enormous dreams.This is an updated version of my article “Take the Plunge: Travel Abroad with your Kids” which originally appeared in the magazine Seattle’s Child.