Her nose was burnt crisp. Her feet ached from being in hiking boots six hours a day for two weeks. But there was a gleam in her eye. And even though I’m her mother, I felt she was a little more grown up now than when she had left on a Himalayan trek 15 days ago. My ten-year-old daughter accompanied her father on a 15-day trip into the mountains this summer, as she has several times before, and each time I can see she learns something new. This time, she learned that you can push yourself and go beyond what you think you’re capable of. It’s not a lesson I have been able to teach her myself though heaven knows how many nagging statements I have made to that effect. It’s not something she’s gathered from her formal schooling either. This is a lesson from the outdoors, and the reason why I think we owe it to our kids to take them travelling everywhere, anywhere, if we have the means.
We’re a family that travels for work and for leisure. And we strongly believe that getting kids to travel when they are young has manifold advantages. For starters, they learn that the world is much wider and bigger than the one they inhabit every day. My daughter’s first trip with us was when she was just a few months old. I believe (and hope) that besides appreciation for the wonderful destinations she has visited, she has also learned that life isn’t all smooth sailing; hitches occur, plans need to be changed, you have to adapt and make do—and come out smiling.
I’ve heard people remark that travel is wasted on children since they don’t remember much of where they’ve been. The problem with that approach is that it reduces travel to a list of destinations when it is so much more. Travel is rhythm and feeling and nuance, a body of experiences that serves to open the mind. Maybe your child won’t remember which temples you visited, or even the name of the city you were in, but the encounters they have—big and small—will mould them. If we agree that travel is as much for the journey, of time spent together, of the changes it creates in us, as it is about the place, then the only memories that count are the ones we remember.
My daughter, for instance, remembers and talks about just two things from our trip to Koh Samui a few years ago. One is the awesome massages that she got while her parents indulged similarly. The second, which she loves to tell her friends when I’m within earshot, is about a glass-bottomed boat trip for snorkelling, during which her mother accidentally sat on a bunch of ripe bananas. Twice.
My parents saved on other things to allow us to travel with them. I’ve done the same, and I’ve noticed that my daughter isn’t oblivious to the value of the trips she takes. That became clear when she recently asked if we’d buy her a laptop, and followed her request by saying “only if we still have money to go on holidays after you buy it.” And finally, one of the greatest joys of taking my child travelling is a self-centred one. I find I get to see the world from a completely different angle. For instance, I’ve been forced to notice the amazing quality of the sand on a beach holiday instead of the fact that the waiters took very long to bring me my drinks. I’ve seen the behaviour of orangutans from a whole different perspective in Borneo when my daughter zeroed in and focused on an impish tiny tot, while I was busy watching the alpha male. She pointed out how the little ape was fooling around just like a human child, and I was captivated.
So my recommendation is to travel with children. They don’t have to be your own, they can be nieces, nephews, or friends’ kids. Children absorb a variety of lessons when they travel. A sense of direction is surely one, as is self-confidence, and the sensitivity to different peoples and cultures—but just as important are the lessons we learn when we travel with them.