Sure, travel has its discomforts, but family trips build lifelong memories. Here are four more reasons to get packing:
Getting out there encourages physical activity. Whether you hike in a nearby park or take an African safari, travel is a great way to make exercise fun and appealing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children are obese. Childhood obesity has been linked with increased risk for many serious conditions, including diabetes and asthma. Being physical as a family is a great bonding experience, too, and sets a powerful example for lifelong health.
"It's important for kids to see their parents interested in health and fitness," says Sheri Gatto, director of the Center for Healthy Lifestyles in Bloomington, IL. "Besides, being active together gives families quality time together."
Being in touch with nature is a natural extension of travel. Travel — from local explorations to far-flung adventures — gets kids and families out in the natural world. It's not hard to plan a vacation that incorporates some outdoor exploration. Cris Miller, an adventure travel coordinator for Seattle-based REI Adventures, works with families to create active, fun, and enriching travel itineraries.
"A safari in Tanzania, for instance, is ideal for family travel," Miller says. "There are wild animals, a dramatic landscape, and incredible cultural experiences." Too rich for your blood? Next time you're enjoying your usual vacation closer to home, take a day to really explore the outdoors. The important part isn't checking "climbing Mount Kilimanjaro" off your to-do list; it's spending time in nature — together.
Visiting new places sparks language play. Kids are naturally adept at learning language; the younger they're exposed to a second language, the more likely they are to achieve fluency. Travel is an excellent way to expose your child to foreign tongues. San Francisco Bay-area resident Katherine Zapata and her children spent a month learning Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico.
"My two daughters are 8 and 10 years old," Zapata says. "They soaked up so much of the language during our stay." Even if you're not traveling to a foreign country, many big cities are virtually bilingual. Point out road and store signs, for example, and listen for languages, dialects, and accents.
Family travel lets you explore world cultures. Stanford University professors Jennifer Widom and Alex Aiken are lucky enough to live in France with their 10- and 12-year-old children while on a year-long sabbatical. Over the years, they've trekked through nearly 30 countries.
Through travel, Widom was able to broaden her kids' knowledge "of what the entire world is about." When Widom plans her family's travels, she considers cultural aspects along with the land's beauty, wildlife, and adventure.
Exposing kids to other cultures (whether by visiting a new city neighborhood or traveling abroad) reduces the chance that they'll make sweeping generalizations (for instance, that all Spanish-speaking people eat tacos). Families that explore together share enriching cultural experiences — which transforms everyone into global citizens.
So what are you waiting for? There's a whole world right outside your door!