If you’re reading this, you are no doubt aware that travel – for adults, but particularly younger children – can enrich multilingual skills, both in terms of increasing existing skills as well as exposing one to new languages. But I also think that children who travel have the benefit of developing social and cultural understandings that less travelled children lack. Here are some of my thoughts on why that is, and why you should give your own children the opportunity to travel as soon as you are comfortable and feel they are ready.
It teaches them how the world is full of different people and places. Some things you just can’t learn in a textbook; as I type, the phrase “it takes all kinds to make it spin” comes to mind. Foreign cultures are a real eye opener as to how the world works (or doesn’t, as the case may be) and children are a bit more open to these differences. Yes, they might be shy and maybe a little overwhelmed by it all, but I say it’s better to learn these lessons young, so they can contribute to your own personal development. If you’ve got an easily-intimidated youngster, Stephanie Yoder has some great suggestions for the first time traveler. There are no excuses.
It teaches them perspective. Even the best-behaved child will lament at times on how horrible their life is: whether that is chores or just having to eat foods they don’t like. It’s funny though how minor those things seem in comparison to finding out how hard life really is in other countries. A bumpy day’s ride on a dusty, windy road will be a memory they carry with them – a reminder that perhaps their little world back home isn’t such a horrible place at all and perhaps they took a few things for granted.
It teaches confidence. From border guards to drug sniffing dogs, graffiti and litter, and aggressive waiters spouting in foreign tongues, the world can be a rough place for the uninitiated. But that’s not going to change, and the sooner you realize that the sooner you can start to just roll with the punches and be a bit more confident about yourself. Children love experimentation and sometimes are blinded from what can be dangerous situations, but the more confidence building trips they take while young the less defensive mentality they’ll have as adults. That confidence will serve them well against adversity, both on the road as well as at home.
It teaches them to be (even more) open minded. Kids are naturally open-minded people – they don’t know any better. Unfortunately, the education system, the media, and the big bad world out there tend to beat it out of them. Which is a shame – I personally think if we all gave everyone the benefit of the doubt now and then, the world would be a far more hospitable place. So take your children somewhere, and give them that opportunity to expand their mind. Foreign foods, unusual clothing or customs, breathtaking scenery: they all have a habit of getting under your skin, and help open up your perspective.
I’m not saying that you need to rush a newborn off to a round-the-world excursion. But when they’re ready – which often means when you are ready – then take them somewhere. Give your children the benefit of travel. They deserve it.