7 Reasons Why It’s SO Worth It to Travel Abroad with the Kids

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Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: International travel can feel overwhelming before you even get out the door. Are your passports up to date (don’t forget the baby needs one too!)? If not, it means a trip to the photo store, and then long lines (at least in California) at the post office. And if kids are involved, both parents need to be present, so you’ll probably have to take some hours off work to make it happen. Do you need a travel visa to enter the country? Different than a credit card, a travel visa is a sticker in your passport that gives you permission to enter another country. Depending on where you are going and how long you are staying you might need one. We needed one when we moved to France because we were staying longer than three months. I also needed one to visit Ethiopia.

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There’s also the language barrier. The closest thing I’ve got to a superpower is my ability to talk with other people. But when I go to a non-English speaking country, that power completely disappears. I am reduced to a pantomiming imbecile; I feel totally powerless in an instant. And then, there’s actually getting there. What will your toddler be like on an overseas flight? What should you pack and how will you manage getting through security with all that kid stuff? And what about the food when you arrive — will your picky-eating 6-year-old starve?

See what I mean? Why would anyone ever choose to travel to another country with kids? : )

I ask that kiddingly because in my opinion, and based on my experience, it’s SO worth it. I promise. Here’s a list of 7 reasons why:

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1) One thing that always strikes me when traveling abroad is the visual evidence that there are lots of good ways to live life and raise happy, healthy kids. Of course, you can see that in your own neighborhood — one family bans screens, another doesn’t eat gluten. But being in a new country brings it to a whole other level. How trash pickup is handled, what taxis and public transportation look like and how often it runs, realizing the school schedule is vastly different, finding out that restaurants are only open at certain times during the day, seeing lots of small children out for dinner very late at night and discovering bedtimes for kiddos aren’t the same as where you live. The list goes on and on. Just to comprehend it requires an open mind. If your kids can get a handle on this early on? What a huge advantage!

2) Related to number one, experiencing firsthand that there are vastly different ways for communities and cities to function really helps you appreciate what’s best about your own country and community, and to see clearly how it might be better. If kids grow up with a clear vision of the strengths and weaknesses of their community, they are in a much better position to actually improve the weaknesses.

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3) Traveling as a family to a foreign country means tons of together time, because the usual obligations and distractions are simply gone. The TV shows are unfamiliar and uninteresting, or perhaps the time change means no phone calls interrupting dinner. You are stuck together, and maybe in small living quarters, so everyone has to up their patience and best-behavior game. If there’s a foreign language involved, you can expect even more family time — because there’s no one else to talk to! You’ll suddenly feel how dependent you are on one another, and that can be a very good thing. It’s much easier to put family first when you are traveling abroad.

4) We all learn this before we ever travel, but seeing firsthand that all humans everywhere have the same basic needs is a life-changer. And it’s comforting to know. When you arrive at any airport — even the small ones — you’ll see signs for restrooms, food, accommodations, and transportation. Because every single person, no matter where they are coming from, or where they are going, needs those things.

The same thing is true throughout your trip. Have a stuffy nose? Turns out the people in the country you’re visiting get stuffy noses too. They probably use tissues and can show you where to get some, but maybe they use handkerchiefs. Who knows? Something to discover. Need sunscreen? You’re not the only one. All humans are susceptible to sunburn or sunstroke which means every population has figured out how to prevent it one way or another — whether it’s napping through the hottest part of the day, wearing a wide brim hat, or slathering on the SPF. Go find out!

We’re all more alike than we are different. It’s something I want my kids to understand at their core.

5) When you’re traveling, especially abroad, it’s like everyday things become new. It’s as if you are walking around with a heightened awareness of each small thing that’s happening. You notice more details. You hear more sounds. There’s an excitement and freshness to each day. Such a wonderful thing to experience!

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

6) Traveling requires bravery  — you have to try new things, figure out directions, learn to communicate, taste new flavors, solve problems, be patient when the itinerary goes amuck. It’s a real chance for both you and your kids to be brave. And you’ll be proud of each other for being brave. Also, those experiences that require bravery are incredibly bonding. Your kids will share these memories with you and with their siblings forever.

7) The whole family will get to see another view. Not a point-of-view, I’m talking an actual view. The houses look different. The stores look different. The product packaging looks different. The plants look different. The street signs look different. The cars look different. The food looks different. It’s all commonplace and everyday to the people who live there, but to your eyes it’s a whole new world. Kids find this as inspiring as adults do. It informs the way they think, and will help their brains make new connections about life and stuff and art and all those good things.

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Yes, a trip for just the grownups to a faraway place is dreamy and romantic — and sometimes ideal. But for lots of reasons, it’s often not doable. Finding a 24-hour babysitter for a long period is hard, sometimes impossible. Or maybe you’re breastfeeding and aren’t ready to stop. But even if your kids are too little to remember, I’d still say yes to an international trip. It’s true you’ll go at a slower pace with little ones in tow, but the views will still be inspiring, and your soul will be refreshed. For sure there will be hard spots, and when you’re at airport security and the TSA guy with the beeping metal-detector wand just woke up the baby, you’ll wonder if you should cancel the trip and head home. But if you have that travel itch, even with the hard stuff, it will be so much better than doing the same old, same old at home.

Now I’d love your take. Are you ever intimidated by traveling abroad? Anyone else feel like me about foreign languages? Do you agree that it’s worth the hassle of taking kids abroad, or do you feel like big trips to foreign countries should be saved until the kids are grown? Maybe when you’re retired? Anything else you would add to my list? I’d love to hear!

31 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why It’s SO Worth It to Travel Abroad with the Kids”

  1. Thank you for encouraging others to travel abroad with their children. It’s true that the sooner you start the easier it is for them to be accustomed to change. We are off tomorrow for Spain (we live in DC) The hubby and 2 year old are already there, and I am traveling with our 5 month old, 14 year old and 23 year old. We always visit a least a couple of countries per year and we love traveling as a family.

    I recently came across this amazing Facebook group for traveling parents. It is the perfect place to go to for any traveling question with children to any part of the world. https://www.facebook.com/groups/club.bebe.voyage/

  2. I’ve never travelled with kids (aka I don’t have kids yet), but I still really enjoyed this post! So many of these reasons for why you should travel with kids is also so try to why YOU should travel! Although I have been in 2 countries so far where tissues (or even hankerchiefs) are difficult to find (Peru and Moldova)- also remember to ALWAYS carry a roll of toilet paper- it is not as common in public restrooms as it is in the United States! I’m currently 22 and living in the small Eastern European country of Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer- so many of these are things I sometimes just have to remind myself! I’ve only been here 6 weeks, so pretty much everything is still very new for me!

  3. Agreed! We’ve schlepped our kids all over the world and have lived in a different country. And we’re planning to live in a different foreign country again next year. I’m nervous, because I remember how hard it was — I feel exhausted just thinking about hauling groceries on the Tube — and this time we’ll have a language barrier (Paris!). But on the other hand, we’ve chosen to do this because we remember well how galvanizing the experience was for our family. We’ve prioritized a global sort of diversity training in our children’s lives and education, and we really want them to see that other places are different and wonderful. We always tell them, “The only way to know that we’re all the same is to get to know someone you think might be different.” Processes and cultures vary; at heart, people are all the same. It’s one of the most fundamental lessons of character development — and it’s an adventure, too!

  4. My family and I traveled to Europe from the US for the first time this year. And we are hooked. It was eye-opening for my kids. The second day in France my 6 year old daughter was sitting next to me on the train and looked at me and said I think all these people are speaking french! I think it blew her little mind right open. Plus the family adventure part of the travel was just awesome. Sometimes stressful, but so much fun overall. I’ve also realized that as my kids get older, traveling as a family is one great way to ensure that we get a good dose of together time. When we are home, we just don’t spend as much time together. I love following your family travels- you are inspiring!!

    1. I told this story on Gabrielle’s IG photo linking to this post, but my family goes to France for two weeks every year, and when my son was 3 he was playing with French kids at the playground and asked my husband what they were saying. My husband did his best to translate, and my son asked why he couldn’t understand them. They’re speaking another language, B answered. “What language are they speaking?” “French, because we’re in France.” “What language am *I* speaking?”

      We think about that all the time–how much perspective they get on every one of those wonderful trips.

  5. Totally agree! Traveling with children is so important. We live on the east coast of the US and have only ventured outside the country to go to Montreal and Ottawa thus far. But my husband and I were avid travelers pre-kids and we’re determined not to let a baby stop us from traveling. My four-year-old has visited 13 states and will visit 3 more for the first time this summer. His one-year-old sister’s tally isn’t quite as high, but even she has been to 7 states and flown cross-country.
    I believe that there is no wasted trip. Even though they may not remember much if any of what they have seen of the world so far, I am ingraining in them that there is a huge world to be explored. I think you place a greater value on humanity and our planet’s resources when you travel extensively and witness a variety of places first-hand. I feel so fortunate to have the means to travel.

  6. I believe that any time you can expose your children to other people, cultures, history, you are doing them a huge favor. They become much more open and accepting in general, they gain confidence, and there’s nothing better than first hand experience over a book any day. We took our first trip overseas this year with my daughter to Great Britain. It was so amazing and she will remember it for the rest of her life. We are planning future trips to Paris, although language won’t be a barrier there for me. Italy is also on the bucket list, as well as Eastern Europe. Kids need to know that the world is much larger than the one they know, and that there is so much they don’t know. We have also traveled extensively in the US, and it was so wonderful when my daughter studied things in school that she had recently visited and had first hand knowledge that she could share with her classmates. I am a true advocate for travel if you can afford it.

  7. So very TRUE! We took our daughter to Paris when she was 8 months, and then Korea when she was two. We have had both children on an International flight where my youngest did not sleep….for nearly 24 hours! BUT, discovering new cultures, foods, and experiences is completely worth all of it. A wise friend once said: flying with children can be difficult, but you can keep saying to yourself this will end…after all, the flight will end.

  8. Loved this post. So true!

    We (for various reasons) spent a lot of years choosing the same old/same old at home, but then my husband was offered the opportunity to work overseas. We didn’t have long to choose, and I must have been feeling adventurous that day…because here we are living abroad w/ five kids, toddlers to teens! It has been a stretching, exhausting, tear-filled, over-the-top wonderful, amazing, fun-filled experience! I am so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had and the things that we have done. Every point you made is one that I would echo from our experience!

    Well done!

  9. I am the mother of four and grandmother of eight. We traveled from the time our children were four months old, taking their first trips abroad when they were toddlers. I realized early on that we were counting the years by where we visited, ie. celebrating summer birthday #6 in the Grenadines, Christmas 1992 in France, 1st college graduation in Ecuador, 2nd college graduation in Italy for Christmas Eve service at the Vatican and on to Amalfi Coast, trip to Greece after 1st child’s wedding. I could go on and on. We’ve moved to meeting our whole family (all 18 of us) someplace different every year… in Normandy for spring break, London for Thanksgiving, Bahamas for Papa’s 70th birthday. We’re making memories all along the way.

  10. One thing you didn’t mention that we have noticed traveling with our kids (especially to more exotic locales) is that they notice so much. So much more than us. Having kids really enhances the trip as they point out things you would never see. That is when they aren’t having a meltdown ;)

  11. I completely agree about the bravery! I remember reading about your family’s experiences years ago and just being in awe that you decided to live abroad for a while with a large family. You gave me the push to be brave enough to pick up my little family and travel and we’ve been doing it for 3 years now. But the brave ones are the kids, aren’t they? Trying out new foods, sleeping in new beds, speaking new languages, making new friends…every day is another day where they develop more and more bravery and, hopefully, that ever-elusive “grit.”

    I would also add that traveling with kids opens you, as an adult, up to new interactions with people who probably would never have broached a conversation with you because you’re a tourist or a foreigner. All of the friends I have made everywhere I have lived has been due to my kids opening up that world for me. I’m so incredibly grateful that they can provide me with an easy “in” into a new culture.

    And we’re finally off to France! Thank you for being such a huge inspiration to me and my family. xoxo

  12. For us travelling hasn’t been as much of a choice, but a necessity. We live ‘abroad’ for both of us, although UK has been home for the past 18 years and our children were born here. We regularly schlep between two countries in Europe to see family and friends. I am not going to lie, the baby-toddler stage was exhausting with all the gear and naps, snacks, nappies, toys, but I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and can now even read a magazine or a book in peace on a flight… Our children are truly at home in 3 different countries with very different languages, customs, people, I think this has been the best gift and education we have been able to give them.

  13. This is great – I am especially delighted to read your first point, I agree 100%! I am a Canadian living in Germany with my small children and I have thought so often how liberated I feel by the knowledge that so many things we do (MUST DO) in my old community in Toronto are just totally different here and it’s completely fine. The kids are fine! I also think it is invaluable to actually experience being “the weird one” who eats differently, and puts your kids to bed at a different time and thinks differently about pedagogy and child safety and childcare and so on, than most everyone around you. It’s humbling and freeing and I think I will see people who do things differently from a different perspective now.

    1. It’s the other way around for me, Elena. I’m German but live in Canada. I also love experiencing the differences and picking whichever makes more sense to me. We’ve travelled with the kids from a very young age and they’ve always loved it. They are easy going and open minded as a result.

  14. We love to travel! When we had kids (6,7,9) we decided not to quite just because it became exponentially more difficult. The past few Christmases we’ve been abroad (we decided to give our kids an experience rather than presents for Christmas – Santa still comes, but he only brings 1 tiny present). Even though my kids were little they still remember giving crayons to impoverished kids in Guatemala. My son, then 7, told me he couldn’t believe how crayons could make someone so happy. That experience alone made it totally worth the hassle!!! We were in Austria for Christmas last year and left our boots out for Santa to fill with treats (we try to adopt the traditions of the place we are visiting). My kids have no idea what they got from Santa the years we stay home, but they always remember the Christmases when we are traveling.

  15. Lauren Stacey

    I completely agree!! We took our very young kids to Italy for a month a few years ago while my husband did research and it completely sold us on international travel with kids. Now we live in London and try to take them to as many places as possible while we have the chance. It’s true that they are young (oldest is 7) and they may only have a few memories of all this but EVERY single point you made is absolutely true. My favourite is that everyday things become new. Even after living in London for a year, we still walk to school each day with our eyes wide open for the new views and experiences that we will inevitably come across. I hope I can approach each day with that level of awareness and excitement when we return to the US.

  16. I agree as well. Due to having our families split between the UK and the U.S., our children started traveling at a very young age. They each got passports as babies (which is a costly endeavor as they each have US and UK passports) and each of them have been different types of travelers. If they’re type A at home, it’s magnified while traveling. I’ve had to learn to ask my husband to take over when our children get stressed or emotional as traveling is stressful for me. So it pays to let the spouse who is the most relaxed take charge when traveling. I also think toddlers are the hardest to travel with just because everything is so different for them. We recently went to Malta and traveled as cheaply as possible, and I regretted it because our two year old could not take all the bus + walking time. We live near Edinburgh, so she is used to walking and riding buses, but she is also used to routine. We should have catered a bit more to her comfort rather than expecting her to go with the flow of her older brothers like she does at home. My kids may not remember everything they’ve seen or experienced, but I love that their worldview and adaptability is always growing. And I ALWAYS pack an iPad with preloaded movies as that has been a lifesaver on numerous occasions.

  17. julia g blair

    Loved reading this. Can’t imagine anything more adorable than little June
    decked in white, including french hat! I believe that once you have actually experienced life in another city or /and country, you never look at that place in
    the same way again. You have some actual experiential facts in your brain. An interesting exercise for me is thinking of the cities I’ve lived in and remembering at least three things about that place that are personal and valuable and true to me.

  18. One thing I love about traveling with kids is how locals treat you a little differently. When I’ve done international travel with my kids, I get treated more like mother than a tourist. A tourist will often get a bit ignored or just casually observed, but when I have my kids with me, locals seem to be more likely to strike up a conversation. And you get to watch your kids overcome language barriers when they play. It is definitely value-added to trips.

  19. I read this posting earlier today and I considered posting about how yes, I have dreamed of sharing Europe (especially France) with my own children. I wanted to write about how I have promised to take my children. I wanted to talk about how I we have started to plan a 3 week trip for next summer and how everyday, I have been fighting the fear of terrorism while abroad. There has been a sinking feeling in my gut. But, I say to myself, if you don’t travel, the terrorists win. Not traveling doesn’t keep you safe, terror is everywhere (the mall, schools, movie theaters, clubs, restaurants, etc). I say these things, but I am afraid. I promised myself that if another major terror attack happened this year, that I would rethink my plan to take my family to France. 24 hours after making this promise, 73 people are murdered at the hands of terror in Nice. Nice, a place that I considered going to next year, because it “seemed safer than Paris.” The world is broken. Traveling with children…it’s my dream. But, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to do it in today’s unstable climate.

  20. Our daughters, ages 18 and 14, are in France at the moment. (Yes, they’re OK–they’re not in Nice although they’re not far. Praying for all who are touched by yet another tragedy.) They’re staying with a French family and traveling with them on their vacation. It was a bit scary for us to say yes to this generous offer, but we’re glad we did. The girls are learning so much about life in France, about the language and culture, and much more. They’re also figuring out their relationship, since they often have to rely on one another for conversation and more.

  21. I very much agree!! I grew up in Mexico, my parents also took us around Peru for 2 months when I was 10, the oldest of 6 kids. I still remember it. And we have finally been able to do the same for our kids– just moved to France, so glad they get to have the same opportunity I had as a kid.

  22. We treasure our annual trips to France or elsewhere in Europe, and we’ve taken them with our kids since they were babies. (We skipped the summer when I was about to have Baby 2, but then had a wedding to attend that fall in London and tacked on a few days in Paris with the infant and 2 year old!)

    We have friends who say they’ll go back to traveling when their kids get older, but I think they’ll have a hard time actually doing it. Our kids are airport pros at almost-4 & 6. They know the drill on an airplane. We have a foolproof jet lag-conquering plan. We’ve honed a system for arrival at a new rental house and figuring out how things work. And the family time we get to spend together (the time change means my husband isn’t getting work calls until after 3 pm) can’t be beat. I look forward to future trips as they get older and we feel better able to face the trek to Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, but for now the annual trips to Europe are amazing.

    One thing you’ve mentioned before but that I always tell people is how key renting a house is with kids. We almost never stay in hotels; houses are so much cheaper and more comfortable. We also made the mistake early on (my son was 10 months old) of splitting a 2 week trip into 3 stops, and it was so stressful. Now we try to rent one house for the full two weeks.

    To those afraid of terrorism abroad, I get it. I was with my mom on the Promenade in Nice 4 weeks to the day before the attack there. But I feel like these days we have the same fears every time we go into a movie theater or a shopping mall or any crowded place. Nowhere in the world is safe, and I don’t think staying home necessarily protects us from something awful. (That said, my husband and I had planned to go to Istanbul for our 10th anniversary this fall but decided against it when we were planning last winter, and for that I’m grateful. Obviously severe political unrest is a different story!)

  23. I definitely agree with you… IF you can afford to travel abroad with a family. It’s incredibly expensive!

    That said, I’m totally with you. My parents grew up poor and could not afford to travel until they were adults. They saw so much value in it that when they had my siblings and I, they wanted us to have this experience. They spent much of their savings on travel, rather than on the latest dvd players, Gameboys and computers (which meant that we were so uncool in our friend circles), but it was so worth it! They wanted us to value travel as well, and created a travel bank account, which they encouraged everyone in the family to contribute to. (I don’t think any of us kids did though…) When we were slightly older, they let us navigate, even if that meant we got lost, and made us order food and buy tickets and things ourselves. My siblings and I all moved overseas for undergraduate studies when we were 18 and all felt a sense that we had a much larger perspective on the world than many of our classmates. Privilege? Definitely. But many of our classmates came from middle to upper-class families and still lived rather insular lives, which is not wrong, but perhaps less helpful in this globalised world.

  24. A tourist will often get a bit ignored or just casually observed, but when I have my kids with me, locals seem to be more likely to strike up a conversation.And I look forward to trips as they get older and we feel better able to face the trek to Australia etc.

  25. Looking at this list makes me angry. What does it teach my daughter? That you can travel anywhere despite the consequences to the planet and fellow human beings. I want my daughter to appreciate the wonders that are just up the road and that you don’t need to spend thousands to travel abroad to be happy. I can certainly afford to travel but made the decision no longer to fly, and hope every child is now taught at school that reckless behaviour has already caused the collapse of some of the giant ice berges already. By all means travel, but travel with responsibility

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