How to Raise a Traveler

By Laura Begley Bloom  •  March 19, 2019

The experts agree: your children can, and should, be explorers.

When I announced I was pregnant, tons of people warned me, “You’ll never travel again.” But as a longtime travel editor, I was adamant that wouldn’t be the case. Not only would I keep traveling, but I wanted to include my daughter as well, feeling intuitively it would be beneficial to her upbringing. And in fact, the evidence bears this out: Research has proven that travel can have a profound impact on kids, making them happier and smarter and enhancing their brain development. It can also shape future success: One study showed that adults who traveled as children had a 12% higher average income than people who took no trips when they were young.

So when my daughter, Lucy, was 10 weeks old, my husband and I took her on her first international trip to Jamaica, and we haven’t slowed down since. Lucy has been everywhere from Pamplona, Spain, to see the running of the bulls, to Chefchaouen, Morocco, where we wandered through the legendary blue city. On a cruise in Alaska, she learned about baby bald eagles. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, she went stargazing in Grand Teton National Park and studied the planets with an astronomer.

“Learning happens not just between the ears, but between the poles,” says Rainer Jenss, who founded the Family Travel Association, an industry coalition with a mission to inspire families to see the world. Jenss created the association after he and his wife sold their house and set off with their two sons on an around-the-world trip to 28 countries. “When your child learns to travel, they’ll grow up and travel to learn.”

I spoke to Jenns and other traveling parents on their advice for how to help your child become a global citizen.

Think of the world as their classroom…

I have delighted in watching Lucy pick up Spanish words, not because she memorized them from a textbook but because she practiced speaking with other kids on the beach in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. “Traveling is knowledge — it’s like reading a million books without ever going to the library,” says Amber Badger, who runs the popular Instagram account @SummerofSeventyFive and travels with her family of four in a vintage VW Kombi van. “It’s the greatest teacher.”

…And turn journeys into actual lesson plans.

That’s the philosophy behind “worldschooling,” an educational movement gaining currency amongst parents. Vanessa Hunt, founder of the Wanderlust Crew blog, has spent the past six years traveling with her husband and their four kids (ages 6, 8, 10, and 12). “For us, worldschooling is showing our kids the world and giving them an opportunity to learn about different cultures, different people, different places, and a different way of life and thinking,” she says.  Jessica and Rod Sanchez, founders of The Jetsetting Family, have been traveling full-time since June 2018 with their two kids, ages 3 and 6. “We learn math through currency exchange and buying items at local markets and geography as we move each week,” explains Jessica Sanchez. “We have seen our children become more confident, outgoing, and flexible throughout our adventures.”

Small journeys count too.

You don’t have to travel full-time to reap the benefits. “It could be as easy as going to the next town, a cultural festival or a restaurant,” says Evie Farrell, a single mom who is about to publish From Backyard to Backpack, a book about her adventures with her 8-year-old daughter. “Seek out what is different and expose your kids as much as you can.”

See the world from their perspective.

Remember that it’s not just the kids who are benefitting from your travels. Monet Hambrick of The Traveling Child says she learns from her kids just as much as they learn from her. “They give us a completely different view and perspective. I like to say that because they’re shorter, they see things differently,” says Hambrich. “And because they ask so many questions, it forces us to get the answers.”

Plus: Five Practical Tips for Traveling with Children

Involve them pre-departure

“Have your children help decide where to go, what to do, and for how long. Getting them engaged before the trip—not just during it—will ensure everyone has a good time. Since they will feel more vested in the trip, they’ll be much less likely to complain, which is something most parents worry about.” – Rainer Jenss

Pack light

“By travelling minimally, we only have what we need, and this helps to keep the space tidy.” – Amber Badger (whose on-the-road family sorts their clothes into individual bags—someone’s t-shirts in one, shorts in another, etc.—to avoid jumbled suitcases)

Prep for emergencies

“Always pack over-the-counter medication and know the emergency number in the country you’re visiting.” – Monet Hambrick

Plan for downtime

“Kids need more downtime than us, and somethings they just want to rest or visit a park and play on the swings. You don’t need to be on-the-go ticking off a list all the time.” – Evie Farrell

“Plan for one big day of sightseeing, then one slow day. Otherwise the kids (and you) will get burned out from travel.” – Vanessa Hunt

Make it fun

“If you are seeing an archeological site or museum, play a game of ‘I spy’ to keep them engaged.  You can find fun regardless of the location or activity, so get creative!” – Jessica Sanchez


Photo on homepage courtesy of Laura Begley Bloom.

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