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Understanding the positive developmental impact of travel on kids

Family holidays are a memorable experience, but did you know they’re also full of developmental opportunities for children as they grow up?


In this guide, we look at why travel can be fantastic for kids and provide advice for making the most out of the time you get to travel as a family. Spending time outdoors, learning new skills, experiencing different cultures, exploring the history of different places—there are so many benefits to family travel.


This guide is a must-read for any parent looking to understand the impact of travel on childhood development.



Deciding to travel as a family


Deciding on the right time to travel as a family is a big decision. Plenty of time and money is needed to form a practical plan, plus you need to think about school if your children are old enough to attend—and time off work for yourself. And then there’s the big change in your usual daily routines. It’s normal to wonder how you’ll all adjust to it all.


However, travel has a myriad of benefits for people of all ages. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to get it organised, but once you do, the rewards can be well worth it—especially for children.


Why do families decide to travel together?


Travel can boost family relationships as you experience new things together and create cherished memories. Plus, we all need a break from our regular routine. Being away from everyday stresses can help families connect on a deeper level.


When asked why they travel together, the main reason over half of respondents gave was wanting the chance to relax after a challenging year. Other reasons included:


44%

wanting to live in the moment


43%

creating new memories together


37%

wanting to have fun together after missing family travel during the pandemic



Multi-generational family traveling with viva vita virtual reality


Family travel statistics



34%

Increasing family bonds


34%

Making new memories


33%

Enabling their children to learn and grow from new experiences




Helping children get used to:


20%

Travelling by plane (20% of parents said this was something they wanted their children to get used to)


18%

Socialising with other parents and children


18%

Sleeping away from home


17%

Adjusting to a different routine



Many parents notice a change in their children when they travel together:


32%

said their children are more relaxed


28%

said a new environment makes their children more motivated to explore


27%

said travel helps their children to be more brave and adventurous



Practical considerations


Why do you want to go?

We’ve already mentioned some of the reasons why families decide to travel together, but there may be others that apply to you.


It helps to have a discussion about what you're most interested in doing. This makes the planning process easier as everyone’s preferences will be taken into account. It also means you’ll have similar expectations. Sure, there are always going to be unexpected hiccups and spontaneous moments, but it’ll be more peaceful if you all know the purpose of your trip.



Where do you want to go?

The world is a big place. And chances are, everyone will have a destination (or three) in mind that they’d love to explore. But when you have a family, there’s more to travel planning than sticking a pin on a map. Here are some things you need to think about.


Safety

Worrying about how safe you and your family will be can dampen your enthusiasm for a trip. On the contrary, knowing your destination is relatively safe can put your mind at ease (although it’s still important to be careful).


The government’s foreign travel advice pages are a great place to start when you’re researching the risks of a destination, as they cover everything from natural disasters and road safety to crime and political climate.


Must-haves and nice-to-haves

What can you absolutely not go without? Perhaps your family are fans of seaside trips and so you’re looking for a coastal destination. And is there anything you need to avoid? For example, if you have food allergies, then you may steer clear of places which use a lot of the ingredients you’re allergic to in their cuisine.


Once you’ve made a list of these things, you can start thinking about what your destination would have available in an ideal world—the nice-to-haves.


Climate

The weather makes a significant difference to your experience of a trip. If it’s too hot to go outside then you can’t really do anything, for example, or you may want to escape the cold for something a little more pleasant. The Best Time To Visit website allows you to search for destinations according to continent, average low temperature and average high temperature, so you can find somewhere that suits you all.


Education

What will your children be able to learn while you’re away? Is there diverse wildlife? A range of spectacular landscapes? Historical sites? Give them the chance to see new things.


How much are you able to spend?

This is a big factor in travel planning. Your budget will determine where you can stay, how you get there, how long you can stay there, and the activities you can do.


Here’s how to create (and stick to) a budget for family travel.


  • Research the cost of transport and accommodation in your destination

  • These often take up the biggest proportion of a budget.

  • Factor in the cost of food

  • Will you be catering for yourselves or eating out most of the time? Maybe a mix of the two?

  • Research the cost of any attractions you want to visit

  • Most historical sites and museums have an entry fee or ask for a donation. Look for family tickets or free entry for children under a certain age.

  • Add a buffer


You may encounter some unexpected costs, so it helps to be prepared. Even if you don’t end up using the extra money, you’ll have peace of mind.


Money-saving tips


Research the transport available

Is there an off-peak time to travel that knocks the price down? Flight comparison sites are a great way to find this out. And use public transport instead of getting taxis if it’s possible to do so.


Plan your days carefully

If several of the attractions you want to visit are within close proximity to each other, you can plan a day or two around that area. Some companies even offer tickets that give you access to multiple attractions for one price, which is often cheaper than buying tickets for each separately.


Travel during off-peak times

Prices can skyrocket during peak seasons like summer, and the crowds are much bigger, too. If the weather’s not too bad and accommodation and attractions are still open, then avoiding these times of year and visiting during the off-season can cost a lot less. You’ll have more space to explore, too.


How long do you want to travel for?

The length of your trip is connected to logistical constraints, such as the aforementioned budget, schooling for children, and work commitments for adults. Availability of accommodation and transport will also affect how long you go away for.





Multi-generational family travel with Viva Vita

How kids’ brains develop


Although our brains start developing before birth and continue to change into adulthood, children’s brains are built rapidly in their early years. There are periods of time in early childhood and adolescence when they are more sensitive to the things they experience, both positive and negative. Positive experiences can help kids develop healthy brains . As the NSPCC points out, it’s never too late to give a child or adolescent positive experiences, such as loving familial relationships, access to support services, and learning opportunities through travel.


Let’s take a look at some of the milestones in children’s brain development, and how parents and caregivers can help them grow in a healthy way.



Milestones in children’s brain development


Here are some of the key moments in children’s development.


Three weeks after conception, the brain begins to produce neurons. Neurons transmit information between different parts of the brain and the nervous system.

At birth, they have generated almost all the neurons they’ll ever have. The auditory system (all parts of the ear and some parts of the brain) matures.

At five weeks, learning and memory formation begins.

At nine months, they start demonstrating gross motor skills like crawling, cruising, and walking while having both hands held.

At one year and three months, speech develops.

At one year and six months, they start demonstrating fine motor skills like clapping, waving, and turning pages.



Explaining brain development

Researchers have come up with a number of metaphors to explain children’s brain development and how parents and other caregivers can encourage it. Let’s take a look at what they are.


Air traffic control

Everyone’s brain must manage different tasks every day. As children grow, they learn how to organise and prioritise these tasks and control impulses and emotions when necessary. Researchers compare this to being an air traffic controller.


Parents and caregivers can demonstrate how to manage tasks through their own actions and behaviour. In the context of family travel, this could mean planning a day out, staying calm, and managing emotions if the day doesn’t go to plan. You can also help children by asking them what’s on their mind, helping them to find a solution for any tricky tasks, and encouraging them to make choices, like selecting something from the menu at a restaurant.


Brain architecture

Brains are built step-by-step, much like a house. Positive experiences during childhood, such as family travel, lay the foundations for a healthy brain.


Serve and return

Researchers compare interactions between adults and children to a game of tennis. Children ‘serve’ and adults ‘return’ with a positive response, creating a ‘rally’ which helps to develop the child’s language, plus cognitive and social skills. This can begin at a very young age, as soon as children start babbling, gesturing, and using facial expressions.

Parents and caregivers can encourage interactions by joining children in face-to-face activities, responding to babbling, gestures, and facial expressions, maintaining eye contact, and praising any vocal sounds. Children repeat behaviours they’re praised for, and over time these sounds will turn into words.


Stress

Stress is a normal part of life. Part of brain development is learning how to cope with it in a healthy way. For example, older children might get ready to take an exam and draw from the experience in the future.

Parents and caregivers can help children cope with stress by listening to their concerns without being dismissive, soothing them, and seeking extra support for any larger challenges.


Tipping the scales

Researchers compare children’s brain development to a set of scales, with positive experiences on one side and negative experiences on the other. Tipping the scales towards positive experiences leads to healthier brain development long-term.


While you don’t need to overthink every interaction you have with your child, it helps to keep these metaphors in the back of your mind.




The developmental benefits of family travel for kids


It opens their minds


When you’re a kid, it’s easy to think that your little corner of the Earth is the whole world—it’s certainly your whole world. Traveling elsewhere helps children to realize that there’s much more out there.


There’s plenty to discover, from new cultures and cuisines to languages, landmarks, and experiences, as well as meeting new people. They’ll see that something different from what they’re used to is a good thing and become more accepting as a result.


A 2004 study showed that introducing children to other cultures helps them to become better at solving problems because they are more likely to be able to see different perspectives.


Introducing children to other cultures helps them to become better at solving problems.


Multi-generational family traveling

It promotes a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn


Yes, travel is fun. But it’s also a huge educational opportunity for kids, so it’s important to include some learning in your plans in addition to leisure.


Learning through immersion offers extra invaluable context only real-life experiences can bring. This can help older kids understand concepts from their classes, which improves their results overall.


Over time, researchers have continued to conclude that travel is beneficial for children’s education and development.


It helps with socialization


While school is certainly important for socialisation, travel also has benefits in this regard, offering opportunities not found in a classroom. It exposes children to people of different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. This can:


  • Create the empathy which helps children behave more kindly towards others

  • Improve their communication skills

  • Help them become more confident interacting with new people


They’ll learn how to adapt and be more self-reliant


Being in new situations requires us all to adapt, and children are no different. The ability to adapt is an important skill that adults and children alike will call upon throughout their lives in order to cope with change. Travel involves getting used to different environments and different cultural norms, so it’s a great way to teach children how to adjust.


Travel can also teach children to be patient—after all, even the most well-organised plans can be hit by the unexpected. You may have to wait in long queues or spend a lot of time on transport, and kids will have to find ways to occupy this time. They’ll learn how to keep themselves entertained.


It teaches them a sense of responsibility


Being away from the usual daily routines can be a lot at first. But everyone will still have tasks to carry out. For example, a child may be involved with packing their suitcase for the trip, which can teach them skills such as organisation, making decisions, and looking after their things. They can also get involved with travel admin, like navigating a new city or finding a nice place to eat. All of this can help them to become more responsible, which translates well to everyday life (and future adult life).


It improves family relationships and creates amazing memories


It’s easy for daily stresses to take over. And while travel does involve its fair share of admin, ideally it will also give you plenty of uninterrupted time to spend with your children. With many parents’ time split between caregiving and their career, it can be hard to find time for everything. A survey of 2,000 adults found that families spend just four hours of quality time together each week, but travel can fill the gap because it involves separation from everyday life.


Sharing the experiences of travel together will strengthen existing bonds and create wonderful memories you’ll all enjoy looking back on for years to come. And as we’ve seen, positive interactions contribute towards healthy brain development, especially when they come from important figures like parents and caregivers.



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