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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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!