Starting a family doesn't have to mean an endless routine mired in domesticity. If you had the travel bug before kids, you can and should continue to travel as your family grows. Exposing young children to other countries is an invaluable experience. Here are six reasons why:
- Perspective. If your child's world has narrowed into one of mealtime, school time and screen time, travel is an ideal means of breaking free from a detrimental routine and gaining perspective on the greater world.
- Adaptability. International travel often requires a go-with-the-flow attitude. If things don't go exactly according to plan (and they won't), you have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate adaptability and to cultivate resourcefulness in your child.
- Language Skills. While your child may not become fluent from one trip abroad, exposing children to other languages is still extremely beneficial. Learning just a few words in another language is not only empowering, but also gives children a greater understanding of the workings of language and structure in their native tongue.
- Appreciation of Culture. Learning about cultures different from our own fosters the desire to continue learning and exploring the world. Greater cultural exposure also leads inquisitive young minds to analyze, question and learn about the origins of their own culture.
- Compassion. Exposing your children to different walks of life creates compassion. Like a muscle, the more you exercise compassion, the stronger it will become. Compassionate children are more likely to carry this attribute into adulthood.
- Sense of Wonder. Chances are that if you have the travel bug, you also have a sense of wonder about the world. Travel is a great way to cultivate that same curiosity in your children.
If traveling overseas with children seems daunting, don't be deterred. Here are six aspects of travel you need to consider and the resources to make it happen:
- Passports. All children need passports, even infants. Obtaining a passport for a minor under 16 requires both parents; one parent and proof of permission from the other parent; or proof of sole custody. The parent(s) and child must apply in person at the passport office, and even expedited passports may take weeks, so allow plenty of time for processing. Passports for minors are valid for five years from the date of issue, so be sure to renew your child's passport and keep expiration dates in mind when booking travel. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State information page for Passports for Minors Under 16.
- Plane Tickets. Learn the details of your preferred carrier's mileage program. In many cases, minor travelers are eligible to earn miles each time they travel. As the parent, it's your job to enroll them in the program, which allows you to use miles traveled on one trip to offset the costs of future trips. If you don't have miles for an initial trip, and the price tag of tickets for your family is a deterrent, purchase your tickets months in advance and set up a payment schedule so that they are paid off by the time of your trip. You'll enjoy your trip more if you haven't incurred credit card debt as a result of it. Also, keep in mind that many mileage programs award bonus miles for travel purchases paid for with the airline credit card.
- Home Exchange. Consider using your home as leverage to offset the costs of travel. On sites like Home Exchange, you can find other families with whom to trade houses for a short trip or even months at a time. Renting out your home is another option, and you may find that your home rents for far more than the cost of your accommodations in your destination. Listing your home on VRBO is a good way to find potential renters.
- Foreign Schools. If traveling with children for more than a few weeks, explore the school options available in your destination. These may include foreign public schools, Montessori schools, and schools specifically geared toward expats and travelers. Experiencing a foreign school may seem intimidating at first, but will likely be the most enriching and rewarding aspect of the trip for your child.
- Travel Requirements. Make sure you understand all of the travel requirements for your destination well in advance of your trip, including any necessary visas and immunizations. The U.S. Department of State Travel Site provides this information for destinations around the world.
- Expat Resources. Connecting with locals and expats in your destination gives you inside information on everything from car rentals, accommodations, and school reviews, to the best off-the-beaten-path restaurants and must-see sights. Getting the word out in your social media circles about a planned trip often leads to introductions that may prove to be excellent resources.