Why Travel is NOT Wasted On The Very Young

May 28, 2013 in Travelogue

Family Travel

There has been some discussion recently, in traveling communities that we belong to, as to the value of travel for the very young. There are those who argue that money spent on travel with children under age three or so is entirely wasted, as those children won’t have any memory of the experience in later life.

What do you think? Is travel wasted on the very young?

I have no memory of my first flight. I was just a few months old. My Uncle flew up in his little plane and landed on a grass strip in the forest not far from the lake we lived on. My mom packed me into the plane and my Dad tells the story of being sure we were going to die upon take off as my Uncle bumped us down the field, barely pulled up before the trees and then we dipped down out of sight. The little plane rallied, reappeared and my Dad breathed a sigh of relief, but it was the first and last time I was allowed to fly with Bill. Bill tells the story of me puking pureed green beans all over the inside of his precious plane as we circled, and circled, and circled waiting to land and enter the USA at the border. He never invited me to fly with him again! 🙂

Traveling with young children takes an enormous amount of moxy on the part of parents. It’s hard work. Little people puke at inopportune moments, and the hard truth is that we don’t remember much of what went down before we turned three.

But does that mean it’s of no value? 

If the benchmark of whether effort expended on behalf of children is their memory of it, then why do we bother to interact with young children at all?

  • Why read stories?
  • Why snuggle?
  • Why play finger games?
  • Why smile and talk while we feed them?
  • Why bother with bath toys or building blocks?
  • Why take them to the zoo or the park or the children’s museum?
  • Why pay for swimming lessons or play groups?
  • Why buy them birthday or Christmas gifts?
  • Why take them to visit Grandma or friends?

Why not just stick them in a corner and wait until they are old enough to remember?

Of course that’s ridiculous isn’t it?

The reason we do all of those things is because, from the moment a baby is born, he is learning. He’s learning hard and fast and he’s creating a frame of reference for all of those memories to fit into later.

Children learn the language of their families by being drenched in it.

Children learn to define their race and their comfort with other races by the smiling faces that surround them in infancy.

Children begin to develop coordination of hand, eye, mouth, and body by manipulating the things in their environments.

Every single thing we do, for and with our babies is affecting who they become and how they experience the world.

The lifelong effects of neglect during infancy are well documented, as are the benefits of a rich culture of interaction.

So why would someone, who would argue in favour of all of the benefits of interaction with young children, say that travel is wasted on the very young?

Why, indeed?

Just because your little one may not remember that trip to Mexico a few years from now, does not mean that she isn’t benefiting from it.

If babies are forming their capacity for language and their concept of what is “normal” in humanity does it not make sense to expose them to as many different languages, shades of skin, cultures and differences as possible? Shouldn’t we be trying to give them the widest sampling of the human family as we can to draw their conclusions from? 

Do you remember your first trip abroad?

Do you remember those first experiences of culture shock, when you felt like a fish out of water and were embarrassed to have to admit that you were actually afraid of people because you didn’t understand or relate to what was going on? Think of a three year old, hiding behind her mother’s skirt in a new situation. It feels kind of the same, doesn’t it? What if you had had the opportunity to bridge those gaps when you were three, with the support of your parents and the gentle encouragement of your mother? How would that have changed your travel experiences as an adult?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself, and for what we’ve observed in our family. In our experience, without fail, the more time a young child spends “in the world” the more comfortable that child is in his own skin, and with everyone else’s.

Traveling with a child before he can remember builds, not only a wide repertoire of sights, smells, sounds, colours, faces and languages into a young child’s experience, it builds flexibility, self confidence, the ability to bridge cultural gaps, and a taste for a wide palate of flavours as well.

Travel is not wasted on the very young, any more than any other sort of experience or interaction is. It’s not crucial to a young child’s development, but it is most certainly a benefit, as are all of the other diversity building experience that a thoughtful parent carefully builds into a growing child’s experience.

Are you interested in reading more? Here are some other articles by the members of our traveling families community:

Mary from Bohemian Travelers

Nancy from Family on Bikes

Catherine Forest from Catherine et les fées

Alisa from Living Outside of the Box

Melissa from Break Out of Bushwick

Bethaney from Flashpacker Family

Kris Herwig from Simon Says

Heather Costaras from Living Differently

Kalli from Portable Professionals 

Kirsty from Barts go Adventuring 

Anne from The Journey is the Reward 

Sharon from Where’s Sharon

Annie from Practical Adventurology

Lainie from Raising Miro on the Road of Life

Nichola from We Travel Countries

Corey-Ann from Adventure Bee

Tracey from Expat Experiment