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Family Travel, Without the ‘Travel’

Matt Villano

The more parents I meet these days, the more I crowdsource blog posts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the more I find fellow moms and dads split into two camps on the subject of family travel.

In one corner, adventuresome and eager to take on the world, are parents like Powerwoman and me—folks who would bring their kiddies just about anywhere (and often do). In the other corner, paralyzed by fear of dealing with meltdowns and potty training away from home, are parents who have convinced themselves it’s easier to just stay put.

Discussions between these two sides can get frustrating. We adventuresome parents (unintentionally) can condescend; homebody parents (hopefully just as unintentionally) can get indignant. Both parties often act as if parenthood requires you to commit to one philosophy or the other.

In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

More often than not, at least for the vast majority of us, travel is nothing more than a state of mind.

Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not about to sell you on some weird virtual vacation concept that enables you and the kids to jet off to Dominica without ever actually leaving your living room.

I’m just saying you don’t have to go far to experience the benefits of travel.

Considering I’m a full-time freelance travel writer, this declaration might come as quite a surprise. Aren’t I supposed to be the guy who’s on the road 200 days a year? I was that guy, once. Then I became a father. These days, my life is a constant balancing act between the kind of travel coverage that requires passports and plane tickets, and the kind of travel we can do in one of our vehicles with less than a quarter-tank of gas.

Some weeks it works. Some weeks it doesn’t. Throughout it all, my philosophy has been this: Whether I take my daughters to the Cotswolds (where we’ve been as a family) or the California Academy of Sciences (we’re members at this San Francisco museum, so we go all the time), simply getting them out and about is a win.

To put this differently, it’s all about newness. Child development psychologists have said for years that introducing kids to new experiences is one of the best ways to help their brains grow. Travel is a great way to achieve this—when you leave the familiarity of everyday life and plop yourself (or yourselves, as the case may be) in a new place, absolutely everything is entirely new.

And those new places are everywhere. Down the block. In an adjacent neighborhood. All over the next town. On the other side of the county.

If you happen to be one of those moms or dads who cringes at the thought of six hours on an airplane with your kid, if you live in fear of the thought of your toddler melting down in an unfamiliar restaurant, you simply need to think smaller. Instead of planning an epic journey to England, plan a half-day adventure to the park on the other side of town. Instead of jetting off to Maui for a month, check out local performances of ukulele or hula.

The bottom line: Get out there and seek new stuff. Over the long run, your child (or children) will benefit from seeing and touching and smelling and tasting and experiencing these things. And you’ll be taking them places—even if you never really stray too far from home.

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