In defence of seeking new travel experiences with your child

Part of the reason why I started this blog was to de-stigmatise the culture of family travel/ travel with your children. There is a perception that family travel is just an additional chore on top of the conglomerate of tasks parents/ caregivers inherit. Instead, travel should be viewed through the prism of ensuring that your child is undertaking a new experience through the art of travel. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way the travel industry views family travel. Rather than being an enabler to circumvent ‘fussy children’ there should be a focus on using travel as an educational experience.

This blog post was prompted by the comments of renowned UK psychologist Oliver James. James argues that Home-based holidays are what most children really want”, he says. By that, he means one familiar, unadventurous place to which you return year after year.”  

James, using the example of his own children argues against ‘new experiences’:

“We went on holiday to Cornwall every August for nine years while my children were small,” he explains. “We would sit on the beach being stoic and saying: ‘Well, alright, so it’s raining. But look on the bright-side, at least it’s not very windy…’”

After nearly a decade, he decided to take a stand and booked a holiday to France. “My kids were eight and 11,” he recalls. “The oldest was just old enough to appreciate the novelty of it all: the way that French cheese, street markets, and even the sun-cream seem different. My youngest was unimpressed. And the next year, both of them insisted we go back to Cornwall. They’re 12 and 15 now, and we still go back to the same place every summer.”

However in another article James provides another example, in which his trips to Paris allowed his children to explore their own surroundings:

“Children see the world differently,” explains James, “through consumption, for example, the way that French cafes have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends.”

It is a compelling argument for not imposing culture on family holidays. “Give a two-year-old a present and she’ll get absorbed in the box instead,” says James. “It’s similar with children and travel. We should let them explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings.”

He gives the example of taking his own children, then aged 10 and 14, to Paris: “She was quite interested in the art. The only thing that even vaguely interested him was a shop that was essentially the French equivalent of Sports Direct. They both, however, really enjoyed mocking me for the cheapskate, appalling accommodation I’d booked. After the holiday, it became the stuff of legend. And that’s not to be sniffed at.”

My interpretation of these examples (albeit of the same French experience) does not provide a compelling argument against new travel experiences with your child. James argues that children crave familiarity year after year. However, what sought of experience would that invoke for your child? They may crave the familiar experience and cherish this for the rest of their lives, but the familiarity which should be utilised is via their repetition living their lives at home. Kids crave repetition via their daily routine of going to school/ daycare, being picked up by their parents after school, being fed by their parents at dinner and then being tucked into bed at night. This is the repetition that should be valued. In James’ same French example he notes that his daughter garnered an appreciation for art. I respectfully note that without this new French experience James’ daughter would have not found an appreciation for art had she been subjected to the same yearly holiday experience in Cornwall.

As I have argued in my first blog post:

“With the untapped imagination filtering through every child, traveling will ensure that they will be able to create a repository of valuable ideas, knowledge and experiences. Think about the confidence created if a child experiences a new language for the first time, and is able to understand and converse freely without the process of a regimented classroom. What about the knowledge created if a child is able to experience a new city and is able to compare and contrast the differences to their home city in order to better understand how the world works around them. Knowledge coupled with increased confidence will foster your child’s ability to garner new ideas, fulfil their imagination and most importantly help define who they are. If there is any education that I would wish upon any child it is the experiences garnered whilst traveling (however I must point out that traditional schooling is always important, travel should be used a supplement to advance their education).”

Travel as James argues, should not be used as a means to impose culture on children. This is a point which I do agree wholeheartedly albeit in a different context. New travel experiences should be used to allow your children to explore the new surroundings you provide them. As seen via our Singapore experience, we allowed our daughter to explore her surroundings. By the end of our trip, this allowed our daughter to greater appreciate the culinary tastes of Singapore and further expand her culinary tastes away from the monotonous yoghurts and fruit bars she had back home. Without allowing our daughter to create her own new experiences in Singapore, this would not have led to her expanded culinary habits.

This blog is not meant to be a personal attack on the psychological expertise of Oliver James, rather this is a strident defence of traveling with your child. Traveling with your child should not be inhibited by repetitive holidays or paradigms focussed on allaying fussy children. As I have always argued and will continue to do so, travel should be used as an educational experience to enlighten your child. Don’t restrict your child to the same experience year in year out, make an effort to change their holiday experiences. Repetition should come from their daily lives at home and not via their yearly holiday.

Happy Traveling.

Chris & Ariana.

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