ANGELA SAURINE reveals the positive short and long-term impacts taking children on holidays can have
For those of us who love to travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough. It has also made us appreciate travel and its benefits more than ever before. And those benefits are many, especially when it comes to broadening young minds. As well as sparking their curiosity, taking children on holidays can also help them become more resilient, flexible, independent, confident, tolerant and understanding. It can also strengthen family bonds and individual relationships.
Anthropologist Dr Monty Badami, who is founder and CEO of Habitus, which offers immersive experiences to help families reconnect, believes it’s extremely important to go away with kids, and to take them to both comfortable places and challenging places. He recommends having a restful, relaxing getaway at least once a year and a challenging holiday every year or two. “When you plan out your year the first thing you should do is put your holidays in your calendar and then book everything else around that,” he says. Including kids in the planning process can also help them feel more engaged.
Dr Badami makes a point of having one-on-one holidays with each of his two kids, whether it’s a weekend away or an overseas adventure. “There’s amazing benefits for the kids, but also for the parents,” he says. “Kids crave that one-on-one attention, and you get to know each other in a different environment. We get so caught in a rut and in the mundane habits of relating to each other in everyday life. Going to a different place really helps to learn different aspects of our personalities and gives our kids the chance to see different sides of us, and for parents to see different sides of them because of all the challenges. You see things that are really different, and you are problem solving around that. I get to see them in another light and see their strengths. I think that’s why people go camping, for example.”
Dr Badami was born and raised in Australia but did his PhD with an Indigenous community in India, where his family originate, and travelled back and forth frequently for three years. “I have taken both my children to India, just my son and I and my daughter and I,” he says. “It was incredible. We travelled to one of those regions where my daughter was the only white person. They didn’t have showers and they didn’t have a sink in the kitchen; they just made do.” The experience, he says, helped them learn what they really needed and what is really important in life. “In India, they were seeing dirty things and they were seeing poverty,” he says. “I wanted them to have an awareness of their privilege, but the biggest thing the kids took away from it was that connection to family. I was trying to give them this social and political awareness; I learned not to try to fit them into your expectations. It wouldn’t be right to try to control what they were looking at.” Dr Badami says one of the best things we can do when we go away with our kids is to let them take away from it what they need at that time. “It doesn’t just extend to overseas travel,” he says. “The fact is we have poverty, inequality and cultural diversity in Australia, and we can really explore that in our own backyard as well. We can respectfully engage with that.”
While it’s difficult to measure at what age children remember things, talking about family holidays and taking photos helps experiences linger longer. “My daughter doesn’t remember going to India when she was one-year-old, but we tell her stories of when we were driving through the jungle and she was yelling out ‘bubby monkeys!’,” Dr Badami says. “When I took my kids to India when they were older, I got them to do a reflection at the end of every day. What new thing did we do, what did we try, who did we meet, what was challenging? But they don’t remember that. When I ask them what they remember they remember emotional experiences. Their memories will change as they change. But the longevity, poignance and potency of those moments is enhanced by things that happen after the experience. Going on holidays with your family is not just about memories of that place, but the ongoing memories we create with that family. Those stories keep resurfacing over the years as you reminisce looking through photos, or when you pick up a souvenir. The things that we learn about ourselves and each other are sustained and deepened and made more relevant to us. As they grow and mature the more and more nuanced that experience will be.”
Different destinations also draw out different parts of our personality, Dr Badami says. “It’s not just First World or Third World, it’s about taking our kids out of their comfort zones,” he says. “I think any challenge helps us with resilience. The question is how do we model that? As parents, we can go to a challenging part of the world and whine, moan and pity, or (even worse) vilify. We can go to a developing country and talk about how crappy it is, but that doesn’t teach resilience; it reinforces privilege. This is where we, as parents, have a responsibility. When we travel, we make mistakes all the time and say: ‘That’s not the way that we should have done that’. It’s OK to make mistakes and have a bit of humility. We need to adapt and change. What really matters is not that we have the creature comforts, but that we are together.”
Holidays are also important as they give us the chance to stop, pause and take a rest so we can keep going. While it’s important to have family time, it’s also OK to factor in adult time for parents to have a break. It’s all about balance, according to Dr Badami. “When we were in Fiji, my children got a lot out of the kids’ club, but if they’re not enjoying it you really need to recognise that,” he says. “We probably wouldn’t take kids to somewhere like Paris when they’re little, we’d go on our own. There are no rules, but you have to be open and realistic about it. Kids are pretty resilient — you’re not going to ruin a kid by sticking them in kids’ club.”
If you are feeling stressed out by work and the pressures of daily life before a vacation, Dr Badami recommends taking time to decompress at the beginning of the trip. “Maybe allow for that in the itinerary,” he says. “I know it takes me three or four days to decompress.”
Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is another strong advocate for travelling with children. His father was a British diplomat, so he spent his childhood in different countries. “There’s no question that it was really beneficial,” he says. “It opened my mind and gave me an understanding of different cultures. I learned that there are lots of ways of doing things, attitudes, values and beliefs that are equally valid.”
Dr Carr-Gregg grew up in Africa for two consecutive postings, where he was surrounded by animals. “It gave me a deep appreciation for wildlife conservation,” he says. “My parents also had a view that you had to take responsibility for yourself when you were travelling, so every time we moved there was an expectation that you take care of your own stuff, and I think that gave me a new sense of responsibility. I also think that we became quite independent and flexible. We just made do with what we had. A lot of places we went to didn’t have proper facilities, so we just managed. We learned to tolerate a little bit of discomfort. A friend said to me that he wouldn’t sleep under the stars unless there were five of them. For us, sleeping under the stars and having tents and cooking for ourselves — the simple stuff — was a major part of growing up.”
When he returned to the classroom, Dr Carr-Gregg says his knowledge about the world was greater than his contemporaries, and travelling gave him a sense of curiosity. “I also think it made me incredibly confident,” he said. “It made accepting challenges something that we knew we had to do, and just did. A lot of parents avoid discomfort for their children. Travel creates opportunities to be really very courageous and just to have a go. It also presents us with the opportunity to meet other people. My mother had an obsession with us learning languages. She sent me to Paris for a year and when I came back at age 10 I was almost unable to speak English because I was completely immersed in a French family who had been instructed not to talk any English to me. There’s no better way to learn about the culture and the people of the world than travel. I have met the most amazing people, had the most incredible experiences, and it has absolutely shaped me.”
Award-winning family travel writer Flip Byrnes, also known as @theadventuremamma, says when kids are young and you are not beholden to school holiday dates, it is the prime time to explore. “My current area of specialty is travelling with kids under six, and the first thing to know is that no holiday with kids is fully relaxing, you’re still a parent,” she says. “Having said that, where would you prefer to parent? While scouting out parks in Paris or changing nappies on an alpine slope with views of the Matterhorn, or battling your local peak hour traffic? Home life is so distracting and the juggle of being a working parent will resonate with many, so being away is the precious time when our family carves out time to be present and slow down to zero. Everyone fills their cup.”
Thanks to their parents’ love of the outdoors, Flip’s daughters were in the pool at six months and started skiing at age two. They are also keen snorkellers, “not-always-keen” hikers, and will talk to anyone, anywhere. “Maybe that is their temperament but new situations, with the safety of us close by, must have confidence benefits,” she says. “There have been some touch and go moments, like when then four-year-old Lotte walked up to a traditionally dressed Middle Eastern man in Dubai International Airport and asked: “Are you Jesus?” (we had been reading Christmas books). Luckily, he had a sense of humour. In Marrakesh, where I took Lotte alone when she was three for our first mother-daughter trip, her favourite things were the pool, the cats and chips — basically things you can get anywhere. So, what was the point? Will she even remember? It doesn’t matter. I tell her about it, and it becomes family folklore. We were also invited into a local day care on that trip. I’ve been a travel writer now for 20 years,” she says, “but the best adventures have been since my children became my wing-people.”