Worst Parenting Advice Ever

From James Altucher:

Don’t travel with them. Traveling is boring, difficult, frustrating, tiring for kids. There is nothing good about taking a kid on vacation. All you are doing the entire vacation is preventing them from drowning.

Maybe his kids are different from mine. Or maybe he just doesn’t know how to travel. But I loved traveling as a kids, and my kids love to travel, too.

Five years ago we took our kids on a month-long trip that included an Alaskan cruise, and a slow drive from Seattle back to Michigan. We visited Denali National Park, Seattle’s Pike Place Market, family and friends in the Northwest, Yellowstone National Park, Mt. Rushmore and Jewel Cave in the Black Hills, the Corn Palace, friends in Iowa, and Chicago. The kids loved every minute of it.

Two years ago my mom and I took the kids to a family reunion in Colorado, visiting the Gateway Arch, a century old carousel, and Rocky Mountain National Park on the way. The kids loved it all.

This year our big trip is back to California. After weeks of wrangling over how to get there (by air would minimize travel time, but I’ve made my objections to that clear) my oldest daughter settled the debate by saying that she wanted to go by train. So train it is, and the two younger ones are excited, too. On the way back we’re stopping in New Mexico for a few days, renting a car to take the kids to Taos Pueblo and Santa Fe, then spending a couple days just enjoying Albuquerque. Neither my wife nor kids have ever been in New Mexico, and I’ve never been in Albuquerque–what a great opportunity to show the kids more of our amazingly diverse country.

“Bored, frustrated, and tired?” Sure, at times. Just like at home. But they’ll be seeing new places and doing new things, and that’s a thrill for kids. Sure, walking around Taos Pueblo in the New Mexico sun is going to tire them out–but then we’ll go back to the motel to rest, and they’ll always have the experience of having visited such a beautiful and unique place.

Not traveling with kids is a form of child abuse. To not travel with them is to deprive them of the best type of learning–actually being there and seeing places (contra Herbert Simon’s Travel Theorem“). And traveling promotes the type of self-confidence that enables kids to go off on their own comfortably when they grow up. Kids who travel as kids are, I would hazard a guess, able to transition more easily to going away to college or moving out of the house (or moving cross country to find better job prospects), more likely to study abroad when they’re in college, and more likely to take a trip for spring break instead of just going back home to their same old safe, familiar environment.

Of course you should travel with your kids. Done right, there’s no better experience in life.

Endnote: How to Travel with Kids

  • Make the trip about traveling instead of getting there. Airplanes are great for getting point to point but they miss everything on the way, so stay on the ground when you can.
  • Break up a day’s travel with interesting stops. On the way to Colorado we took time in St. Louis to take the kids up in the Gateway Arch, to visit a pioneer museum, and to let them ride a century old carousel. Do your homework before the trip and find the odd, quirky, beautiful, and otherwise interesting things to see and do along your route.
  • In a long day of travel have a long mid-day stop. This is a trick I learned from hiking and canoeing trips–a single long mid-day break is more refreshing than multiple short rests. Driving across Oregon once (about 7 1/2 hours), we stopped at a municipal park in the middle of the state for a picnic lunch and let the kids enjoy the playground until they’d exhausted themselves. Driving to Colorado we stopped for two hours in St. Louis to enjoy a picnic lunch by the Mississippi and a trip to the top of the Gateway Arch. Let them burn off enough energy and they’re good for several more hours in the car.
  • Make a trip log for your kids, noting things they should look for along the way. The kids get excited about finally seeing something they’ve been looking for. On our Alaska trip we gave them a list of wild animals to look for, and they marked each one as they spotted them.
  • Keep it cheap. Kids love sleeping in tents or cabins, and they love picnic lunches. It’s part of the adventure for them. Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional night in a nice hotel with an indoor pool if you have the money. Kids love that, too. But it’s not necessary for them to have a great time.
  • Remember that kids love adventure and exploring, and trips allow them to do that with the security of having their parents nearby. Just look for the things that will intrigue them and work the schedule around kid-time rather than adult-time.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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18 Responses to Worst Parenting Advice Ever

  1. Thanks. If you ever want me to lecture to your class on how to be a good parent I’d be happy to do so.

  2. D. C. Sessions says:

    Taos is a blast, and ABQ is certainly worth visiting. From experience, though, you can get from Taos to Santa Fe to ABQ by much more interesting routes through the mountains in only slightly more time — but along the way, there are quite a few small towns and other worth-seeings. Including some rug and furniture craftsmen with open showrooms.

    Unfortunately, the best restaurant (I’m biased) in ABQ has been closed lately: the Tia Maria House. However, if it’s open just plan to go there. Trust me.

    Also, don’t necessarily stop at ABQ. An hour south and you’re at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge — best in the autumn, but pretty danged awesome any time of year.

    I’m a big fan of travel by train — one of the two best trips ever was with my then-girlfriend from Nogales to Mexico City over winter break. You see more.

  3. D. C. Sessions says:

    PS: Santa Fe — the Plaza Cafe has been doing business in the same location for over a century. Great food, reasonable prices, always busy but you can usually get a table. Be warned, though: they make no bones about cooking for the locals and tourists take their chances.

  4. Scott Hanley says:

    Other advice: don’t (as our own father did) be sure to announce early in each and every trip, at the first hint of discord, that “If this is how it’s going to be we can turn around and go home right now!”

  5. James Hanley says:

    @Mr. Altucher. I’ll pass. But I did approve of your advice to take them for walks late at night in pajamas. You’re an excellent writer, by the way. I spent an inordinate amount of time on your blog the other night, despite finding that I disagreed with almost everything you said–not the factual things, but nearly everything that has to do with the personal choices one makes. Which isn’t meant to imply that I think you’re a bad person, just very different from my own experience in life.

    @D.C. Thanks for the info. Any specific route to Santa Fe you’d recommend, or just any of the non-main road ones? I’ll try to remember the Plaza Cafe, too. Eating at unfamiliar places instead of the familiar chains is part of the experience of travel.

    @Scott. Nah, I just threaten to leave them by the side of the road. But the nice thing about the train is we can separate two squabblers pretty easily. Minivans are great for traveling with kids, too–there’s enough space between kids that the bickering is reduced by about 90%. That should really be the salespitch for minivans.

  6. D. C. Sessions says:

    Take NM 518 through Penasco and Chimayo. Gorgeous country; we had the good fortune a few years ago of taking that route the morning after the first snowfall in the Sangre de Cristos. NM is much better provided with small, old towns than most Western states are and the mountain highways are quite good.

    If the kids are at the “volcanoes are SOOO cool!” stage, you have lots of them in the general area. The Valley of Fires is probably a bit of a slog (past the Bosque) and it’ll be hot in the lower country.

  7. AMW says:

    Hanley, once again our paths cross out of sync. I lived in ABQ for a little over two years. It’s been over 15 years now, so my restaurant advice may be out of date. However…

    Garduno’s has some really awesome New Mexican food. The fajita’s are excellent and the sopapillas are really good, too. Their salsa is spicy as hell, though. You’ve been warned.

    YesterDave’s is a large diner-style restaurant with a 50’s retro theme. The food is pretty good as I recall (milkshakes especially) and the family might enjoy the atmosphere.

    High Finance is a restaurant on top of the Sandia Mountains. You can ride a tram from the base of the mountains right up to the restaurant. The food is excellent (fine dining entrees like steaks, fish, etc.) and the view is too.

    Dion’s Pizza. Where else are you going to get the option of green chili pizza? (Local McDonald’s also offer green chili’s on their burgers – or they did in the mid 90’s, anyway.)

    Albuquerque is a beautiful town. Be careful on your trip through. When I lived there I heard multiple stories from families that had just come to visit and ended up selling the house in their hometown and staying permanently.

  8. D. C. Sessions says:

    Too late, AMW. I made the mistake of sending two of the kids to NMT in Socorro, and now I’m trying to move there. Fortunately, I can work from anywhere with a network connection.

    Then again, Our Gracious Host isn’t all that safe either: Socorro has NMT, ABQ has UNM, and Taos has a UNM branch campus looking for social sciences faculty.

  9. James Hanley says:

    D.C. and AMW,

    Thanks for the travel and restaurant advice. I’ll report back after the trip.

    Hmmm, UNM Taos? I suspect they’d have to pay a lot for me to afford housing there, but I can definitely see living in northern NM.

  10. D. C. Sessions says:

    You’re doomed. Northern NM got a whole lot cheaper to live in recently. Besides, you don’t have to be very far outside of Taos proper before the rent gets really cheap.

  11. DC, thanks for your comments about my blog. I appreciate it. I’m curious why you pass on my offer to speak to your class. Of course, you have every right to do so.

    I’ve spoken at Cornell, Wharton, many other schools. I regularly am invited to speak at conferences. I write for Forbes and the WSJ and have published six books. I’m a contributor at ABC, CNN, Bloomberg and other networks. I’ve built and sold several companies. In general, people like for me to speak at their events and usually pay me for it.

    I don’t want any pay. I sincerely want to speak to your class of students. I enjoy it. Is it because you disagree with me on some matters that you don’t want me to speak to your students?

  12. D. C. Sessions says:

    DC, thanks for your comments about my blog.

    I think you have us confused. I’m flattered.

  13. James Hanley says:

    Mr. Altucher,

    Disagreement isn’t the issue. I’m happy for students to hear other viewpoints (it’s important for them to learn that reasonable people can disagree reasonably). I just didn’t think a talk about parenting would be appropriate for my political science classes.

    But if you’re sincere and you want to foot the bill for a trip to Michigan (I truly have no budget to bring you in), I’m teaching both American Government and Political Economy this fall. Pitch me a proposal as to what you’d talk about–other than parenting, which we could discuss over lunch–and I’ll consider it. Feel free to email me directly, jhanley *at* adrian [daat} edu.

  14. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I would be interested in your impression of Taos Pueblo, which both I and my wife found disappointing. Taos is a bit too bohemian for my tastes and Santa Fe too prissy, which is odd considering that I could well be described as a prissy bohemian, but Northern New Mexico in general is a beautiful place well worth exploring. There is also, btw, Los Alamos (with an excellent little science museum as well as an eccentric museum dedicated to the town’s top secret past), Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch (now operated as a Presbyterian retreat center *shrug*) with absolutely stunning vistas almost rivaling Monument Valley, and Bandelier National Monument where you can walk up to pre-Columbian cliff dwellings and Indian ruins. All worth a look-see.

    I found little of interest, by contrast, in Albuquerque, a sprawling and largely unattractive city with an undistinguished “old town.” But to each his own.

    On the issue of traveling with children, I appreciate Mr. Altucher’s perspective, but then his children are apparently still quite young. My experience with our three children has been that they become much better company as they get older. This probably has something to do with the fact that I didn’t much like children even when I was one. Our trip last year with a 12 and 15 year old (who, by the way, swim better than I do) was delightful. But I like road trips, either with others or by myself; so, again, to each his own.

  15. James Hanley says:

    DAR,

    I was in both Taos and Sante Fe back in 1984, and I agree with your impression of both towns, although I still found them worthy visits. I think the value of Taos Pueblo itself is to see something quite outside one’s normal experience, particularly for kids who haven’t seen much of the variety of how humans live yet.

    I do plan to go to Los Alamos (appropriate since I’m co-teaching a nuclear weapons and power course next fall), but however much else do we in that area depends on how much driving around we want to do. I both like driving around to a multitude of places and staying in one place and doing more walking/local stuff. So I figure either way it will be good. And Albuquerque has a science museum and aquarium the kids will like. I appreciate the forewarning on old town Albuquerque, though, and won’t get my hopes too high.

    Don’t feel bad about your kids swimming better than you–mine are all competitive swimmers, so my 8 and 10 year olds both swim better than me, not to mention my 13 year old. It would be mildly embarrassing if I wasn’t so proud of them.

  16. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Oh, I’m not at all embarrassed about anything my children can do better than I can. One’s own children are, after all, the only people we really do want to see do better than we do. I was merely responding obliquely to Mr. Altucher’s comment about drowning.

    I misread your post and thought I had read you hadn’t been to New Mexico, either. Yes, both Taos and Santa Fe are worth visiting. Can’t say I’d want to live in either place, albeit for different reasons. I might try to get my younger son interested in applying to St. John’s, though, even if Mr. Altucher does object to formal education. (Actually, as you know, I’ve got plenty of objections, myself.) And the funny thing about Los Alamos, at least to me, is the overpowering sense of being in a town comprised entirely of middle class government employees. At least not everyone in Washington works for the federal government. (Well, not directly.)

    As for the Taos Pueblo, my understanding is that only several Indians actually live in the Pueblo (and for all I know take turns doing it) while the rest essentially come to work there every day, rather like a Native American Williamsburg. Driving through just about any Indian reservation neighborhood, but especially if the tribe doesn’t run casinos, is a far more startling and accurate demonstration of their (in my opinion, now largely self imposed) living conditions.

    I’m so fond of the Four Corners area that we’ve been toying with buying a vacation place in Durango (“The poor man’s Tahoe,” according to my wise-ass older son.). The only thing stopping us is our desire to return to the East Coast and the resulting distance we’d have to travel with no really close airport.

    Anyway, enjoy your trip.

  17. Matty says:

    I neither have or want kids so this may be completely off but it strikes me that with a few obvious exceptions like whisky most things enjoyed by adults can also be enjoyed by children. If you want to enjoy museum visits, seafood or travel with your offspring when they are 25 it makes sense to start well before that.

  18. James Hanley says:

    If you want to enjoy museum visits, seafood or travel with your offspring when they are 25 it makes sense to start well before that.

    And why doesn’t that apply to whiskey as well?

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