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.