Sharing the wonder of travel with your child

Travel can benefit your child in so many ways. But, are you apprehensive about taking her along? Here are some pointers to help you avoid the stress and make it an enjoyable trip!

By Aarthi Arun  • 19 min read

Sharing the wonder of travel with your child

The travel bug bit me at an early age ― even before I understood what travel really meant. And I tried to pass this bug (read: love) on to my son as soon he was able to hold up his head. We took our first trip with him when he was just 2 months old to a place that was only 2 hours away from home. With a colicky baby like my son, and without any preparation, that trip did not end well. At the end of it, my dear husband and I were both on the verge of tears.

If you're planning to show the world to your little bundle of joy, don't make the same mistake that I did – of being unprepared. Over the years, I have tried and tested many ideas to make travelling with babies and children manageable and even enjoyable. My son is now 6. He has turned out curious and adventurous, with a genuine love for the great outdoors and a deep respect for all living things – big and small. He went for his first trek at 4 years, and he is an expert on the local insects and animals in a way that only a 6-year-old can be!

Tots and Travel – The Perks

When you see your tiny tot, you know that she is destined to see and do much bigger and better things than you. Beloved children's author Dr Seuss summed this up in just five words, "Oh, the places you'll go!" Yes, family travel can help your child achieve greater things in life.

Instilling a sense of wonder
There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff
Young children are innately curious, and it is uplifting to see their eyes light up on seeing new things. Travelling feeds your child's mind and lets him learn by exploring and asking questions. Keeping the curiosity alive is important for your child to grow into a lifelong learner. With the buzz around AI and technological advancements, the ability to learn continuously is a crucial skill to have. According to a study by the UNESCO Institute for Education (2001), exposure to different cultures and languages at an early age is key to becoming a lifelong learner.

What a 7-year-old says about travel
I like travelling because I like fresh air and seeing beautiful things. I stayed in a treehouse, so I like trees. I saw a rainbow when I went to Wayanad. I learn about flowers and animals when I'm outside.

Supporting brain growth
Nothing develops intelligence like travel.” – Emile Zola
In a study published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (2000), scientists found that the brain grows better in an enriched or stimulating environment. With all the new smells, sounds and people, and with the sense of being in a new place, travel can be exciting and enriching for your little one. According to research published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology (2018), children who are exposed to the outdoors are found to have better spatial working memory, which is linked to mathematical skills. Moreover, recent research shows that a baby's brain is the most powerful learning machine in the world. So, the rich experiences through travel give your baby a chance to soak up all the information and become brainier!

Making learning fun and stress-free
“Travel is like an endless university. You never stop learning.” – Harvey Lloyd
Contrary to general belief, your child learns not only within the confines of a classroom but everywhere. From geography and history to everything in between, travel gives her an opportunity to learn the subjects hands-on, and have fun along the way. When your child has a hearty laugh while playing on the beach or walking on the grass or roughhousing with mom or dad, it can help trigger happiness hormones called endorphins. And you'll probably agree that joyful learning is much more effective than stressful learning. Have you heard of Worldschooling? Worldschooling is a subset of Homeschooling where families travel throughout the year, without their children having any formal education. Such families insist that their children learn better by interacting with the world around them.

Teaching resourcefulness
To travel is to evolve.” – Pierre Bernardo
Travel enables your child to break away from the everyday routine and take things as they come. From trying new foods to engaging in new activities, no two days are going to be the same for her when you travel. Travelling helps her deal with uncertainties by stepping outside her comfort zone, thinking out of the box and getting her hands dirty. This, in turn, will develop her critical thinking abilities, creativity and problem-solving skills and make her more resilient. More than that, you can inculcate values in your child through frequent travel. From Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence to Perseverance to Zest, travel can fine tune almost all the 24 character traits described in the Via Institute on Character.

Helping to appreciate differences
Travel teaches tolerance” – Benjamin Disraeli
In our globalised world, tolerance is non-negotiable. Experts say that humanity is imperative to sustain and thrive in the rapidly developing world. In fact, it is 'human' qualities like social skills and creativity that will rule the roost in future. Through travel, your child can interact with people from different cultures and economic conditions, which will expand his horizons and make him more empathetic and compassionate. As a result, he will develop stellar social and communication skills.

Learning to care for nature
No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” ― David Attenborough
Television documentaries and glossy magazines are simply not enough for your child to truly appreciate nature. Watching a bird in its natural surroundings is definitely not the same as watching it in a video. Nor can you get a feel of the crisp, early morning air by looking at a photograph. Being outdoors will make your child explore the world with all her senses. This will make her feel she is a part of something big. Travelling to cities and experiencing different cultures may be excellent for your child, but remember to connect with the natural wonders of the places you visit.

Travel lets me pause and take a breath in this fast-paced world. During my travels, when I play with my son, I slow down and am able to be in the moment. Travelling also helps my family connect with nature. At the end, it refreshes us – when we go back, we look at things with new eyes, get a fresh perspective and become better problem-solvers.
- Thirumoorthy, Coimbatore

Taking your family off the grid
There’s no WiFi in the forest, but I promise you’ll find a better connection.” ― Author Unknown
With so many sights to see and places to explore, your child will not have the chance to use gadgets as often as at home. Your little one’s delicate fingers will have the time to touch a flower rather than swiping the screen of a device. With no looming deadlines or meetings, you too will find the much-needed time to bond with her. An analysis by Lee and colleagues (2011) titled ‘Family recreation: A study of visitors who travel with children’ says family travel can help families maintain their harmony and connection. Travel is one of the best ways to recharge, reconnect and reaffirm your love to your family.

I have been travelling with my son Vivaan (who is 7 now) since he was 6 months old. For Vivaan, travel is a tool to interact with strangers and become more social. It teaches him that it is alright to talk to others without inhibition or fear. I think by imagining about the travel, then planning for it and ultimately experiencing it, Vivaan is becoming imaginative and observant. Also, there is no entertainment required while travelling. Whether it's a big plane or a small autorickshaw, Vivaan’s excitement is the same.
- Vaishaki Chavan, Toronto

Now that you know the benefits of travelling, do you want to pack your bags and hit the road? Before you do, though, here are some tips to make your journey safe and enjoyable.

1. Packing a punch
Packing smart is the first step towards travelling successfully. With babies, travelling light may not be an option, but you can cut down on the things you are taking by finding out more about your destination. For instance, if your preferred brand of baby food or diaper is available there, you don't have to pack them for your entire journey. You can replenish your supplies once you reach. Whatever may be your mode of transportation, pack hand baggage with a few necessary items like diapers, baby food, burp clothes, bib, favourite toys, books, gadgets and so on. Keep this bag close to you. This way, you don't have to stop the vehicle or disturb other passengers to get the supplies.
A lightweight, foldable stroller or a baby carrier can be a great addition to your luggage. When you're hopping between sights, your arms and back will thank you and your baby can have his peaceful nap. Also, carry a nursing cover or blanket to have some privacy when you feed your baby. Talk to your paediatrician, and pack a stash of emergency over-the-counter medicines for fever, indigestion, allergies, etc. Always carry a copy of your child's vaccination record.

2. The journey matters more
When travelling, especially with your baby, it is important to start early and give yourself enough time to go through airport security or find the right coach on your bus or train. If you're going on a road trip, plan a few hours extra so that you can have rest stops along the way to refresh your baby. If your baby is over 6 months and mobile, don't let her fall asleep before you board your plane or train. Keep her distracted with the hustle and bustle at the airport or railway station. Your baby can have her nap after you board, and you can have some rest too. Remember, though it is tempting, this is not an ideal time for reading an edge-of-the-seat thriller or binge-watching full seasons of your favourite programme. Rest when your baby rests, and you will have less drama at your destination.
Tablets and mobile phones can be a saviour during long travels but use them sparingly. Take this as an opportunity to connect with your child by playing silly games. For toddlers, activity books like sticker books can be engaging. To avoid leg cramps and keep your blood flowing, go for short walks along the aisles. The media's portrayals of co-passengers are surprisingly untrue. In all my travels, people have been helpful, offering to hold my son or play with him while I ate. Some were kind enough to patiently wait by the washrooms to give me privacy to feed my son. Talk to your co-passengers and others like an air hostess or ticket collector, and your journey will be pleasant. After all, we all have families.

3. Home away from home
It is a good idea to go low-key and book at a homestay or Bed-and-Breakfast with access to a kitchen as opposed to traditional hotels. You can boil milk or cook fresh food for your little munchkin when you stay in such places. Moreover, these places are run by the locals and not by corporates, and your baby can enjoy some extra care and genuine hospitality. If your tiny tot is fussy, take her playpen or favourite blanket from home with you. Also, when you choose a room, find one that is near the kitchen. And look for the safest option, not one that has direct access to the swimming pool. If you're crossing time zones, keep jet lag in mind, and factor in extra days for rest and recuperation.

4. The best-laid plans
Before visiting the place, look it up on the Internet. Is there a way to book tickets online or rent a vehicle? Your baby may not be able to handle a long line or a large crowd – it is important to know his personality and be prepared to avoid any meltdowns. When you're out and about, keep to your child's usual routine. Also, keep an eye on him for overstimulation and tiredness.
Don't forget to indulge in some baby-friendly activities. Pack sun hats, and let your child play in the sand or waddle after a butterfly. But with babies and young children, it is essential to keep an eye out for potential dangers in the environment. Have a handy list of local emergency contacts.

5. When things go south
However meticulous your plans, there’s always a chance of their going awry. So, it will help if you don’t fret over minutiae. You may want to visit the dark, underground museum, but your baby may not cooperate. Take a deep breath and let it go. At the same time, don't let fear or anxiety keep you from trying any activities. Your baby may actually end up liking the colourful displays or sleep right through the excursion.
You baby's immune system is super alert, and she is much more resilient than you think. But an occasional infection is still possible. So, if your baby is not doing well, don't hesitate to take a break or return home.

Why your baby can be your best travel companion

I personally believe that travelling with a baby is breezier than travelling with a toddler or older child. For one, babies are not yet mobile; you don't have to worry about your infant climbing something or running out of sight. Babies also sleep for a longer stretch than older children. Just have your infant in a stroller or baby carrier, and you can go on with your own routine. On the other hand, travelling with a toddler can be tricky. From hearing out her opinions to handling her physical energy, you need to be creative to travel with your curious child. For example, your baby won't be grumpy for the rest of the day just because you didn't get her the third ice cream!

During my first international journey, my son was just 8 months old, and I had the luxury of getting the bassinet seat. My son slept through most of the flight, and I rested too. I handled the jet lag much better. On a long flight recently, my son wouldn't stop asking questions. While I am glad that my son is curious, his constant questions became annoying in the enclosed space. I felt sorry for the aisle seat passenger who had to get up every half an hour to let us pass because my son was fascinated by the toilet's flushing, and wanted to use it often!

I'm sure you will continue travelling once your baby grows up too. But by starting early, you're setting up some practice runs to raise a globetrotter. In the future, your travels will be less stressful, and your little tyke will appreciate them more. Above all, you'll get to know your baby better and get an insight into her personality.

Dr Harley Rotbart, physician and author, calculated and found that there are only 940 Saturdays between your child's birth and the day she turns 18 years. In the grand scheme of things, this number is miniscule. So, make the most of the time. It doesn't have to be an exotic location on a remote island; start small, go on day trips to a nearby waterfall or a national park. Bon Voyage!

In a nutshell

  • Travelling with your baby will help improve his brain growth as he is exposed to an enriched environment with different activities, languages and people
  • You can instill values and teach skills to your child by taking her on trips from a young age
  • Travel will inspire your family to connect better and care for nature
  • Plan your trip carefully by choosing the right place to stay and pack smart for a pleasurable journey
  • Going on a trip with your baby is easier than travelling with a curious toddler

What you can do right away

  • Plan to go on a picnic this weekend to a nearby park.
  • Pick 6 potential locations that you can visit over the next 3 months. Discuss this with your spouse and see where it takes you!

About the author:
Written by Aarthi Arun on 15 July 2019.
Aarthi is a writer from Chennai, who currently calls Toronto her home. She has donned many hats from a photographer to a librarian to a software engineer, but she has learnt the most in the role of a mother. She loves long walks with her 6-year old, likes creating lego masterpieces with him, and likes reading adventurous stories with him.

About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 5 August 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia). She is Head of the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle.

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