A Trip Too Far? When Travel with Kids Isn’t a Good Idea.

Thanks to overseas military duty stations in Japan and the Netherlands, both of my children have been able to see a lot of the world (which was only one of the reasons that I specifically requested overseas assignments. The main reason was that my husband and I love to travel and “get local.”)

My young son, now almost 7, doesn’t remember that much of Europe, but recognition of landmarks like the “Eyfee Towee” or the Louvre pyramid in Paris seems to come back to him every once in awhile, or he remembers a bit of the Dutch that he learned in his kindercentrum preschool. My teenage daughter remembers a lot, which was reinforced when she visited me in Tokyo and Hong Kong after I was sent to Asia on a temporary duty assignment.

This article in the UK’s Telegraph online asks some interesting questions about whether parents take kids for selfish reasons, not the “educational” ones that we all offer up as our primary reason for family travel. Should kids be taken to more adventurous locations (i.e., anyplace that needs special shots or anti-malarial medication?) Are we making them jaded by showing them too many cool places when they’re young?

I thought that a lot of the article was not convincing and had a rather peevish, lecturing tone. From my perspective, most parents take the kids not because they are trying to show off, but because they have always traveled and see no reason to come to a roaring halt simply because children have arrived in the family.

Yes, some far-away, exotic destinations should probably wait until kids are old enough to really appreciate them (and not drive everyone nuts on the long plane ride getting there.) But what is “old enough?” Five? Eight? Past ten? As always, it depends upon your individual child.

My son may not have been old enough to really “appreciate” Paris, but there was no way that I was not going to go and enjoy it with my husband and older daughter, especially living right there in Europe. We all took delight in the discovery of pistachio macaroons at Laduree, too.

There was no way that I was not going to have my daughter join me in Japan for a few weeks, either, and as long as she was coming that far, there was no way she was going to miss my favorite city in the world, Hong Kong.

Selfish? Fine, I’m selfish.

My daughter also read the article. She didn’t care for most of it, but did agree with the assertion that all of her travels have in fact made her a bit ho-hum about discovering the rest of the world. “I’ve already seen all of the important stuff, the stuff anyone cares about.” It’s no use telling a teenager that such comments are completely absurd; that there are world-class cities and whole continents she’s yet to visit.

I don’t worry about it because I was the exact same way as a young teenager.

I grew up in a Navy family and also lived overseas, in the Middle East, with lots of European and U.S. travel thanks to my parents. I, too, thought I knew it all….doesn’t every teen? I remember my parents worrying that I was too “jaded” (that was the word they used.)

Does that mean that they shouldn’t have taken me all over? I think not. With maturity I came to appreciate the gift of travel, and I’m still eager to see around the next corner and over the mountaintop.

I do know that I was making plans to visit Morocco a few years back, and my well-traveled father rather bluntly indicated that my young son was simply not ready for the jam-packed souk in Marrakesh or getting a stomach disorder and being miserable. What I considered “exotic” might well have been plain “scary” to my kids. He reminded me that I had been 10-12 when we hit some of the funkier places in the Middle East. I thought about it, and for my family at that time, he was right.

We went to Pisa & Florence instead.

The whole world is still waiting out there, it’s not going anywhere, and my family and I have every intention of seeing a lot more of it.

Update 17 October 2006: Thanks to TripHub for featuring this post on the latest Carnival of Travel, featuring the topic of family travel.