Family travel — not just recreational but transformational

AUTHOR: Rainer Jenss, Founder, Family Travel Association

Rainer Jens

If you’re a parent, did you ever get that dreadful feeling of thinking the free-spirited traveling life of your youth would suddenly be reduced to having to choose between Disney Theme Parks, all-inclusive resorts with kids clubs, and family road trips to visit relatives? That your days of roaming freely to wherever you wanted to go or using your passport were put on standby until the kids graduated high school?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these aforementioned vacation options as they are each wonderful to do with your kids. It’s just the feeling that venturing too far and wide with children or doing something that isn’t intrinsically family-friendly isn’t really the right thing to do - or even feasible.

The reality is that having children doesn’t mean your choices when traveling become more limited. Quite the opposite in fact. You’ll be relieved to know that starting a family will ultimately broaden your horizons of where, how, and even why to travel.

From my own experiences and subsequent writings on the subject, I’ve learned that parents who are willing to take on the challenges of traveling with children are rewarded in ways they never would have expected.

You can’t put a price tag on seeing the bewilderment in your child’s eyes the first time they see the waterfalls of Yosemite National Park, or the exhilaration that comes from mom, dad, and the kids putting on their masks and snorkels to swim together with tropical fish in the Caribbean. I can also remember vividly high-fiving my eight-year-old son after surviving a whitewater rafting trip we took on the Snake River outside Jackson, Wyoming.

Moments like these are only a few examples of how vacationing as a family can be just as transformational as it is recreational, for the kids and for yourselves. Above all else, these travel experiences bring a family closer together, something that is often taken for granted or assumed, and remains so important to every member of the family.

There are so many benefits of traveling as a family. Exposing the kids to new cultures and perspectives is certainly among them. Allowing children to go beyond the confines and familiarity of their hometowns will only heighten their sense of curiosity and wonder and foster self-esteem and independence.

Vacations can strengthen their connections to wildlife and the natural world, relationships that are increasingly important for fostering environmental stewardship. There is always the potential to form life-long lasting friendships with the people you meet along the way. And of course, family travel will enrich a child’s education and teach them new life skills. Snowboarding, horseback riding, and learning to sail are just a few examples of things we usually only try for the first time when we’re on holiday.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was seeing how our travels with the kids promoted a sense of self-discovery. How we didn’t just explore the world around us, but ourselves as well. Had it not been for traveling so much with my children, I probably never would have started writing about
our adventures - never mind creating the Family Travel Association in 2014. Following many years of traveling together, my older son’s passion for aeronautics blossomed and now his first job after graduating college is with SpaceX. But ultimately, the key is in togetherness and memory-making, no matter where or how families travel.

At its best, traveling with family can change our perception of ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us. The travel memories you create traveling as a family will serve you in ways you can’t predict until you step outside and do it.