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Should You Travel Overseas with Small Kids?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty Images: Win McNamee
*Updated 2023
With Covid-19 (thankfully) in the rearview mirror, family vacations are one of the fastest-growing segments of the US tourism industry. While traveling with kids can provide an opportunity to spend quality family time and create life-lasting memories, it can also be demanding, draining and costly. This leads some families to forego overseas travel until their kids have passed toddlerhood and elementary-school age and are older and more mature – in their teens.
Here are three reasons to seize the moment and travel overseas with your kids and three reasons to wait until they’re older.


Three reasons traveling with kids overseas is great


Shows your children how much you value them

Traveling with kids overseas shows them how important they are to you. When you take your kids with you on a trip abroad, it is a direct way of communicating your desire to spend time with them. And, when children feel valued, it fosters a great opportunity to bond as a family. Involving your children in trip-planning and introducing new and exciting global travel experiences into their lives will not only increase their decision-making skills but also their abilities to adapt to changing situations. It will also help them develop a sense of sense of self-worth. Not to mention that overseas trips together are a great way to reduce the void that kids feel when their parents travel without them.


A truly educational experience

Ninety percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of life. But even long after toddlerhood, kids’ brains are like sponges in these formative years. Everything a child thinks, sees, hears and touches transfers into an electrical activity – stimulating the brain. The minds of well-traveled children are broadened through learning about different cultures, geographies, topologies and cuisines firsthand. When children travel overseas, the world becomes their school.  For example, they can learn the local alphabet or basic phrases of a foreign country that they can practice on the spot. They can also experience history and geography through the global landmarks at which important events actually took place.


Boosts awareness for self and the world

Overseas travel can thrust little kids out of their comfort zones. True, this may lead to meltdowns, but those moments do not represent the entirety of the children’s experiences. Spending time in different cultures lays the groundwork for teaching children through example how to communicate with diverse people. It also enables them to develop patience, as well as a greater appreciation for what the larger world outside their own has to offer. Additionally, it instills the value of experience over material possessions in them; they will learn that there exists a world beyond their screens.

Overseas travel is not for young children


Traveling with kids is costly

While many American families dream about taking an exotic vacation far from home, the sad reality is that most families cannot afford to travel internationally. Traveling with kids means you’re paying for more seats on modes of transportation, more beds in hotels and more mouths at restaurants. Why spend money on a vacation that young children will likely not remember, as permanent memories tend not to be stored in a child’s long-term memory before the age of three or four?



Travel and jet lag is hard on the whole family

Traveling with young kids overseas is physically difficult. Between schlepping them through crowded airports, having to keep them quiet during long flights, and getting them regulated to new time zones and cuisines, fine overseas travel can be exhausting and demanding. Plus, younger kids come with a lot of paraphernalia – from carrycots to booster seats, it’s a lot to pack up and carry. The younger the kids, the less mature and therefore less capable they will be of acclimating to new situations – and more likely to throw an overtired tantrum in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. While they may still feel the effects of jet lag, older children will better be able to handle its impact compared to their younger selves. Keep in mind that when older kids can’t sleep, they can at least entertain themselves; with young children, parents also have to endure sleepless nights.


Your kids will appreciate the trip more when they’re older

When kids are young, the destination they travel to matters much less than the fact that they are going on a family outing. However, once they are tweens and teens, your children will begin to understand what a privilege overseas travel is and will become excited by the sights and cultures they encounter. This means that choices of destination can be more varied and exotic with older kids, as they’ll be more physically able to handle hiking to the top of volcanoes or scuba diving with dolphins. Also, giving your teens a taste of travel may lead them to volunteer abroad after high school, which is said to build character and impart vital skills.


The Bottom Line: Traveling with kids of any age overseas is a personal decision that depends on parental interests, budget, and your kids’ temperaments. So, do you prefer international travel with little ones or to wait until they’re older?


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