As a mom in the travel industry with two daughters who have had to pull along their own suitcases from early childhood upon arrival to the chaos of some international destinations, I have often weighed in on the debate among parents over whether or not to postpone more adventurous or extensive travel for a later age when the children will “benefit more.” In fact, the opposite seems to be true, just as with learning a language, children benefit from travel as young as possible, in any capacity possible, and recent statistics show that consistent travel has significant lifelong benefits for children. My personal family travels and tales from all the families we have crossed paths with over the years further validates current research indicating that experiencing travel in childhood makes children smarter and more successful.
A recent survey of over 2500 adults and 1200 youth by the Travel Effect project revealed that adults who traveled regularly as children had above average grades, higher educational attainment, and 12% higher than average incomes. Survey respondents also indicated that their most vivid memories from age 5 to 10 were from family trips.
In this global age, it is even further encouraging to know that the specific reasons WHY travel makes children smarter encompass some of the hottest buzz words in education in the world today.
Problem Solving, Creativity, and Analytical Thinking
Travel boosts higher level thinking. In effect, travel keeps us on our toes in terms of learning how to think, a fact supported by recent studies in brain science. Cognitively, the brain is constantly filtering and organizing every bit of information we are exposed to. When we are in familiar territory, our analytical capabilities are on cruise control, we filter and process essential information from concrete, relatively simplistic contexts. Yet travel promotes the phenomenon in psychology known as the “distant condition,” which is proven to increase creativity, more complex analysis, and, in turn, advanced problem solving. In a recent study by Indiana University, spatial distance, being in a foreign physical environment, significantly increased participants’ capacity for creative problem solving. When we travel, our brain is cued to interpret the world, both near and at home, from a more open-minded and varied perspective.
Social and Emotional Intelligence
When children travel, they deepen their awareness and understanding of people, which increases empathy and social connectedness. Educators in today’s global world acknowledge the fundamental importance of social intelligence to a student’s success both in school and in life. Perhaps most significant for raising children, interpersonal skills and social awareness are also hallmarks of effective leadership. In communicating and understanding the unfamiliar human environment they are exposed to in travel, children learn more profoundly how to interpret emotional and representational cues that cultivate empathy, trust, and a richer human understanding.
Paul Tough’s 2012 book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character brought a spotlight to the greater movement in alternative education to highlight and quantify how crucial character development is to students’ ability to learn and ultimately live a fulfilling life. Defined as persistence, resilience, and determination, grit is now acknowledged by educators as an essential component of successful growth for children, coming full circle to embrace the need to learn by trial and error that the current generation of helicopter parents seems to have forgotten. Travel takes a lot of effort, it is challenging, things will always go wrong, but in the end, it is eminently rewarding, precisely because of these difficulties. For children, experiencing the pitfalls of travel—watching their parents get lost and then find their way, ordering the wrong thing at a restaurant, or missing home—builds the character attributes of grit with the added boost of trust and self-assurance that comes along with it, and, finally, courage.
It goes without saying, that as parents, we grow together with our children as we travel. So let’s all get out there and hit the road with our little geniuses, and bring our knowledge and insights back with us to further cultivate these worthwhile benefits here at home.
By Shannon Kenny
Author Shannon Kenny is the Founding Editor of Italiakids.com, Director of the Arte al Sole children’s arts and cultural programs in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a boutique travel concierge specializing in custom travel to Italy and Europe.
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