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March 05, 2009

Travel Lessons for Kids and Parents Alike

By Guest Blogger

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THE LONG HAUL: Hour 15 in transit with the kids at the airport (Fred Lee)

We had been traveling continuously for about fifteen hours, and been awake for at least eighteen since departing from Madrid. After a week in Spain followed by a week in Italy, we were looking forward to just getting back to Vermont, but had to contend with the physical and mental exhaustion of our journey home.

If it had just been my wife, Ruth, and I, we would have simply sucked it up and accepted our fatigue as part of the trip, but one look at our kids, Audrey and Nicholas (ages seven and five, respectively), trying their best to hold it together on the floor beside us, was enough to make our hearts ache. Traveling is hard, but when you travel with young children, the challenges can seem insurmountable.

To compound the matter, we still had about five more hours to go before getting home, including a two-hour flight to Boston followed by a two-hour bus ride to our car, then a half-hour drive home (the unfortunate consequence of living in the country). And, of course, our connecting flight was not only delayed, but a nasty storm had brought with it gale force winds and heavy rain, increasing our level of angst and frustration.

It is during times like this that I often ask myself, why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through considerable duress, not to mention expense, to get on a plane and travel halfway across the globe, when life would be so much simpler if we just stayed at home and dealt with the many challenges of our daily lives?

As I looked down at our children, patiently sitting on our carry-on bags and waiting to get on the plane, the answer was really right before our eyes. While it's true that travel can be hard and can push us to our limits, we are firm believers that it's also an enriching experience that helps keep our lives in perspective, reminding us to appreciate its seemingly inconsequential moments.

Furthermore, the lessons learned through travel are unique and rewarding, and can have a positive impact on children and parents alike, especially when you experience them together and grow as a family.

Mind you, there are many different ways to accomplish this. We could've made it much simpler by choosing a pre-packaged vacation or gone to a resort, where everything would've been planned and laid out for us. When we travel, however, we prefer to avoid things that are redolent of our home life, embracing what many may view as the negative aspect of travel: the unpredictability of the unknown.

Indeed, a large part of why we travel in the first place is to instill in our children and ourselves the ability to embrace adventure and new experiences rather than fearfully avoid them, and to understand that the world is a wondrous place, worth exploring. After all, life should be a journey of discovery, and not simply a process of getting from point A to B. Along the way, things often don’t go according to plan. But rather than avoid the hiccups altogether, we want our children to confront them head on, both the good and the bad, and know that there are rewards to taking a chance now and then.

When you really get down to it, we work hard in our daily lives in the sensible quest to surround ourselves with comfort and familiarity. No parent would want to compromise that, especially when it concerns the safety and well-being of his or her family. Travel, however, is a great way for us to break free from the routines that can sometimes hold us back and enter into an environment that is both challenging and new.

Consequently, when we operate outside of our comfort zones and try to speak a different language, use a foreign currency, learn new customs, try new and exotic foods where there are (thankfully) no kids menus, or try to navigate an unfamiliar city with kids in tow, we not only experience growth, but we learn to appreciate, even pine for, the banality of our home life.

Now don’t get me wrong. Children need predictability and regularity in their lives. But children also benefit from learning firsthand that while life can be messy and unpredictable, most of our problems, not just in travel, but in life, can be overcome.

Our flight into Boston was a rough ride, with the turbulence wreaking havoc on our nerves. The moment the wheels touched the ground, however, I looked over at Audrey and Nicholas sleeping peacefully next to us and breathed a huge sigh of relief. We were almost there.

We managed to catch the last bus up to Vermont, avoiding, just barely, the need to get a hotel in Boston for the night, and though the ride home seemed interminable at the time, there was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Back in Vermont, we were grateful and relieved that our car started after sitting idle for two weeks, and with the kids asleep in back, we headed into the final stretch of our odyssey, gazing fondly at the beautiful Vermont scenery that we manage to ignore in our daily commute to work. Pulling into the driveway, we stumbled in through the front door, greeted our cats, and then whisked Audrey and Nicholas off to bed. Ruth and I retired to the living room, where we built a fire in the wood stove and then stretched out joyfully on the couch that we tend to complain so much about, savoring the delicious warmth that began to fill the chilly room. It sure felt good to be home, and we were looking forward to sleeping in our own beds and waking up the next morning to a good breakfast with the children, in the small town that we love so much. I don’t know about you, but for whatever reason, we don’t manage to feel this way every day.   --Fred Lee

Fred writes the blog Parenting the Hard Way, and is always looking forward to his family's next big adventure. When he's not traveling, he spends his time at home being a dad and training to be a real man in the wilds of Vermont.

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Related Topics: European Travel · Family Vacation


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Thanks for the comment, Jenny. I personally love Andalucía (Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba), but I think that, given your timing, you’ll want to hop between the big guns, eg. Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome, spending a couple of days in each city. Start in Madrid and train it over to Barcelona (3 hours; visit for more info) followed by a cheap flight on a carrier like Iberia or Vueling from Barcelona to Rome. For ideas about what to do in each of these places, check out’s Europe family-travel guides at:

You’ll also find recommendations here for the best family hotels in Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome, as selected by veteran family-travel writer Candyce Stapen. --

We are planning a trip to Spain and Italy this summer and I ran across your blog and I am wondering with only 4 days at ea location do you have any recommendations? Our kids are 11 and 9.

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