Travelling is a brilliant way to bond, spend time together and enjoy new experiences. But, for children travel offers so much more. The powerful and lasting impact experiencing our world has is life changing. Travelling to other cultures, engaging with local communities provides building blocks that transform and develop children into adulthood.
How does travel influence children?
A 2019 study of 1500 teachers found nearly 75 percent believed travel has a “positive impact on students personal development”. The study, commissioned by the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) found the majority of educators believe travel opens up new experiences for children, experiences that can only be found out-with our every day lives. Children who are encouraged to step out from their comfort zone and experience other cultures display higher levels of independence and confidence. They are more willing to learn and explore.
Learning & creating new opportunities
There is no better way to learn about the ancient Egyptians than by visiting Luxor or Cairo. No textbooks, history lessons or documentaries can replace the real-life education your kids get when ‘out in the field’.
When travelling opportunities to learn present themselves daily. The bizarre sound of howler monkeys in the Costa Rican jungle; eating from street carts in Bangkok; or visiting a local African school are all exciting and new experiences for children.
The science bit
Scientists agree being on holiday with their parents can be a profoundly beneficial time for children. Parents are not focused on work and are therefore giving kids their most precious commodity: time.
Family holidays also advance brain development in children. Panksepp (2016) discovered two systems at work that are generally “unexercised” in normal, everyday home-life. He refers to them as the PLAY system and the SEEKING system.
The brain’s PLAY system is exercised every time you bury your child’s feet in the sand or take them for a piggy-back ride. The SEEKING system kicks in when exploring: Once triggered, well-being neurochemicals kick in. Panksepp calls them “nature’s gift to us”. They reduce stress and spark warm, euphoric feelings towards each other.
Taking your children travelling, supporting their explorative urge (SEEKING system) brings about brain growth in the frontal lobes. This is the part of the brain involved in social intelligence and well-focused, goal-directed behaviours that may last a lifetime (Panksepp 2015; Burgdorf et al, 2010)
Not every child will squeal with delight at the idea of swimming in coral and looking for the bright rainbow coloured fish, or flying down a zip wire through the amazon rainforest. Travel brings out the explorer in us, the curious side of our nature. Through this curiosity we become less fearful and actively seek out new and interesting experiences.
Teaching children about diversity, allowing them to explore ideas of tolerance and a greater understanding of others are all positive attributes of well travelled children. One of the benefits of travel is it reminds people both of the incredible value of our diversity on this planet and the differences we have. Travel also reminds us of what we share, of what we have in common.
In today’s fragmented and uncertain world, our children need to have a cosmopolitan world view. Benefits of travel, including increased levels of tolerance towards other cultures and ethnicities will be vital as our planet faces it’s future. Opening our children’s minds and eyes, giving them the courage to explore and tolerate differences is possibly one of the greatest gifts.
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