Photo: Olesia Bilkei/Shutterstock

4 Reasons My Vacations as a Kid Were Pointless (and 2 Reasons I'm Glad We Went Anyway)

by Alyssa James Feb 5, 2014

I told my mom she was selfish to take me on all those vacations when I was young. I said that if I have kids, I won’t take them out of the country until they’re 10 or so. Besides being a terrible daughter, I actually have really good reasons for my assertions.

All of that traveling was for her, not me.

I asked my mom why she took my brother and me to Universal Studios when I was two and he was practically still a fetus.

“I just loved seeing you guys happy,” she said. She’s a sweetheart. However, I also think that having us on vacations with her made her experience richer. Parents traveling with kids tend to interact with more people and see the places they visit through child-like eyes — with a fun and fresh perspective.

Traveling with children and seeing their reactions to new sights, smells, and sounds is a truly enriching experience — and a great opportunity for memorable photos, because that’s all the kids will ever know about those experiences.

I don’t remember any of those trips we took.

I went to Jamaica a couple times as a toddler. I rode a donkey, swam in the ocean, explored the limestone caves in Negril. Before you start saying how amazing that is and how jealous you are — stop. I’m actually a little resentful about the whole thing.

I only know that I did those things because of the photos my parents took. Besides that, it frustrates me that I was present for things as a child — like meeting Mickey Mouse and climbing Dunn’s River Falls — that I haven’t had the opportunity to do as an adult.

What I do remember, I was way too young to appreciate.

We did a road trip from Canada through the US all the way to Florida, stopping in cities like New York and Atlanta to go up the Empire State Building and visit Civil Rights monuments, and all I wanted to do was watch movies in the van so we could get to Disney World faster.

I couldn’t grasp the historical and cultural significance of what I was seeing, and so despite the good intentions, to me, it felt like a waste of time.

It was completely over-indulgent.

It’s pretty indulgent to take children to expensive places and faraway lands just so they can have fun. My brother and I went to Disney World when we were quite young, and literally all we wanted to do was play in our hotel swimming pool.

When I told my partner I stayed in all-inclusive resorts as a kid, he was completely taken aback. He told me that on vacation, he and his brothers would play a game called Pooh Sticks, and it’s one of his fondest memories of traveling as a kid. They didn’t go far, but he had fun playing a simple game that involved throwing sticks over a bridge. I laughed and thought, what a silly game, but after some consideration I realized his story speaks to the fact that vacations don’t have to be elaborate to be memorable.

Before you criticize me for being a spoiled and privileged brat, you should know that isn’t the case. I recognize I was very lucky, but I also know my mom sacrificed a lot of things so my brother and I could travel and be happy. In fact, she agreed with me on some of these points — especially that it may have been better to wait until we were older for some of the big trips.

* * *
And yet, after giving it some more thought, I’m willing to make some concessions. I got a lot out of these vacations as well.
I grew up to be very globally minded, with an interest in travel, culture, and language.

Thanks to travel, I became viscerally — rather than conceptually — aware of different cultures and the global experience. I had family around the world and I grew up knowing about doing things differently than others.

From birth, children are building neural connections in their brains. The more new and different experiences a child has, the more complex the connections, in turn making them more curious, intelligent, and adaptable than those with a predictable routine. I think if it weren’t for the travel, I literally wouldn’t be the person I am today.

I nurtured my wanderlust through studying language and culture while growing up — something I continue to do via slow travel and living abroad. Thinking about the people I know who didn’t have the opportunities to travel abroad quite so young, many don’t really see the point in spending time in foreign countries beyond getting away from the cold Canadian winter.

I learned that any travel will do.

We didn’t always take long trips, but my brother and I did get to do a lot of new things with our parents and different family members. Though it may not have been a new country or continent, it was still travel because we were changing our routine and exploring something new. Some of my fondest memories are of birthday parties some place I’d never been before, going ice skating and swimming.

Travel is about challenging your perspective and exploring, and you don’t need to take a kid across a country to do that. It can start in your own backyard by helping them see something in a way they hadn’t before, looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary. Because that’s what travel feels like: seeing the remarkable in something that’s everyday to other people.

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