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10 Important Life Skills for Kids Learned from Travel

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Far too often, parents who are keen to travel with their children are shamed and discouraged. This breaks my heart; just as these parents are building the confidence to begin this rewarding and exciting journey, others are stealing their joy. Don’t let this be you. Travel isn’t solely about making memories. The experience of travel is rich with opportunities to teach your children invaluable life skills that will serve them personally and professionally. The next time someone challenges your decision to travel with children, use this list to share life skills for kids learned from travel to educate and possibly encourage them to take the leap (and certainly tune out any negativity they are sending you!).

Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective. – Rick Steves

A 2015/2016 study by the Institute of International Education demonstrates just how valuable travel life lessons can be. Exchange programs are a multi-million-dollar industry, and alumni from such programs have gone on to lead countries, corporations, and countless international organizations. They are innovators, negotiators, diplomats, and explorers. But travel life lessons can begin long before your child is eligible to consider a study abroad program.

Aside from the booming study abroad industry, the self-help and personal growth industry was worth an estimated $9.9B in 2016. In our post-pandemic world, people have turned their focus inward. There is growing interest in personal growth, life skills, and emotional intelligence, driving an anticipated growth of this industry to as much as $13B in 2023, as people try to determine how to be both happy and successful. In reading Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, I realized that the foundations of many of the habits he references, such as mindset and proactiveness, are rooted in the life skills one learns through travel. Traveling with your child from an early age will establish a strong foundation on which to build these further.

Here are some of the best life skills your child can learn through traveling!

Boy studying map in preparation for hiking a mountain
The life skills for kids learned from travel are many. For example, there are endless opportunities for kids to
practice navigation skills!

1. Navigation: Navigation goes beyond reading Google Maps. Step into an airport and you’ll quickly notice those who can confidently identify where they are on the airport map and how to reach their gate, possibly in a different terminal entirely, quickly, and effectively. They can determine where to stop for a coffee and a bathroom break on the way. Navigating confidently includes asking for directions and advice. Traveling presents the perfect opportunity to fine-tune this skill.  Allow your child to find the route and lead you, show them how to check the gate number on a boarding pass, and count how far many gates ahead it is located.

When you consider this life skill, imagine arriving for a job interview in a new city, in a giant building, and how this skill is critical. A candidate must be able to find the location of their interview without allowing it to derail their frame of mind for the interview itself. Travel presents a great opportunity to build this life skill.

2. Advance Planning: Trip preparation often begins well in advance of ever stepping foot in a car, a train, or a plane. Thinking through packing lists, and researching sightseeing, temperatures, and routes are all part of developing a mindset that can plan in advance. As my child has gotten older, he has taken an even greater role in our travel planning, sharing specifics about what he’d like to visit or see based on things he has learned about, read, or researched. (be warned: this resulted in having to integrate a side trip to another town to visit a tank museum because it had some rare equipment….you see where this is going, lol!)

Navigating and planning a trip is like managing a project,

with budgets, milestones, timelines, and deliverables.

3. Punctuality: Timeliness as a life skill is critical but isn’t solely about arriving on time for a meeting or a concert. Being on time also demonstrates respect for the others who are waiting to engage with you and an awareness that their time is equally valuable.

For young children, reading the time and understanding how much time remains before a flight, a tour, or an arrival, are great life skills from travel scenarios. If they have their own watch, they can learn to read the time and associated calculations.

4. Strategic Thinking: While you are traveling, you need to be thinking a little beyond the beautiful scenery and tasty food. You need to keep track of your items, or make sure you have a safe place to store them. Perhaps you are boarding a bus trip for several hours and won’t have access to purchase food, so you need to consider allowing time for a quick grocery stop before boarding. You need to consider your budget and how far that will get you, will you be able to afford everything you were planning on? You might be headed to a place that requires a series of vaccinations in advance. As my child has grown older and grown more familiar with the process of traveling, I have increasingly given him more responsibility to think through some of these types of scenarios. As with most life skills, the only way you really start to build on it is by doing it.

Young boy with large suitcases ready to head to airport. Life skills for kids learned from travel, like advance planning, start with packing.
Advance planning and strategically thinking about what you pack in your bag is a critical life skill.
Boy standing in Pittsburgh airport in front of Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils
Airports are increasingly setting up wonderful exhibits that help solve the problem of keeping busy during layovers!
Boy sitting in chair waiting in hotel lobby with backpack
Being flexible and patient when your room isn’t ready is a life skill from travel I wish more people learned!

5. Flexibility: Being flexible and being able to pivot or adapt to a new plan is a life skill that I wish I saw in more adults. Travel can be trying and sometimes challenging. When my little guy was just 2, we were on a flight home that was unable to land due to weather and was rerouted to another city. After many hours on the tarmac, the flight was canceled altogether and we had to deplane, collect baggage, and make arrangements for a new flight the next day – at 1 am! These kinds of unexpected situations are part of travel, and I hope that I was able to set an example for him that this can be done efficiently, and effectively, while still being kind to others. Life will never be without twists and turns, but we have a choice in how we handle these curveballs.

Normal implies status quo, but things are always changing, and if you don’t change, you don’t grow.

– Dr. Pauline Boss, family therapist, educator, author, and researcher

6. Self-Reliance: This is a life skill that does, in fact, help make your child more resilient and will ultimately help them find their purpose. Though your children are reliant on you during your travels together, they will begin to grow more independently confident. They will learn to entertain themselves when waiting in line or at an airport. They will learn to read the signs or descriptions in museums to learn on their own, and as a result, they will develop their own unique interests. They will develop a point of view about a place or its history. I think about my own child and sincerely hope this life skill helps him navigate moments like setting up a bank account, solving college class registration challenges, and asking for directions – real-life scenarios that he will need to someday solve without me.

7. Disappointment: Throughout a lifetime of travel experiences, there will also be disappointments. Perhaps a place you’d dreamed about isn’t what you’d hoped. Or you arrive only to find out your location is under construction. You might not succeed in securing tickets for a tour or you might be disappointed that you have limited time to savor an experience. Understanding how to navigate through times of disappointment is a critical life skill that will help your child grow and develop personal coping mechanisms.

8. Patience: You only need to take your child to Disney World one time to be reminded of the need for patience. Perhaps this is the life skill I see absent from adults far too often. The reality is that we increasingly experience instant gratification, particularly through technology. My child isn’t even used to waiting for television ads! Coupled with self-reliance, traveling with your child presents endless opportunities to learn to be patient. However, it’s in those moments we can learn to be mindful and learn to be observant. It’s like a triple win for life skills on this one!

Patience is a life skill for kids learned from travel in an airport queue for checking in baggage
Travel Queues: Perfect place to learn patience!
Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

9. Respectfulness: I really love visiting cultures and places with my kid that are as different from our everyday life as possible. This really gives us an opportunity to learn to respect other ways of life, or point of view (even if we don’t agree with or like it!). It’s an amazing way to learn more about how to consider actions that might be deemed offensive in some places. In my opinion, respect isn’t about agreeing, it is about how you react to a person, place, or action, whether you enjoy it or not. This may be one of the most important life skills for kids learned from travel.

10. Gratitude: Travel is definitely a privilege and it’s not lost on us that we are very lucky to have the opportunity to experience so many new places. I believe that we have also learned to value the time together – the shared adventures. Honoring the experience, even as we look back at photos after the trip, enables reinforcement of that gratitude.  

The life skills for kids learned from travel definitely include self-reliance, which means being able to ask for help! Photo by Steven Thompson on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Working in the corporate world, I’ve often been tasked with interviewing young new hires, often coming straight out of school. While I am keen to hear about their studies and what they want to gain from the job, I’m particularly interested to learn more about the foundational skills they bring with them. The reality is, they will learn Excel and PowerPoint, and they will learn how to draft proposals and complete reports on the job. But the foundation sets them apart from their peers because this helps me understand how much of a self-starter, an initiative taker, or a person who can navigate complicated processes they might be. So, I often include questions about their travel experiences in my interviews. Don’t underestimate the value of the life skills kids learn from travel.

Know that the investment you make in travel is one that goes beyond making memories, spending quality time together, exploring, and adventure. You are investing in the emotional development of your kids also. The life skills for kids learned from travel are skills that will help form who they are as adults, and will serve them both personally and professionally. Happy Roaming!

3 Responses

  1. Yolanda
    | Reply

    As a seasoned world traveler who also circled the globe frequently with multiple children…. you nailed it. congratulations 🎉. Looking forward to more helpful and interesting posts !!

  2. Lisa Vogelman
    | Reply

    What a great perspective! I especially love the point about gratitude. Travel not only provides gratitude because of the privilege of unexpected experiences, it also provides a new viewpoint for cherishing all the luxuries we take for granted. Furthermore, our children are exposed to new ways of thinking, very different than traditional western cultures. New aspects of beauty may present themselves, and expand creative thinking for later! Thanks for the great post!

  3. Charlotte
    | Reply

    Very good points!

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