When you think of family vacations, what comes to mind first may not be the benefits, but the stress and cost. After all, taking kids on a trip can be expensive — over $4,000 on average, according to a 2018 Bankrate survey.
But research shows that vacations are not only good for us, they’re also good for our kids. From providing much-needed family time in our overworked world to making kids smarter, packing up for a family trip can be well worth the effort and expense.
Here are some of the major benefits of taking your family on vacation.
1. Vacations Boost Your Productivity
If you plan to forgo a vacation this year, you’re not alone. Almost 50% of respondents told Bankrate they wouldn’t be taking a trip, and only 36% planned on using all their vacation days.
One of the top reasons Americans cite for not going on vacation is the inability to take time off work. But research consistently shows that taking a vacation can help your bottom line by making you more productive when you are at work.
In fact, several studies show that not taking a vacationing can derail your career by leading to stress, burnout, illness, and depression. All of these can significantly impair your ability to focus, be creative, and complete tasks. As a result, your career may stall, and you may be passed over for raises and promotions.
2. Vacations Reduce Stress for the Entire Family
A survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that as many as 75% of children said their parents brought work home, and six out of seven said they brought work stress home along with it.
Parents’ inability to set work aside has significant consequences for kids. A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that the more stress parents experience, the less supportive they are when responding to their kids’ negative emotions. And children deal with plenty of their own stress; according to the Travel Association, 8 in 10 children reported experiencing stress daily. Other research shows that stress is on the rise among kids. For example, the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 Stress in America survey found that teens’ stress levels are higher than adults’.
When you take some time off work, it can help reduce your kids’ stress. The Travel Association survey found that 77% percent of kids reported feeling no stress at all when their parents made more time for family time. Even a single day off can help. While only 19% of kids in the survey reported being in a good mood on an average day, that number soared to 60% when parents took time off to spend with them.
Moreover, as parents, we can take future stress off our children’s shoulders by teaching them what’s truly valuable. Katie Denis, author of the Travel Association report, tells the Harvard Business Review, “What worries me the most is we’re not only telling kids that working all the time is acceptable behavior, we’re creating a new norm. And if that’s the case, our kids are going to think it’s OK – and it’s only going to get worse.”
3. Vacations Promote Family Bonding
The average family’s overscheduled lifestyle cuts into family time. Many parents spend their off-hours shuttling kids from one event to the next, whether it’s sports, music lessons, or tutoring.
What’s worse, downtime in many homes is typically spent staring at some type of screen. Even though family members are physically together, they’re not truly spending time together.
By contrast, shared life experiences outside the normal routine can bring families closer together. Research reported by The Washington Post shows that the amount of time you spend with your kids isn’t what matters; it’s what you do with them in that time that counts. If you spend lots of time with your kids, but it’s in front of screens, it won’t matter as much to them as the occasional family board game night or family camping trip.
Travel provides plenty of time for families to spend together, whether that means hiking through caverns, riding roller coasters, swimming with dolphins, or sitting around a campfire. It frees families from the everyday distractions of work, school, and daily routines and gives them a chance to enjoy each other’s company.
Even seeming misadventures can become opportunities for fun and bonding. I still remember a family camping trip from my childhood where we attempted to canoe in a stream that had become too shallow after a dry spell. The times my dad, sister, and I had to hop out of the canoe and drag it through shallow water could have been frustrating, but I remember them as being fun and silly.
Travel can even bring families together in the planning stages. My parents allowed my sister and me to plan the family’s first trip to Disney World. Like any siblings, we were prone to fighting, but we had a lot of fun bonding time while planning which parks we’d go to each day, what we’d do, and where we’d eat.
4. Travel Makes Kids Smarter
Travel gives kids real-world experience outside the classroom, and kids learn best by doing. While reading books and looking at pictures certainly has its place, nothing beats hands-on experience.
When kids travel, there are all kinds of things to learn. International travel gives them firsthand experience of how others live. They taste the food others eat, encounter another language, and immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of another culture.
Domestic travel offers its own opportunities. Kids have a natural sense of wonder and are awed by anything new and different. You can enhance the learning experience by involving them in the trip-planning stage. Teach them about where they’ll be going, point out where it is on a map, and discuss the interesting things they’ll see.
Child psychotherapist Dr. Margot Sunderland tells The Telegraph that family vacations provide children with rich learning environments that give them new social, physical, cognitive, and sensory experiences. These experiences turn on the genetic expression of key brain “fertilizers” in the frontal lobes, which enhance executive functions such as focus, planning, and concentration. Sunderland says that these enriched environments are also associated with higher intelligence. So when parents spend time with their kids exploring a new place, the experiences actually make their kids smarter.
Research shows that kids who travel score higher grades in math and reading than those who don’t. A 2011 study found that children who traveled over summer break scored higher in math, reading, and general knowledge than kids who didn’t travel. A 2018 study came to a similar conclusion, finding a positive link between family vacations and reading achievement.
And research shows that you don’t have to take your kids to historic Gettysburg or tour the Met to stimulate their brains. Simply exposing them to a new environment is enough.
5. Travel Expands Kids’ Social Awareness
When kids step outside their own city, state, or country, their understanding of the world expands. They see how people live in other communities, which can be difficult for them to grasp conceptually. They discover a world that’s different from theirs and learn that people experience life in different ways. Travel also helps kids understand that even though people may look different, sound different, and live differently, we’re also the same in many ways.
Travel also teaches kids empathy and compassion. Many kids don’t realize how lucky they are to have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their stomachs. If you take them to a less-developed country or go on a volunteer project in this one, they can see firsthand that having the latest tech gadget isn’t normal for many people. It can help encourage gratitude for what they have and compassion for the plight of others.
In a survey of teachers conducted by the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), a majority of teachers reported that students who traveled developed an increased tolerance of and sensitivity toward others. The study also found that kids who traveled were more likely to be outgoing and have better self-expression than kids who didn’t.
Travel gives kids opportunities to engage with others who are different from them, boosting their social and interpersonal skills. These skills aren’t only important for life, but also for navigating the increasingly global and multicultural workspace they’ll be entering when they grow up.
6. Adventures Grow Kids’ Self-Confidence & Self-Concept
New experiences and adventures aren’t just fun. They also build kids’ self-confidence and self-concept, or sense of self.
Whether it’s riding the biggest roller coaster, camping out in the middle of the woods, or eating a beignet in New Orleans, trying new things teaches kids what they do and don’t like, what fascinates them, and what inspires them. That all helps build a child’s sense of self.
Moreover, as kids try new things, they develop greater self-confidence. Self-confidence is linked with self-efficacy, or the belief in your ability to complete tasks. Research shows that people with a high sense of self-efficacy are more likely to search for new solutions and persist with challenging tasks. Teachers have also noticed that travel can build kids’ confidence. In the SYTA study, 74% of teachers said that travel has “a very positive impact on children’s personal development.”
Travel presents kids with all kinds of opportunities to try new things in a low-pressure way. Even if they “fail” at something, the stakes are low. Vacations, after all, are about having fun.
7. Travel Teaches Kids to Be More Adaptable
The SYTA study also found that many teachers believe that travel makes kids more adaptable. Travel not only takes us out of our usual routines and comfort zones, but it also forces us to deal with all kinds of unpredictable situations. Some of these situations, such as flight delays or lost luggage, are negative. Others, such as discovering an off-the-beaten-path snorkeling spot or local market, are positive.
Travel is often about going with the flow. When children see how you deal with unexpected situations without losing your cool — or how willing you are to change the original plan when a new opportunity arises — they learn how to adapt and be flexible themselves.
8. Travel Encourages Independence & Teaches Responsibility
From planning to execution, travel can encourage independence and teach responsibility. For example, children can practice independence by making their own packing lists and packing their own suitcases — with varying levels of help depending on their age, of course. They can practice responsibility by keeping track of their own things while you travel. You can even give kids specific travel-related responsibilities, such as being the family photographer or navigator.
Kids also gain independence from trying new experiences. For example, younger kids can ride a zip line on their own or learn to ride a horse while you stand by. Teenagers may be able to explore a market on their own while you sip a latte in a nearby cafe. Giving kids some freedom to choose activities according to their age and ability helps them develop a sense of confidence in their own capabilities, which can pay off as they get older.
With parents acting as a safety net, kids become more willing to venture into the unknown. They encounter obstacles and new adventures and learn that they can navigate them. Family travel can give kids just enough space to develop confidence in their capabilities while knowing their parents are still there when they need them. As a result, the adults they become will be confident and capable of going it on their own.
9. Experiences Are More Valuable Than Things
Cost is the No. 1 reason many families never take vacations, according to the Bankrate survey. But when it comes to spending money, the University of Toronto says you’re much better off spending it on family vacations than on things such as toys.
Most parents, myself included, buy our kids toys because we love them, and seeing their faces light up with joy makes us feel good. But toys that are quickly set aside and forgotten aren’t the best way to foster the parent-child bond. As lead researcher Cindy Chan explains in a press release, “An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it – like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert, or the calmness of a spa – and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”
Psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James agrees. He tells The Telegraph, “Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and long afterward in their memory. It’s all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”
Granted, a family vacation is more expensive than even the latest gadget, but cutting back on toys can help you save up for that big trip. And the experience doesn’t have to be a trip. It could be as simple as taking a family day to visit the local zoo, museum, or water park. There are plenty of cheap and fun family vacation ideas to choose from.
10. Vacations Are an Opportunity to Teach Kids About Money
From planning a trip to going on one, family vacations provide all kinds of opportunities to teach kids about money.
For example, you can help kids fill a piggy bank over the year to save up spending money for your vacation. You can host a garage sale to make money for the trip and have your kids donate old toys to the cause.
You can also talk with your kids, especially older ones, about budgeting for the trip. Discuss how much each aspect — such as food, transportation, lodging, and entertainment — costs and how you plan to pay for the trip. That could include sharing with them the value of having a special savings fund for vacations or how to use credit cards responsibly.
Pro Tips: When you start planning a family vacation, set up a separate savings account in a high yield account at CIT Bank. This will help you avoid using your vacation fund on other expenses that might pop up.
11. Kids Can Travel Free or at a Discount
One of the perks of traveling with young kids is that they have access to a lot of free or discounted travel options. They ride free on many trains, buses, and boats, and they receive discounts at hotels. There are often no entry fees to attractions such as theme parks, zoos, and museums for very young children, and tickets are typically discounted for children under 12. Even eating out can mean discounted kids’ meals. Even though family vacations can be expensive, it can be far less expensive to travel with kids than with other adults.
12. You’re More Likely to Truly Relax
Family travel can help everyone — parents included — get some much-needed R&R.
If your typical travel itinerary has you hopping from one tourist attraction to the next, traveling with the family may help you take things at a slower pace. Kids’ curiosity and wonder at every little thing force you to linger over the scenery, taking in details you might have otherwise missed.
And although kids seem to have boundless energy, they may only be good for a few hours before needing to stop and rest. And if you’re traveling with young kids who have early bedtimes, there’s not much you can do but rest after you put them to bed. You can’t really make a lot of noise if you’re all piled into one hotel room.
13. You Get to Act Like a Kid Again
The joy and curiosity kids experience while traveling is infectious. Young kids help you see the world in whole new ways. And traveling with kids gives you a great excuse to do all kinds of fun things you might normally feel too old for. You can learn how to be a Jedi knight, dress up like a princess, cuddle with animals, jump in ocean waves, or drive a bumper car — all of which can help you relax and de-stress.
Family vacations let your kids see a side of you they may rarely see when you’re at home. Instead of giving them orders and instructions, you play with them on their level in what child expert Amy McCready calls the “child state.” This is the state in which kids form the strongest emotional connections. McCready says that what kids want more than anything is for parents to have fun and play with them.
14. Family Vacations Build Memories That Last a Lifetime
When I was a kid, my family rarely took lavish vacations; that one trip to Disney World was an exception. But we did travel together all the time. We went on a lot of camping trips and spent many summers at Grandma’s. And I vividly remember those experiences as much as I do that trip to Disney. What makes a vacation isn’t necessarily the destination, but the memories your family creates together.
According to research conducted by the Family Holiday Association and cited in HuffPost U.K., 49% of survey respondents said their happiest memory was of a family vacation. A third of respondents claimed they could still vividly remember their family vacations, and a quarter of them coped with stressful situations by recalling these happy memories. John McDonald, director of the Family Holiday Association, refers to these memories as “happiness anchors.” When we’re unhappy, conjuring these memories can bring us relief and help us deal with problems from a fresh perspective.
The positive impact of a family vacation extends far beyond the experience itself. The memories become a part of our very identities and how we view the world.
Discussions about personal finance usually revolve around how not to spend your money, but money is ultimately a tool for designing and living your best life. Sometimes, that means spending money on the good things that can make life better and more enriching. And although family vacations can be expensive, most parents report that they’re money well-spent.
Consider family vacations as an investment in your kids — in your relationship with them, in their learning, and in their long-term happiness and well-being. They help boost your happiness and well-being too. And taking a family vacation doesn’t have to mean a five-figure trip to Disney World. As one 11-year-old participant in the Travel Association survey put it, “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, it only matters that we’re having fun.”
What’s your favorite part of family vacations? What benefits have you seen from taking a family vacation?