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Samantha Brown: The surprising reason you should travel with your kids

Vacation lets your kids see you as a kid, and that’s so valuable

(Illustration by Min Heo for The Washington Post)

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We all understand one key benefit of traveling with our kids: It gets them off their devices and allows you to connect in ways more meaningful than at home. A change of scenery and culture is invaluable for the whole family. And unless you have full-time, live-in help (or perhaps a fairy godmother), odds are that you are going to be traveling with your kids.

But there’s another reason that will change the way you approach your next family trip. Memories of travel for a child are stronger than other important days in their lives, such as their own birthdays or graduations. Fifteen years ago, a child psychologist said something to me that made an indelible impact: “When you travel with your kids (or grandkids), it allows your children to see YOU act like a kid — and what that does for their sense of love and security is immeasurable.”

Let that sink in for a second. I say this because, as parents in a post-pandemic world, acting like a kid is probably the last thing we have time to do. Juggling the demands of jobs, school and chauffeuring for extracurriculars can suck the energy out of us with the power of a vacuum — the same vacuum we had every intention of running over the floors today if we hadn’t run out of time. Simply put: Who has the time or energy to be playful?

But a vacation is different from daily life and should be protected as such. So how can adults act like kids on vacation for the benefit of their kids?

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Here’s how:

Don’t over-schedule your time. A few days of jamming things in on vacation so you can see and do it all is great, but don’t try to apply this approach to your entire trip. Instead, choose one major activity at the beginning of the day, when everyone is well-rested and fed, then take it easy the second half of the day. Make sure the activity is something that doesn’t require much thought. Nothing makes me feel less playful than when I’m beat and my 10-year-old twins are cranky. I love public parks for this, with their playgrounds and wide-open spaces to run and scream. And it’s great for the kids, too: We have impromptu swing contests with them, play tag or just roll down a small hill. We join them in being kids.

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Create a ritual. If you are in the same location for a week, select one place to go back to at the same time every day. Building in something familiar creates comfort and relaxation, and it’s hard to be playful without those two. My family heads to the same ice cream spot every day. This takes us out of being responsible adults in our children’s eyes. Licking ice cream cones or sharing a hot fudge sundae is pure joy.

Look for activities that the locals do. Attractions and activities meant for visitors have an intensity about them. (You only get this one shot!) But with some local activities, there’s no rush, because it’s more of a daily occurrence. I like to look at the public spaces to provide clues as to what we all can do together. Then I let my kids, who are, after all, the experts at being kids, take charge. I follow their lead, and I let the weight of responsible mom-hood yield to my inner 8-year-old who just wants to play.

Samantha Brown is the Emmy-winning host of PBS’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love,” a mother and a travel expert. Follow her on Instagram: @samanthabrowntravels.

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