It’s time to plan an international family vacation

Happy New Year, friends! I'm back online after a big, fat Internet break. In fact, it was more than a break. It was the longest family trip I've ever taken — three weeks in India with my husband, kids, and parents.

12th century carving at Kopeshwar Temple in Khidrapur
12th century carving at Kopeshwar Temple, Khidrapur

My dad's side of the family lives in India, and this was my kids' first time meeting their aunts, uncles and cousins. It has been 14 years since I was last there, so in some ways it felt like I was meeting my family again, too.

If international travel with your family is on your radar, let me just say: DO IT. Save your pennies, handle the work and scheduling hassle, face down the anxiety, and just plan it even if it means traveling years from now.

I say this because the growth I witnessed in my children during those three weeks was mind-boggling. Something magical happens when one's environment changes completely, overnight. Struggles that seem entrenched at home are no longer relevant, and every assumption gets questioned.

My kids ate food they wouldn't touch at home. They handled boredom and discomfort with grace and patience. They carried on wide-ranging conversations with people whose lives are completely different than theirs.

Rael and me in a rickshaw in Bangalore
Rael and me in a rickshaw in Bangalore

With no access to their usual distractions (save the iPod at times), they embraced India's sensory onslaught. They crammed themselves into crowded temples, fume-filled auto rickshaws, and rickety overnight train cars. They caught glimpses of peoples' daily experiences they couldn't even imagine back at home. And they loved it.

At the end of it all, even the promise of familiar comforts wasn't enough to make them want to leave. How fabulous is that?

If you worry about your kids missing school, I'd argue that the education they'll get from time outside their usual bubble is worth months in the classroom. More, because it lends context to everything they're learning in school. It's worth the homework and attendance complications. My kids missed a week of school in addition to their two-week holiday breaks and yes, they have some catching up to do. But we gave their teachers plenty of notice and all were enthusiastically supportive.

I think this trip might represent a "before-and-after" moment for my kids. It does for me. I'm not sure how it will play out exactly, but things have definitely changed.

Once I'm over my jet lag I'll share more, including tips for international travel with kids. After this trip I'm feeling pretty evangelical about travel with kids, so I'd love to get a good conversation going!

What are your thoughts on international family travel? Any questions or topics you'd like to see discussed here?


  1. Daisy A says

    Hi, when I was 10, my Mum took me, my 11 year old brother and my 7 year old sister out of school for a year and we travelled around the world – 17 countries – on a shoestring budget. I can honestly say that this had a profoundly positive effect on my life, not just in an educational sense but a psychological and empathic one too.

    A few years ago, we did a rerun of our Annapurna Base Camp trek, this time with my brother’s 3 kids (4, 8, and 9 years old at the time) who took 3 weeks off school and had a similarly enlightening experience.

    My son is not yet two, but as you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of showing children the world, warts and all, and am already thinking about where I’m going to take him (and wondering how on earth my amazing mother overcame all the challenges back in the 80s!)

  2. says

    I’ve traveled extensively with my daughter, now almost 13. The principal at her old school once said wisely, “Never let school interfere with travel!” Even when kids can’t remember the countries they’ve visited, it shapes their outlook for life.

  3. says

    We try to travel abroad every chance vacation time and finances let us! We just came back from a trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which my kids loved. To help families decide about where to travel, I put together this list of best family vacations, which many world traveling parents helped me compose.

    I have a part II planned as well on even more adventurous places for those parents that love adventure.

    Thanks for this post Asha. I am such a huge fan of showing kids the world.

  4. says

    Couldn’t agree more, especially since my family just returned from 8 days in Mexico and we have similar thoughts on the subject. Our boys (5 and 2) handled the cultural change with aplomb. Yes, the language barrier confused them at first, but near the end of the trip our son announced to a taxi driver, “me llamo Eli” with confidence, and I couldn’t have been more proud. It’s so helpful to show your kids how other people across the world live, the challenges they face, the joys they have, etc. Perhaps the best tip is to continue the conversation back at home, to pick up books connecting to the vacation spot in question and see how the learning can flourish from there.

  5. Asha Dornfest (Parent Hacks) says

    What fabulous comments. Daisy: I fantasize about pulling my kids from school for a year to travel. There are good reasons I haven’t gone any further than dreaming, but I’m now questioning if those reasons are good *enough.*

    Dina: what a lucky girl. And thank you for addressing the “but they’ll never remember it!” argument. My parents took me around the world when I was 3. (I happened to be an exceptionally easy kid, but STILL, this is such an accomplishment!) I grew up with vague but sure memories of Kyoto, Venice, and India, and stories about visiting the Acropolis, and being blessed by the Pope, and falling in love with the babysitter on an Italian cruise ship. (I still have the plastic Thumper rabbit toy she gave me.) I may not have clear memories of the trip, but it hardly matters. Also, my parents do.

    Stephanie: Going to check out your post now!

    Christian: What a wonderful story, and a great + wise tip.

  6. says

    Congrats on a lovely and fun-filled international adventure!

    We saved up for a 3 week trip to visit my former host families in Denmark, who truly treated us like family. It was a big commitment to budget and plan, but it was so very very worth it. I would also agree that witnessing the day-to-day growth in your kids while traveling is truly astounding.

    Some people questioned us for traveling when they were so young, 5 and 2, because they wouldn’t remember it. But even two years later we still talk about our trip and our extended Danish family.

    One thing I definitely recommend doing it making a book style photo album. Even a short album will give your family a physical reminder that brings up all the uncaptured memories. I know my daughter was too young to remember, but she loves looking at the photos and seeing proof that we really did have an epic trip together.

    I shared my budgeting and planning process for traveling to Denmark on my blog, Sustainable Family Finances.

    We are already looking forward to our next big international family trip for summer 2016.

    Welcome back Asha!

  7. says

    I’m so happy for you that you had a nice time enjoying India.

    My husband and I traveled to France and Italy a few months back and it was also a wonderful and happy experience for both of us. We went to different historical places in France and visit the Vatican. We did not bring our kids though, for one, my daughter was busy with her work and my son was at school.

    Next time, we will schedule an international vacation together with our kids.

  8. says

    I remember taking my son to Greece for 3 months back when he was 6 years old. He is 18 now and we still remember that trip as a transformative experience for him. He learned that the world is a much bigger place than his experiences had so far led him to believe.

    Travel is a fantastic thing to be able to do.

  9. Fi says

    I totally agree travel is invaluable for kids. I lived overseas in a few places for 6 years and did a lot of independent backpacking before I had kids. So I was determined that wasn’t going to change. When my daughter was 6 months we went to North America for a month and managed ok. When she was 3.5 she had a 7 month old sister and we did it again. We managed but mostly I remember it being very stressful. My friend is currently in Europe with kids the same age as mine and when I see photos on Facebook, for the first time in my life, I think, I’m glad that’s not me!
    I am pregnant with #3 (and last) and I’ve told hubby that I don’t want to do any more trips like that (lots of flights and different places) until the little one is 4 years old. The lack of sleep for the kids is inevitable which causes massive tantrums come 4pm, the constant packing and repacking of cases, trying to find washing machines to wash a million bibs, trying to find a supermarket for baby foods or alternatively a restaurant that does a suitable soup…I just can’t put myself through it again.
    For the next few years we’ll do a few small trips to resort style places with kids clubs in Asia where we stay in the one place, and save the big eye opening trips for when they are old enough to remember it. Coincidentally in 4 years I’ll be getting 3 months paid long service leave from work so I plan on taking all 3 of them to live in Europe for 3 months, I agree that taking them out of school is worth it. I also make big photo albums in scrapbooks so they can read them when they are older. And I buy a story book from each place we go so we can read them back home at bedtime, a story about the city or a traditional tale from that culture.

  10. says

    I can’t say that I have been lucky to go anywhere international with my family, but I do have a new hampshire spa resort booked for this summer! I can’t wait to get away and relax with the ones I love!

  11. says

    Wow, 3 weeks away! That sounds so nice. My boyfriend and I are actually taking a vacation sometime this year. We haven’t been on a vacation in about 5 years. We just started looking at villas in Tuscany Italy. I am going to try to talk him into take 3 weeks off, but I am not going to get my hopes up. I can’t wait to experience some new culture, I have never left the states before.