In this age where technology rules most households, there is a tendency for kids to overlook the primal joys of getting outside to enjoy real human connection. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, roughly 84 percent cannot live a single day without looking at their smart devices.
As a mother, I agree that sometimes gadgets can be convenient tools for parents when our busy schedules take hold. This is specially true during summer, when children are left with too much time to burn. However, having traveled with my daughter for years and having seen the magic that it brings firsthand, I lean more toward personal interactions. There is no greater investment - both health and budget-wise - than spending time with your kid and allowing her to reconnect with the world around her.
Family vacations go farther than they seem, both in body and in spirit. When we travel with our kids, even if it's something as simple as visiting a park, we give them our most valued resources: time and love. These moments, when stored in our children's memory bank, yield longer lasting joys than any high-tech device. In fact, in a 2015 Family Holiday Association study, 49 percent of adult respondents say that their happiest memory was a family vacation as a kid.
New environments provide children enriching experiences that promote physical, cognitive, social, and sensory interactions. Whenever children engage in exploratory activities with us (like physical touch sand or walking in the forest), two brain systems – the “play” and “seeking” systems – are triggered. World-renowned neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp says that stimulating these brain systems produces “happy” brain chemicals that lead to warm and happy feelings, which significantly reduce stress and anxiety.
Scientific research also says that these encounters enhance the brain's decision-making functions, such as concentration, learning, and attention. It may even lead to higher IQs.
But it isn't just the brain that benefits when children go outdoors. Active travel, such as cycling and hiking, also promotes growth and development in children. It helps them achieve muscular strength, stamina, endurance, and maintain a healthy weight. A study in Denmark in 2012 found that children who regularly cycle or walk tend to be more robust and alert than their non-active counterparts. Growing up as adolescents, the more active group also showed greater resistance to alcohol, substance abuse and peer pressure.
It may seem counterintuitive that travel can help families save money, but I find this to be true. One toy alone – a toy which is bound to be broken and outgrown later on - can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pesos. A whole day budget trip for a family of three or four can be done with just P1,000, even less. Beautiful memories from trips last a lifetime. Unlike material possession, they don't wear out.
Summer vacations can also urge parents to become more conscious of their spending. In my experience, I've learned to let go of many impulsive and expensive buys in order to save for family trips. No longer do I crave new clothes, shoes, weekly movies, or posh eats. And neither does my daughter. Most of our possessions are pre-loved items or gifts. Because I rarely spend on stuff I want (only those we really need like mortgage and food), I am also able to save some as emergency fund.
This practice of conscious spending also instills in children the art of delayed gratification. Instead of getting heaps of toys and gadgets, they will learn to look forward to experiences. When we spend time with them, even in the modest of ways, we are teaching the value of moments over material possessions. That form of investment cannot be bad at all. And what better time to practice these new habits than summer vacation? Good luck!