Conventional wisdom holds that traveling with kids is a grind. People shudder at the idea of schlepping strollers through airport security, or arriving at a hotel to find it doesn’t provide cribs, or dragging a sullen, iPhone-addicted teenager on a cultural tour of Europe. But for globetrotting parents who spoke with heymama, family travel misery is nothing more than a myth. Here, moms and dads share the surprising ways kids can bring out life’s most joyful travel experiences.

Kids crack your comfort zone

Travel industry PR veteran Laura Davidson has traveled with her sons since they were six months old. She credits the boys, now in their teens, with keeping the family from falling into a rut. “Every spring break, we travel to Curtain Bluff in Antigua,” she says. “The boys always push us to find new adventures together. They love snorkeling—they’re braver than I am—along with paddle boarding and kayaking. It’s been amazing. If I were traveling alone, I might just be sitting on a beach.”

They heighten your empathy

Eduardo Gaz, founder of the high-end travel consultancy Selections, has been traveling with his two children since they were infants. Now 7 and 9, the kids have made him view others’ stressful situations—like an infant screaming in an enclosed place—with deeper compassion. “Whenever a child starts crying on a plane or I see a mom on her own, I’ll try to help,” he says. “I understand her pain.” The result: an authentic human connection that makes everyone’s day better.

They make you smarter about your surroundings

Before he had children, Gaz, who is also the CEO of ski concierge service SKI USA, said he vacationed without any care for his destinations’ hospitals or emergency evacuation routes. Now that he’s responsible for two other people’s health and safety, however, he’s much more mindful. When Gaz took his son and daughter on safari, for instance, he chose a lodge in South Africa over Kenya because it was situated near a hospital. Even for minor mishaps, Gaz is more prepared thanks to his kids. “I always carry extra clothes,” he says. “You never know when you’re going to have a pee or ice cream emergency.”

They mingle with more locals

Kids can be instant social connectors and conduits to parts of a country you might never experience otherwise. Davidson’s sons are both soccer players, and during one of the family’s early trips to Antigua, the boys organized a match with kids from the local village. Now their soccer games are a yearly tradition. “They even collect used soccer equipment and donate it in Antigua,” Davidson says.

They’re weirdly optimistic

Traveling with kids—OK, with anyone—can wear on your nerves, but children can sometimes help you see travel hassles differently. “They never complain when a flight is late,” Davidson marvels of her sons. “They just look at it as a chance to find good food outlets or tech shops.” Davidson has followed their lead. Instead of getting agitated while waiting at the gate, she now streams her favorite shows, like The Crown. “I almost look forward to flight delays so I have time to watch something,” she says.

They make memories unforgettable

Whether swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos or cheering at a soccer stadium in Barcelona, Davidson says her kids inspire her to be present in new places and enjoy each moment to its fullest. “Being in travel PR, it’s easy to just go from trip to trip, but traveling with my kids has helped me really cherish the memorable experiences.”

Author and journalist Hannah Seligson is happily preparing for her first big vacation with her newborn. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan and elsewhere.

More family travel wisdom on heymama: Sanity-saving tips for long flights with kids  

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