Travel Makes Kids Smarter

Let me begin with this disclaimer: I am looking for any excuse to travel with my daughter. Some of the most wonderful memories I have with my 17-year-old, Katie, have been our trips together. So when I heard there was a new study that claimed…eh hem, I mean proved that travel helps boost intelligence and gives kids a leg up in life, I was thrilled.

Finally I could think of my trips with Katie as more than an indulgence. They were a critical investment in her academic success. A weekend in Cincinnati?  Let’s call it an SAT prep course! A visit to New York? I think you mean you mean AP Art History class.

Here’s the scoop according recent research:

Adults who had taken an educational trip when they were between the ages of 12-18, which involved learning about the history and culture of a place at least 50 miles from home (or required an overnight stay), fared better academically than their peers who had not traveled in their youth. Eighty percent said their travels sparked their interest more than learning in a school setting. Fifty-seven percent went to college, and more than half got better grades than their homebound counterparts. They also earned $5,000 more in annual income than their peers who hadn’t traveled as kids.

Why? One theory is that travel – and even planning travel – requires children to imagine themselves in a different environment. Once they are in a new place, children’s minds are buzzing taking in all of the new sites and sounds. If children travel overseas, there are even more questions, some about how very basic things work.

In my travels, eh hem, research for my mother-daughter travel memoir We’ll Always Have Paris, Katie and I visited 12 European cities together, and often felt clueless about things we took for granted here at home. Simple tasks like flushing a toilet or opening a door were done differently in many countries. In Paris, it took us 15 minutes to exit the lobby of an apartment building where we had just eaten dinner. The front gate was locked from the inside and we had absolutely no clue to get out. Finally, we sheepishly called our dinner host, who explained that if we push the little red button that reads “Porte” it would release the door. Who knew? I thought it was the button for wine.

Our education came not only from being in new places together, but from being away from the fast-paced life of work, school projects, cross country meets, and extracurricular activities that enrich us into a state of exhaustion. Sometimes it was just switching gears and slowing down that gave us an opportunity to learn something new.  When Katie was eight years old, she met another little girl in England, and the two spent a rain afternoon creating an English-to-English dictionary.

Travel is one of the best ways for a family to connect, but now we have a perfect excuse to take a trip. It’s educational! It’s an investment in their future earning. So pack up the minivan – or dust off your passports – because the best kind of school is always in session!

Jennifer Coburn is the author of We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother – Daughter Memoir – Read book review. Visit her online at or Facebook/JenniferCoburnBooks

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