Family Vacations Have Long-Lasting Impact on Kids' Happiness

According to experts, trips with the fam are the gift that keeps on giving.

happy family on vacation
Photo: Tom Wang/Shutterstock

We just returned from a magical four-day trip to New Orleans with our kids. The days were filled with music, laughter, exploration, and sun, which made coming back to Philly during the dead of winter all the more depressing. It was about halfway through the flight home last night that both of my kids looked up at me with sad faces.

"How many weeks until Spring Break?" my son asked. I didn't have to heart to tell him that it's not until the middle of April this year, or that his father and I haven't actually booked anything yet.

But while returning from an amazing family vacay is never easy, it's always worth it. And in fact, according to experts, parents are better off spending their money on vacations than they are spending it on toys, which kids are often bored with a week or two later.

"Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory," psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph. "It's all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you're going to spend money on something, it's pretty clear which option makes more sense."

And get this: Travelling with your kids can also be beneficial to their brain development. "An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction," says child psychotherapist Dr. Margot Sunderland. "Think: family together in the pool, walking together through the forest, touching long tall grasses waving in the wind, toasting marshmallows on campfire, hanging out together under warm sun, feeling sand between the toes."

These experiences then turn on the genetic expression of key brain fertilizers in the frontal lobes, Dr. Sunderland explains, enhancing executive functions like stress regulation, attention, concentration, good planning, and the ability to learn, and also improving physical and mental health. "The brain fertilizers triggered in enriched environments are also associated with higher IQ in children," she said. "So, spend time exploring together in a new space, and you're making your child smarter."

Who knew?

In addition, family vacations can act as "happiness anchors." According to 2015 research conducted by the Family Holiday Association out of Britain, the happiest memory of 49 percent of those surveyed was on vacation with family. A third of the respondents said they can still vividly remember their childhood family vacations, and a quarter of them copped to using such memories to get them through tough times.

"Reflecting on our happiest memories of joyful time spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and respite when faced with the darker times that life can bring," John McDonald, director of the Family Holiday Association, told the Huffington Post. "By using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we're often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective."

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Guess I better start researching that spring break trip ASAP.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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