How Family Vacations Become 'Happiness Anchors' For Kids & Help Them Cope With Stress

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How You Can Make Your Kids Happy With Family Vacations Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Traveling has endless benefits. Not only does it refresh our minds, bodies, and souls, but it also introduces us to a world of new experiences and memories that last a lifetime. And I'm not just talking about that time you backpacked around Europe with your college BFFs.

Remember that camping trip you took with your mom when you were 9? Or that family road trip to Colonial Williamsburg when you were in high school? You might not have realized it at the time, but those trips were actually improving your life. They were measurably making you happier and science can prove it. (No, really.) Because those family vacations weren't just fun.


It has actually been proven on a scientific level that the experience of travel makes kids demonstrably happier, while also educating them and enriching their lives.

In fact, research shows that an experience like a family vacation can actually function as a "happiness anchor," a set memory that children can use to help them navigate back to positive emotions when they're encountering stress and anxiety.

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While discussing this research with The Huffington Post, this is how John McDonald, Director of the Family Holiday Association, described the "happiness anchor" effect. He said that by "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."

"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. But for many without such memories, reigniting a sense of optimism for getting through the tougher times can seem like an impossible task.”

Yes, traveling with kids can be definitely intimidating and a lot of work — trying to get young children and everything they need through airport security can be an insane juggling act — but it's totally worth it. Because those memories PERSIST. Those memories last much longer than you'd ever imagine and they can help your kids remember happier times when they really need the reminder.

So instead of going out and buying your young ones the newest game console, consider how you can make your kids happier (and flat-out improve their lives) with a family vacation instead.


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Don't believe us? Here are just a few ways that the simple act of traveling together can be the best gift you can ever give your family:

1. Family vacations strengthen bonds.

Traveling allows you to cut out special time with just your family, away from work, school, and regular life. It's very important and invaluable to spend time as a family without the added distractions of everyday life. But that's not the only benefit. According to a 2010 research study from the Netherlands, experiencing new places together definitely increases a family's happiness, but even just planning a family vacation together can result in weeks of boosted happiness overall. (And we know those memories endure.)

2. Travel is extremely educational.

Exposing a child to any kind of new environment opens the door to learning and knowledge, especially traveling! It introduces them to new languages, cultures, and people. Studies have even found that traveling improves children's grades. Even better, neurological research shows that people exposed to "enriched environments" — places are that new with plenty of opportunities for social and physical interaction (i.e. like a vacation spot) — have higher IQs. They also have lower blood pressure, less stress hormones, and less cholesterol. So travel can make your kids happier, healthier, and smarter too!


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3. Traveling teaches kids invaluable life skills.

Traveling means moving away from the usual routines of everyday life, which requires children to develop skills they wouldn't normally have if they didn't experience different situations. Getting kids out of their structures also forces them to be more adaptable. As a result, children build confidence during travel by being able to try new things. They also learn that not everything in life will always work out the way you planned it. You may get lost, but it teaches you flexibility. And half the fun is getting there anyway, right?

4. Memories last a lifetime and can be a quick route to happiness.

Traveling is probably one of the best ways to create memories — and there are few greater things you can give your family than memories that they will never forget. Whether you're taking a once-in-a-lifetime tour of a landmark or setting up for a family game night and some room service in your hotel room, you're making memories that can forever be imprinted in your child's mind. They anchor them in a remarkable time and place in their lives. And it's so important to make these memories and cherish this time as a family while kids are young and before they go off on their own — and it doesn't hurt to know they can one day pass these amazing memories down to their own families!

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5. Travel moves kids away from technology and into nature.

We live in a digital world and it's super easy for kids to get addicted to technology. Traveling is a way for them to step away from the TV screens and put down their gadgets. Planning fun activities allows children to get outside, exercise, and get fresh air. It also teaches them to appreciate nature and gives parents a chance to experience nature with them as well as show them the importance of protecting our environment. 

Furthermore, research shows that being in nature (even for as little as 20 minutes!) improves attention and concentration levels and lowers blood pressure and stress levels.

6. Travel is the best gift you can give your child.

Travel and all the things that come with it are irreplaceable. Traveling gives your child things that no toy will ever be able to offer. Researchers have found that both children and adults alike consider travel to be more fulfilling than buying things. Material objects will always come in second place to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, memories, and time with family. 


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