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To find out how children’s travel experiences differ from their parents’, we enlisted families around the world to share their perspectives — and their pictures.
Riding atop his father’s shoulders, Villum Vejlin Sogaard arrived at the gate to board the ferry departing from Lower Manhattan like a miniature, triumphant explorer.
His eyes darted from the downtown skyline to souvenir vendors to fellow tourists with tickets in hand. It was the 6-year-old’s first time in the United States and he was about to see one of the country’s iconic landmarks: the Statue of Liberty.
“I think it’s a must-see when you’re in the city,” said Simon Vejlin Sogaard, Villum’s father, who had traveled with several other family members from their home in Denmark. “It’s a great piece of history. And it was actually even more interesting to know the history behind the statue and what it stands for — which, I think, is more important.”
Villum was perhaps too young to appreciate, as his father did, what the statue represents. Instead, when he reached Liberty Island and made his way up the steps to cast his eyes on the giant green woman, her arm extended with a torch, he was awed mainly by her sheer scale.
Marissa Kifolo, 13
New York City
New York City
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
The differences in the perspectives of Mr. Vejlin Sogaard and his young son are emblematic of what many families experience while vacationing, and they raise questions frequently asked by parents around the world: Do young children benefit from traveling to new places? If so, how? Do they find value in seeing historical landmarks and museums? And how might a trip through a child’s eyes differ from their parents’ perspective?
We set out to learn just that.
This year, The New York Times dispatched a team of reporters to popular tourist landmarks in several cities across the world, from Washington, D.C., to Bangkok. At each location, a parent and their child were both given disposable cameras and were tasked with taking photographs of what they each found most interesting. Their photographs offered us some insights into what caught their eyes.
“Culture. Knowing things from history. New experiences.” These were some of the things Maria Segura wanted her children to take away from their visit to the Colosseum in Rome. Her husband, Alberto, hoped a trip would increase their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. They had brought their three children with them from their home in Madrid.
“I like a lot of history,” said Julia, the Seguras’ 10-year-old daughter, whose expectations seemed to align with those of her parents. “It’s for understanding the present.”
Unlike her mother, though, who photographed sweeping views of the reddish brown stone and concrete that encircled the ancient amphitheater, Julia was drawn to a miniature model of the site inside the museum. In fact, she was among several children interviewed there who identified the model, a dollhouse-like replica, as their favorite part of the trip.
What did her 6-year-old brother David like the most?
“All of it,” David said. “Nothing in particular. Wait, the model. I liked the model, too. And the sea gulls.”
Their younger sister, Iria, didn’t have an opinion — not because she was only 3, but because she spent most of the trip in her stroller, asleep.
Victoria Mille, 12
The Ancient City
The Ancient City
Even according to historians, appreciating the formal lessons of the past isn’t the most important thing to be gained from traveling.
“It is not all about rather dreary lessons in history,” Mary Beard, the British scholar and author of “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome,” wrote in an email, tightening her lens specifically on museums. “The great thing about museums for kids (and grown ups) is that they are places of wonder, shock, puzzlement. One of my own earliest memories is wonderment at a 3,500 year old piece of Egyptian cake in the British Museum.”
“I sometimes get a terrible sinking feeling when I see parents feeling that they have to make a visit to a museum a long history lesson,” she added. “Well occasionally that can be useful, I guess. But really, going to a museum is about learning to think differently.”
That was partly the approach taken by two families from Denmark who were also visiting the Colosseum. Hien Nguyen, one of the mothers, recently watched the movie “Gladiator” with her kids and was excited to show her children the Colosseum in real life.
“We wanted the kids to see things very ancient, to see how old humanity is,” she said, adding that she was happy that her children could experience the place for themselves.
“We believe that building experience is more important for kids than giving them, you know, stuff,” Ms. Nguyen said.
She may be right.
“If you think about your patterning of who you are as a person, most of that came from the first decade of your life, when our worldview is still being constructed,” said Erin Clabough, a neuroscientist, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of a book about how neuroscience can inform parenting.
“When someone approaches a problem, or any kind of situation in their life, they’re bringing with them this tool kit that they have from all of their prior experiences that they can draw from,” Dr. Clabough explained. And visiting different cultures can add to that tool kit, by offering children new ways to think, to do and to know, she said, all of which can help them “navigate the world in a fuller way.”
“You’re giving them possibility, in a way, of all the things that could be,” she added. “And I also think not just creativity, but it also really helps to cultivate empathy.”
Islie Pringle, 11
The National Mall
The National Mall
There is a beauty in the simplicity of what fascinates a child. So while adults might marvel at the magnificence of a mosaic that has kept its color for centuries, a child’s interest could be drawn elsewhere, to things seemingly more trivial.
Claudia Vermeer was traveling with her two daughters, Emma, 12, and Sophie, 10. Their home is in Germany, but they were on their seventh month of a trip that was taking them around the world.
The family had finally reached Thailand, the 11th country they’d visited on their tour, and were exploring Wat Pho, one of several sprawling royal temples on the Chao Phraya River in the heart of Bangkok. The site is famous for its many stupas, statues and a gleaming, golden, 151-foot-long reclining Buddha statue.
Ms. Vermeer was continually surprised at how different her perspective was from her daughters, she said.
“They see what I wouldn’t see and they experience things differently,” Ms. Vermeer said. “In general, I want to open their horizons and make them tolerant people.”
Inside the sun-soaked buildings with intricate trims, beautifully decorated objects were on display, as was the grand statue of Buddha, reclined and welcoming visitors. But what caught Sophie’s eye were little bronze bowls, more than 100 of which lined the hall for tourists to place their donations and make a wish. This pleased Sophie.
“I liked to put the little coins into the bowls,” she said.
Amaury Avenas, 11
Youthful fixations can be as uncontrollable as they are unpredictable.
On a recent day in Paris, at the tail end of winter, the weather was overcast and gray. Sandra Yar had brought her 5-year-old son, Noah, here from Germany for the first time. They had visited a few other places popular with tourists — Versailles, the Louvre — and now it was time for Noah to see the Eiffel Tower.
Despite standing in the shadow of one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, a tower of stitched iron that rose more than 1,000 feet above him, Noah was drawn instead to the pocket-size items that were being hawked on the ground: little Eiffel Tower key chains. He couldn’t wait to show them to his friends in his kindergarten class.
“Paris is really beautiful, but the next time we come without our child,” Ms. Yar said. It was hard to visit with her young son, she said, because he was “too young to understand that five key chains are more than he needed.”
Jean Oyhenart, 15, and Benoit Oyhenart, 9
Back in New York City, after returning from Liberty Island, Villum, the 6-year-old boy from Denmark, had transformed from an energetic and curious child, propped on his father’s shoulders, to a weary and quiet boy, standing between family members and waiting for someone to declare that the day was over.
By the looks of the pictures he took that day, it’s clear what had happened:
He most likely spent a good portion of his energy at Liberty Island trying to peek over the walls and rails that were too tall for him to easily see over.