When it comes to international travel with kids in tow, the age-old debate still swirls: How old is old enough for children to truly appreciate a trip abroad?

Early teens used to have the market cornered, but a writer friend of ours recently uncovered a seismic shift. In “Rules of Engagement”, author Linda Packer reveals what child development experts already know: today’s kids are becoming far more worldly at an earlier age. Hence her pithy proclamation: “Eight is the new 12.” (You can read her whole article here from Private Clubs magazine.)

At Classic Journeys, we couldn’t have come up with a catchier phrase. But we weren’t surprised…we’ve seen the evidence firsthand for years on our Family Journeys. The premise is simple: expose kids — particularly those aged seven to 16 — to other cultures in a fun, engaging way, and they’ll never fail to amaze you with how delightedly they take it all in. By nature, kids love to be seeing and doing, and the more exotic the destination and its daily adventures, the more eagerly they respond.

Young girl kayaking

Just to put our theory to the test, I made a call to Karen Gouze, Ph.D., director of training in psychology at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Sure enough, her comments confirmed what we’ve observed: “Children are much more knowledgeable by age eight than they used to be,” she agreed. “They’re exposed to a much more diverse group of people in their everyday lives, so they’re much more interested in the outside world.”

It’s always a treat for us to witness that moment when multiple generations really click on a Family Journey. I first met Gary and Yang Sciscent on our Peru Family Journey over spring break in 2008. They live in Manhattan with their three kids ages 12, 11 and 7. We all had such a great time together that they joined my family again when we opted for our Morocco Family Journey over spring break 2009. To see our kids mountain biking through the Sacred Valley on their way to Machu Picchu made for an unforgettable family outing…as did riding camelback, Bedouin-style, over towering sand dunes this past March.
Group riding bikes

Whether our guests are paddling a dugout canoe in Panama, skimming along a zip line in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, or swimming with the world’s smallest dolphins in New Zealand, they hit it off instantly with our awesome native guides. By taking advantage of every “teachable moment” — yet never, ever making it feel like school — our guides know how to make history and culture come alive. From unearthing wildlife (the weirder the better) to relating centuries-old local legends (like pouring boiling oil over the heads of ancient attackers in Tuscany’s hilltowns), they capture the imagination of young and old alike.

As parents who love to tour with our own kids, we’ve mastered the logistics and eliminated the language barriers in each region we visit. Even planning a trip around school schedules isn’t a problem, with seven multi-generational Family Journeys perfectly timed for winter and spring breaks. You can see all of our Family Journeys departures at classicj.wpengine.com/family

Drop me a line at blog@classicjourneys.com if you’d like to share traveling stories of your 8 (…or 12) year olds.