How We Use Travel to Teach Patience — Family Travel Basics

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If you want to teach patience to your children, then travel together. Few activities offer more opportunities to teach patience than family travel. You may need to teach yourself as well!

Waiting in the airport — The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience An Epic Education

It’s a hot and muggy morning in Penang, Malaysia, and our bus is already 20 minutes late.


Our bags are heavy, the sun feels like a microwave, and there’s no shade at the bus stop.


Once the bus arrives, it will be another slow, plodding hour or more before we reach the airport.

All according to plan.

We’ve scheduled ourselves to arrive super-early at the airport, so we’ll have at least another three hours to wait before we fly to another airport. There we’ll wait again for a 3 AM flight to Denpasar.

Bali — our final destination — is not that far from Penang, the Malaysian Island that where we’re flying from. By the end of these flights, however, we will have spent just over 24 hours to arrive in a place that’s actually around four hours by plane from the nearest airport.

It’s enough to really test your patience, which was exactly the point.

We weren’t required to take the long way around.

We chose to. Let me explain.

The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience

Waiting for 3am flight to Bali

A photo posted by Jason Jenkins (@an_epic_edu) on

How to Teach Patience

We believe that kids must understand the importance of patience. Hell, I do too. In fact, I still have a lot to learn about it myself.

It can be frustrating standing around with nothing to do. At this point, I could cite a dozen studies that indict smart devices as the creator of today’s instant-gratification culture. I won’t deny the premise, but I’ll spare you the “iPads are ruining society” screed. I don’t really believe that, and besides, that’s not my point.

We can keep technology around and remain capable of waiting for hours and hours without losing our minds. It doesn’t come easy, though. Like gratitude, patience must be taught and reviewed— myself included— in order for its benefits to be implemented properly.

Learning to Wait

The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience Sleeping in Airports — Using travel to Teach Patience: An Epic Education

A quick nap in the KL International Airport

That’s one reason why we intentionally chose such an arduous travel itinerary, but there are more practical reasons, such as money. We could have made the trip to Bali and back faster.

I could have called a taxi to whisk us to the airport in a fraction of the time.

We could have forked out more cash for a more expedient flight schedule, or perhaps added an extra day to wander around Kuala Lumpur and break up the two flights (Malaysia is a lot of fun).

However, these things cost extra — sometimes a lot extra. We want the kids to understand how time and money are different currencies, and for this trip, we’re spending our time.

Patience isn’t just a tool for monetary gain, however. The biggest reason to teach patience is the most obvious: learning to wait is an important life skill. Handling boredom and discomfort are vital as well. They’re a huge part of life, and this goes double when traveling — especially in many of the places we’ve been.

A vital virtue

A life of travel is often a life of waiting: in train stations, airports, immigration lines and ticket booths. Roads can wash out, tires can blow, and visa applications can be held up. Mosquitoes can swarm, and the sun can scorch our lily-white skin in minutes.

Our kids were raised in Tokyo, and one of the many great things about being a parent in Tokyo is that public transportation is so efficient: trains, buses, and taxis take you wherever you want to go, and they are almost invariably clean, prompt and professional. Not so in most of the world.

In Vietnam, the bus may not stop where you think it will. In Lombok, the taxi may argue with you over the change. And in Spain, the train times might be wrong.

When these things happen, you must show patience.

The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience Waiting in Hoi An — Teach Patience: An Epic Education

How we practice patience

Okay, so here’s our strategy to teach patience. Listen up. Are you ready?

We put ourselves in situations where patience is required. That’s it.

We don’t always take the long way around. Nor do we outlaw smart device usage during the long stretches of family travel. But we do limit it, leaving the onus on the kids to find their own ways of dealing with the time on their hands.

We always have a few books and Kindles stuffed in bags. Reading is always allowed. In addition, you can usually find a portable chess set, magnetic backgammon table, and packs of playing cards. We also rely on a slew of small brain games (both Japanese and American) that require only your voice and your mind when there’s no place to spread out our stuff.

We still lose our patience

With all this effort to practice and teach patience, are my kids now like zen monks, capable of embracing tedium for hours on end? No. Am I? Hardly.

Does an 8-hour layover leave them unaffected like some cross-legged ascetic by a babbling brook? Nope. We all lose our patience sometimes and act out in frustration— especially when it’s combined with jet lag. However, the mere act of consciously practicing patience seems to be paying off.

I’m not suggesting that you camp overnight at a bus station or walk to the airport (but getting there early is essential). All I’m saying is sometimes you have to be willing to be inconvenienced to teach patience. If your kids learn it, then it’s totally worth the wait.

The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience The Waiting Game: Using Travel to Teach Patience



  1. Elizabeth says

    Great and timely article. We live in such such a “now” centered world.

    Paper and colored pencils. Draw what you see, write a song, write a letter to a friend, paper airplanes, tic-tac-toe, hangman, ect… So many options.

    • absolutely, Elizabeth. “Now” is such a loaded word. And what I’ve learned lately is that patience is gained and lost just as easily. Both the kids and I slip into smart devices too quickly sometimes — it’s gotten worse in the past few months actually — and it takes a conscious, intentional effort to pry our devices away and learn to wait again. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. One we love is making up funny voice overs for non-English speaking shows. It works great for boring stuff like the news. Take turns making up funny voices and silly storylines.

    Agree totally with this. Our kids are pretty patient people. Sometimes it is the opposite for us, that is, the train or bus has arrived and we can’t get them to stop living in their newly invented role play world to re-enter this real one.

    I am also a great believer that boredom is essential for creativity to bloom.

    • Lots of great stuff in this comment, Prunella.

      #1: voiceovers *ARE* lots of fun! Why didn’t I think of that? We occasionally watch an old TV show on youtube that does this (Whose Line is it Anyway, UK version), and we love it. Will have to try it.

      #2: Our patience levels fluctuate. Sometimes the kids are better at it than us, then it switches. Nots sure the reasoning, but it’s possible that screen time is partly to blame

      #3: “I am also a great believer that boredom is essential for creativity to bloom.” <-- no truer statement has even been uttered

  3. The key, I think, is for them to internalize that it’s normal. That they should *expect* long waits and discomfort. That way, it’s a pleasure when smooth sailing occurs. The same applies in many aspects of life: traffic jams, shopping malls, waiting in line at the post office/DMV, etc. We still get impatient and frustrated sometimes, but that little tweak of expectations has made a difference for us.

  4. I love the idea there. My kids and I both could use some lessons in patience. My family would struggle with this but I think the lessons learned could be worthwhile.