Family trips aren’t just about taking a break from school and spending more time outside. In this extract from Family Fun Magazine’s latest issue, Lonely Planet travel expert Patrick Kinsella explains how a Fiji vacation with his two young daughters was so much more than a beach trip.

Why kids need to travel

Ivy poses with her new Fijiian friends in the Yasawa archipelago © Patrick Kinsella / Lonely Planet

Why kids need to travel

Reason #1 They see how other people live

Ivy, my eldest daughter, and Po, her newfound BFF (best Fijian friend), have much in common. They’re both seven, each has a younger sister, and when the teacher begins reading, both sit spellbound, saucer-eyed, with fingers in mouths worrying wobbly teeth.

In truth, however, they’re from different worlds. When those infant teeth finally come free, Ivy will trade pearly whites for dollars that magically appear beneath her pillow, and she’s shocked to learn the Tooth Fairy doesn’t fly as far as Fiji. Po isn’t overly concerned – it’s as if she already knows that the lottery of life has thrown bigger worries her way, such as access to clean water and health care. And more fool the fairy; for all their other problems, the island children’s smiles reveal brilliant teeth, unscarred by battles with a sugar-saturated diet.

With Ivy, her younger sister, Alice, and my wife, I’m exploring a seldom seen side of Drawaqa Island in Fiji’s Yasawa archipelago, a far-flung splattering of 20 volcanic islands in the South Pacific.

Why kids need to travel

There’s more to Fiji than clear waters and white beaches © Kyle Sparks / Getty Images

Fiji is a famously gorgeous destination, and we’ve been enjoying a typical tropical vacation – snorkeling and building sand castles. Today, though, we’re far from the resort, visiting a primary school and mother-and-baby clinic with Vinaka Fiji, a volunteer organization seeking to improve sanitation, health services, nutrition, education, and amenities in 27 deprived Yasawa villages.

We arrive by boat, passing local women (moms, perhaps, of the children we’re about to meet) hunting octopuses in the shallows. The kids tumble past us, giggling, some having walked miles along forest trails. Unlike at our school back home, everyone seems super happy to be here. Ivy observes how neat the pupils look, before noting, somewhat jealously, that most are shoeless.

The teacher introduces us, but blessed with the unforced confidence of children, Ivy and Alice have already made friends. While they play, other kids shoot quick-fire questions at us. One little guy is puzzled by the size of our family. Where’s everyone else? Here, most children have four or five siblings.

It’s an eye- and mind-opening experience, especially for Ivy, who has never before considered that someone her age might not have a TV, let alone lack electricity. For now, she loves the idea, especially when school finishes and the class spills onto the beach. The girls run squealing into the lagoon, clamber onto floating logs, chase new buddies across the sand, and share fruit dished out by white-haired grandparents overseeing the scene.

For many months afterward, Ivy talks about Po, imagining her Fijian friend’s life. The after-school beach party burns bright in her memory, but she clings to her creature comforts with renewed appreciation, and wonders whether she ought to share some of her Tooth Fairy money with those less lucky.

Need more reasons to take the kids traveling? Read the full article.

Calling all US-based parents. Enter our competition to win a family trip to the Galapagos Islands!