How young is too young to travel? It’s a question that comes up whenever the subject of family travel arises. Some worry about the risk of illness for infants on the road. Others have fears that their child will reject every food option that isn’t chicken fingers and starve. Concerns about water, weather, and boredom keep lots of families from traveling with young kids. Of all the reasons, the reason most often cited as the reason for not traveling with young kids is, “they won’t even remember.” Are these concerns, any of them, justified?
In my experience, not really.
There are precautions for illness and medical care all over the world, no child will starve themselves because chicken fingers are not on the menu, and boredom is, in my opinion, an essential element to the development of any human being. But the big reason, the one about the kids not remembering, is the one that I think deserves the most attention. After all, traveling with kids is hard, right? And babies won’t remember it anyway, right?
Can traveling with children be challenging? Yes. Are there moments that are harder than others when traveling? Yes. But the answer to both of those question is no different than if I were to ask the same questions of a family at home. There are so many things parents do on a daily basis that are “hard”, but no one shies away from them because their kid may not remember. We recognize, as the more experienced beings, that sooner or later, children will internalize our consistent messages- even the ones we didn’t intend!
An infant may not remember seeing the Taj Mahal and a four year old may forget the name of the kid he played ball with for hours in Bali. However, it is also possible that they won’t remember making cookies with Grandma for the holidays, snuggling with the family dog for naps, breastfeeding, or learning to read. Would you deny any of those experiences to your child because they might not remember? Of course not. We recognize the benefits of these experiences, whether or not our kids carry forth conscious memories of those moments. Travel is no different.
I realize it is scary to plop down a whole bunch of money on an experience your kid may or may not be able to recall. But babies “remember” things in all kinds of ways. Even if your baby won’t consciously remember all of the kind people who fawned over her in Thailand, she may have internalized, without you even realizing, that love transcends language barriers and that people with skin different than hers are not to be feared. That’s powerful stuff. More powerful than being able to recite the places you visited to aunts and uncles.
We do lots of things with our babies that they won’t consciously remember. We sing to them, read to them, play with them, smile at them, and talk to them. We don’t do these things so that they can make a collage of it one day to share with their class. We do these things because it lays the groundwork for what we want our babies to internalize as they grow- kindness, love, and connection.
Traveling with little kids is never a bad idea. Before you know it, babies become children and children become teenagers who are moving towards their own, independent life. Wait until it’s “easier” and “they’re old enough to remember” and you might miss your opportunity. Traveling early begins the intentional creation of family culture- culture built around an active involvement in life and a joy of exploring.
Besides, even if your kid “doesn’t remember” the way adults do, you know who will? You. You will forever remember watching your baby take her first steps at a Mayan temple, hearing your two-year-old sing along in Hindi to a new favorite song, and watching your four-year-old climb atop a surf board for the first time in Costa Rica. You will remember what your daughter looks like with sand all over her face and what your son looks like as he combs the beach at sunset.
There is no such thing as “too young to travel” so, what’s stopping you?
In the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris and an article in an Al Qaeda magazine that provided instructions for making a bomb that is undetectable by current airport security technology, the U.S. State Department issued the following travel warning for Americans traveling abroad:
“Recent terrorist attacks…serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness”
On face value, the alert might seem a normal precaution, however a week later the Department of Homeland Security said,
“there is no specific, credible threat of an attack on the U.S. like what happened in Paris last week”
A Google search for the two statements is telling. The State Department warning was found on 2,510 websites, many of which were major media outlets, while the latter statement by Homeland Security showed up on 15 sites, only one of which was a major media outlet (ABC-TV). Little wonder that Americans are mired in fear over the prospect of international travel.
The reticence of Americans to travel overseas is a well documented fact. A consumer study by Skift.com – a leading source of news, information, data and services for the travel industry – concluded that only 13 percent of Americans traveled internationally in 2014. This is hardly surprising, given State Department statistics that less than 38 percent of the U.S. citizens hold a passport. Though this figure is slightly misleading (legal residents of the U.S. who are not citizens and hold foreign passports are not counted in the State Department numbers), it is still significantly below the percentage of passport holders in other countries. Contrast it with the 83% of non-immigrant British citizens who hold passports.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, the actual figures are even worse than the Skift study indicates. Only 29,015,463 Americans (9 percent) traveled to international destinations in 2013 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – and this includes destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, which have long been vacation havens for U.S. travelers.
American reluctance to travel abroad may have been born from our isolationist viewpoint during the Revolution, when we not-so-politely informed England we no longer needed or wanted them. Not only is isolationism in our DNA, the United States is so vast and diverse that most Americans feel no need to travel outside its borders. Exacerbating this is the fact that, unlike Europeans, whose holidays range from four to six weeks, the typical American worker receives one or two weeks of vacation. Considering that traveling offshore would take up two full days of an already short holiday, it makes perfect sense that Americans prefer to vacation in their own backyard.
The lack of exposure to cultures other than their own, however, carries a price that may not be realized for generations. Last week I struck up a conversation with two 20-something women working at a Chicagoland coffee shop. Neither of them had ever traveled outside the U.S. or had any interest in traveling internationally.
Both agreed they hated to fly, but admitted this had nothing to do with fear of airplanes. Their displeasure revolved around the endless security lines and ever-changing rules of the TSA. “We had to go to a family event in Florida a few months ago,” one of them recounted, “and we decided to drive because it was so much easier.”
“I’m just uncomfortable being around people who don’t speak English,” the other said. “And my husband is a police officer, so he is very concerned about safety. It’s a pretty scary world these days. Have you ever had problems when you travel?”
I recounted that in all my years of travel, I’ve only had one bad experience; many years ago, I was robbed while staying in a campground on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Not only have I never felt unsafe or threatened in any of the 50+ foreign countries I’ve visited, it would take me hours to recount all the kindnesses that people around the world have shown me. Locals have invited me into their homes, shared meals, and closed their shops to help me find my way in unfamiliar locales.
Sadly, most Americans gauge the safety of the world by reports on CNN and Fox, which spew fear mongering news around-the-clock, and recent coverage of the terrorist attacks has only amplified our fears. As a result, we stay home, where we feel safe. Yet are we truly safer, or is this an illusion? The European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, in affiliation with the United Nations, ranks North America as having the third highest incidence of assaults per 100,000 population, after Oceania and parts of Africa. We are far more likely to be involved in a mugging close to home than one in in a foreign country.
Do we need to be vigilant when we travel? Of course. It is advisable to leave your jewelry at home, avoid flashing large amounts of money, limit your intake of alcohol, abstain from illegal drug use, and stay away from politically motivated demonstrations. Above all, travelers should practice being aware of what is happening around them at all times. But terrorist attacks are no excuse to stay home. If we do, we become ever more insulated from the world and fearful of other cultures. If we do, the terrorists win.
When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@holeinthedonut).
Traveling slowly with my husband across Southeast Asia has been a great way to leave our jobs and lives in Canada behind to explore the world on a small budget. It also means we spend a lot of time together. Every meal, every walk, every bus ride to a new city, is together. Where once we saw each other only in the evenings and on weekends, we now see each other all the time. Where we once had schedules and habitual activities alone, there was now a much more shared and aligned schedule. This is fine, really, but we don’t always agree that something is worth our time or energy. Sometimes we need to split off and spend some time apart.
When we were living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I felt the need to take our scooter to some neighboring towns to see other temples, other roads, other food stalls. This little adventure interested only me so I took off down the highway with the scooter and left the husband behind to revel in his alone time with his fantasy football activities. I put a single earbud in, had Google maps speak directions to me and put on some music. I immediately got lost on a small residential road due to my inability to grasp the distance of 200 metres and turned too soon. I almost ran over a chicken that was literally crossing the road (why it was crossing the road is beyond us all.) Once back on the highway, I decided to trust the navigator voice and made my way south on Highway 106 to Lamphun. The drive passed under towering rubber trees that lined the road and went in and out of clouds of incense and smoke from barbecued pork. Each rotund tree had an orange swatch of fabric tied to it, indicating it was blessed by monks, therefore protecting it from logging. The roots had overgrown past the road and were pushing up the pavement along the edges. I took it slow and drove only as fast as I wanted with Blood Orange’s Chamakay setting the mood.
I stopped at a couple of different wats (temples) in Lamphun: Wat Phra That Hariphunchai and Wat Kukut respectively. The first was almost deserted compared to the wats I had visited in Chiang Mai. No more than four tourists and about five or so Buddhist monks were wandering the grounds. This was a much more peaceful way to visit a wat than pushed around in a throng of tourists, constantly moving and talking over each other. Little bells blew around in the wind and broke the silence with soft tinkling sounds like wind chimes. Wat Kukut was completely deserted. The only human I saw was a Thai man who came into the front gates briefly to release a small bird from a tiny wicker cage and then leave. I had a great opportunity to take my time and photograph every small detail that fascinated me: small wooden elephants casting long shadows, tiny figurines placed in flower pots and along walls, standing Buddhas along the walls of the chedis, catching just the right amount of light on my lens.
On the way back to Chiang Mai, I waited at a stoplight and saw a small girl staring at me from the car beside me. She shyly opened her window and waved. I waved back from my scooter with a big smile and saw the delight in her face right as the light turned and I sped off up the rubber tree highway, Kanye West’s Bad News taking me home.
Had my husband been with me, this day trip would have looked quite different. On the back of our scooter I would have been navigator, looking at my phone and directing rather than driving at my own pace, stopping whenever I wanted, and taking my time in the deserted wats. I probably wouldn’t have had my headphones in. Sometimes it’s nice to have a soundtrack of my favorite music to accompany an experience. It was nice to have a day that was my own with my own agenda. If we had been on a short two-week vacation, we would have been rushing to maximize our time and fit as many activities into our schedule as possible. A day trip to Lamphun wouldn’t have been considered when there are flashier attractions nearby that we would both enjoy. It’s a healthy exercise to spend time alone and be forced to rely on your own strengths and spend time with your thoughts as you travel. Growing up as an only child, this was standard. Spending time alone used to come so naturally to me. Since being married, I can sometimes forget the way my brain works and thinks differently alone. While it is an incredible journey my husband and I have taken on together, having a solo adventure here and there has enriched the overall experience.
To read more about Maryanne’s travel adventures check out Unknown Home.
Granted, the question has never been asked by anyone who’s actually met our children. Spend an hour interacting with them and you’ll know a few things:
Well, they do know they’re kids, obviously, but they don’t really see why that matters. They have friends of all ages, and that seems very normal to them. Perhaps because, it is.
What people mean, when they ask that question, is, “What do you do about your kids’ need to hang out with other kids?”
And that’s a fair question.
Obviously, they’re not in school 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with 20 other urchins of exactly their same age and experience, so there must be a social deficiency, right? They must be missing out on hanging with their buddies and doing “kid stuff,” right?
Erm… no. Not really.
The first thing I’ll freely admit is that being a family of six is different, socially, than being a family of two.
My kids are friends with each other, so each of them travels with three unique friendships in their backpacks. They hang together sometimes, they pair off sometimes. They like to be alone sometimes. If we had just one kid, it would be much harder to provide the diversity of friendship and interaction that happens quite naturally with six of us.
Just this morning, as Hannah was crouched by the woodstove, hanging her hair over the vents trying to dry it, I asked, “So Peep, what are ya going to do today?”
“Well… I’m going to work on my book project with Jessie… then I think I’m going to do something with Ez.”
At that very moment Ezra and Elisha were talking through an elaborate lego game that I do not understand but that they love passionately.
Where was Gabe? Out the door to work for the day. He’s got a gig working with an older man who’s become his friend while they haul brush, cut stuff up and rake.
So the first answer to that question: They have each other, and siblings really can be good friends.
My kids do too.
I often wake up to updates about Will’s progress on his novel or how his trip to the Czech went. (Will lives in Germany.) I get daily reports on the status of the Wood children and their little ones’ antics. (The Woods live in the USA.) Gabe occasionally plays games with boys spread between three continents at the moment. Emails fly back and forth around the planet like notes passed in my seventh grade homeroom behind Miss More’s back. The classroom has just gotten exponentially bigger!
The second answer: Technology helps
Everywhere we go, and across culture and language barriers, they make friends. Some of their friends are people they’ve never even met!!
A list of people considered “best friends” that we’d never have met if we hadn’t started traveling:
More “buddies” they wouldn’t trade:
When one of the kids reads this post I’m going to get in trouble for forgetting someone important, but honestly, I can’t keep track. I should also note that the age range of the above set of friends ranges from five to seventeen and my turning 13 year old would be FIGHTING mad if you suggested that he can’t really count the five year olds as his real friends. Age only matters if you let it.
Please note: these are ONLY their traveling friends, there are, of course, the long list of their long term bestest friends who they keep in touch with religiously, and who send us sweet little packages and cards and who we Skype with whenever we can.
There’s another factor at play though: Our kids have “friends” they’ve never met.
These are kids whose blogs they follow, or who live in other traveling families that we haven’t crossed paths with. These are the kids they are sometimes in classes with or that we get updates on via Facebook.
Ezra is quite keen to meet a child we are sure to be his brother from a different mother, they’re the same age, the same “bent” and are equally traveled. For now they snicker at each other’s antics from afar.
The whole tribe is on the edge of their seats this week worrying about a boy who took a nasty fall from a horse in Mongolia this week. He’s being airlifted to Hong Kong for surgery. He’s Elisha’s age.
The second week we were in New Zealand our friends, the Alboms, hosted a dinner party for a group of traveling families. We are all converging on Auckland for one night, taking flights in and out, weaving our threads through the same city for one day. There were about ten kids between 7 and 16, none of whom had met in the real world. All of whom hugged hard when they left and swapped emails like day traders. The parents got on just as well.
It’s not that our kids don’t fit “in the box.” Au contraire; I’ve never seen our kids in a situation where they couldn’t find common ground and enjoy their compatriots, even when they’ve visited “school” for a day. It’s that we’re raising our kids to be able to box hop, and peek over the top to realize that there is this whole space between the boxes that is also fair game.
Other traveling kids get this. No one told them. It has never been explained. It’s just part of their reality as what is sometimes called “Third Culture Kids.”
You know how, when you get together with people you went to high school with, you all start swapping stories about this teacher, or that clique, or that time SOMEONE dressed the Virgin Mary in a bikini with a lei and propped a sign behind her praying hands that said, “Mother Mary goes to Hawaii!” there is instant camaraderie?
It’s like that.
Okay, maybe not giraffes and whales.
I love those moments. Those moments are the BEST because those are the moments, and the friendships that are happening in the space between the boxes, you know?
It is the family joke… kind of… that the only real social downside of our travels is that Ezra is quite convinced that his peers are the 24 year old backpackers we hang with in hostels. And they are… and since one day he’ll be 24 (and then 34, and 44) we’re not worried. It will all come out in the wash.
They would tell you that they have no desire to be “normally” socialized teenagers. Hannah and Gabe shudder at the thought.
No. There’s no deficiency… just difference; and difference is okay. It’s better than okay, in fact, it’s good.
Because they’ve been socialized differently they aren’t uncomfortable in the same ways that many teenagers are. They like the “teen box” but they like the other boxes too.
Their favourite place?
Running amok between the boxes with the handful of other kids who they love more than life and live there too. And the adults they run into between the boxes, now those are the people who are socially challenging and inspiring. Those are the folks I hope my kids crash headlong into whilst playing hide and seek and shouting from box top to box top and careening around corners out there in the real world.
So what do we do about the social needs of our kids?
We introduce them to the world.
Originally published on Jenn’s blog: Edventure Project
Not long ago I was asked to write an article about the differences between traveling independently as a senior and a twenty or thirty-something. Admittedly, I bristled. I replied that the essence of travel was the same regardless of our age. We all visit new places to satisfy our curiosity, to experience something different, and to learn about cultures different from our own.
The myth that independent travel is only for the younger crowd needs to be debunked.
Since then, however, I have not been able to get the question out of my mind. When I left corporate life to travel around the world nearly eight years ago, I was 54 years old. My luggage was a rolling case that converted into a backpack with a zip-off daypack. I carried everything on my back for a couple of years, but the combination of growing older and adding more camera gear and electronic equipment eventually meant the pack was too heavy for me. Grudgingly, I converted to a smaller carry-on backpack for my equipment and a small rollerboard case. I remember wondering at the time whether that meant I was getting too old for such long-term travel.
Independent travel means not taking a pre-arranged tour. It means not staying in an all-inclusive resort designed to keep guests from ever leaving the grounds. It means not eating at fancy hotel restaurants that are not representative of the country you are visiting. It does mean staying at guest houses owned by locals, eating at neighborhood restaurants, and wandering through areas of the city or countryside that are not on the typical top-ten list of places to see.
Independent travel is more difficult, (and infinitely more rewarding), but it is not only for the younger crowd. I will admit, however, to making some concessions over the past few years that have made this mode of travel easier. I hope that sharing a few of my tips will encourage other mature travelers to give independent travel a try as well:
When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@holeinthedonut).
While not everyone grew up in a traditional family structure, this article can apply to anyone who has a loving relationship with a family member who was part of your upbringing. For me, that was my parents, but I recognize that some people were raised by foster families, the parents of your childhood friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or siblings. This article still applies no matter who was an integral part of your childhood or who you consider a parent or family.
Growing up, my family took a lot of camping trips. We could never afford to take trips outside of North America, so we stuck close to home in the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest. Traveling together as a family was such an important part of my upbringing since it taught me a lot about living simply and enjoying each other’s company as well as the world around me.
As adults, we carry these memories and values with us, shaping us as travelers, friends, spouses, and lovers. We have our own travel stories that range from road trips with friends, camping trips with spouses, and solo long-term trips abroad that redefine travel for the rest of our lives. However, there is something to be said about coming home and re-experiencing time with our loved ones. Traveling with our families, as adults, kicks this up a notch in a really special way.
Your parents can still pass on travel wisdom
You may be well-traveled by now, having taken your own adventures, maybe even becoming an expert in the art of travel. You may have surpassed anything your parents may have done when they were younger. You’re the travel expert in your family. This doesn’t mean that you have nothing left to learn from your parents. Taking a trip with a parent as an adult allows your parent to get back into their own travel groove. They’re not tasked with caring for you like they were when you were a kid and this lets them shine in an area they may know well.
This last summer, my cousin was coming back to California and I hadn’t seen her in twenty-one years. A family reunion was organized, so my dad and I decided to make it into a camping road trip and stop at many of the national parks on the round-trip trek from Vancouver. I was reminded how good at camping my dad really is. He had packed things that I never would have thought to pack, and those things ended up being small comforts and luxuries that I really appreciated. He even brought small pieces of sample carpet to put in front of our tent doors to help us brush our feet off when getting in and out of the tent. They were all particularly useful things that I’d incorporate into my next car-camping trip.
Exiting your context
You likely know your parents in a particular context. You see them in their home for holiday meals, you go out for dinner at your favorite Mexican place, or they come over to help you with your taxes. These places and situations have become so familiar that each interaction is usually quite similar to the one before it. The familiarity is comforting and your relationship can become strengthened by this. One thing that may surprise you is that once you exit this context by traveling, you may not recognize your parent or you may see sides of them that have been tucked away for years. Traveling with my dad reminded me that once upon a time, he was a young man who did exciting things. He shared memories of camping with his uncle in the 60’s, setting off firecrackers from the roof, and encountering bears in the woods. These stories didn’t always have a context at home, but in Yosemite Valley, memories came flooding back and I was there to hear about them.
Creating new memories
If you have had the chance as an adult to travel with your parents, the memories you share will be held dear to you. The snapshots and stories from those experiences stand out in your mind from the rest you had as a child, and your parents will feel the same way. They have an opportunity to spend time with their children in a new and exciting way and they’ll cherish that as well. I not only have the memories of the familiarity and the usual but the memories of an incredible two-week road trip through three states and six state and national parks. I have the wonderful memory of my dad and my husband trying to see who could keep their feet in a freezing river the longest, contorting their faces in pain as I watched and laughed.
My dad was capable of camping, hiking, and driving for days on end, but not all parents are. Travel can still happen in many different ways. For example, a week in Hawaii at a resort, a cruise through Europe along the winding Danube, or, for the more adventurous, even a camel trek through the deserts of India. The possibilities are endless and the memories are waiting to be made!
To read more about Maryanne’s travel adventures check out Unknown Home.
Over the course of my traveling years, I have made a fair number of trips with children, teens, and young people. I am a huge advocate for the benefits of travel on developing minds and souls. Many people recognize the benefits of getting outside of the comfortable bubble of Western adolescence and digging into new cultures, new customs, and new values. It is certainly satisfying to greet a young person, fresh off the plane from their first international trip, and hear them say just how thankful they are for what they have. Likewise, it’s refreshing to have conversations with well-traveled teens who recognize that designer jeans and name brand electronics are not the things to hang one’s entire being on.
But it’s more than simply “being thankful for what you have”. Not all travel happens in the developing world, where materialistic needs are quickly pulled into question. Not every trip to the developing world yields such a simple realization as thankfulness for one’s material possessions back home.
It’s so much more than that.
Here are six wonderful things young people have told me they gained a new appreciation for after traveling.
6. “I am so grateful that my parents trust me enough to let me do this.” There is something incredibly liberating for a young person when the adults in their life make the decision to let them fly on their own, even for a brief time. Anxiety is ever-present in parenting these days. There is an almost relentless push to make us believe that danger lurks around every corner. Culturally, we make a sincere effort at keeping our kids absolutely “safe”. But, fairly or not, when Mom drives you everywhere, Dad takes two years to let you go to the movie alone with your friends, and everyone keeps telling you about all the “creeps” out there, you begin to wonder if they really are trying to keep you safe or if they just don’t trust you to make good decisions. In my experience, the most “rebellious” teens are the ones who are wrestling with this question the most. They are also the kids who get joyfully teary eyed when describing how it makes them feel to know that their parents have enough trust in them to allow them the freedom to explore this vast world. Being grateful that the people who care about you most also trust you is a huge building block in the creation of a confident, capable adult.
5. “I am so glad you told me to bring less stuff!” Funny, but true. When you have to carry everything around on your back, suddenly there are a whole lot of creature comforts that seem very, very unnecessary. Hair straighteners, expensive clothes, jewelry, and extraneous electronics continually try to wiggle their way into the backpacks of my young travel companions. Those who choose to heed my advice and put thought into each item they pack not only have an easier time boarding planes, buses, and trains, they also realize that “needs” beyond the basics are subjective. They don’t just learn to be “thankful for what they have”, they learn that “stuff” does not define them and that they actually could live without much of it.
4. “I chose my college/thesis/after school activity/job/partner partially based on my trip.” This happens more often than you think. Shaking up the norm sometimes leads to clarity. A young person who previously felt unsure of what they might be headed toward might discover a new interest they may not have been exposed to at home. New languages, customs, and flavors might spark interest in the world around us. Like other big experiences, international exploration can have positive reach far beyond the dates of travel and many young people express gratitude for the experience when they realize the far reaching influence of their experiences.
3. “This is so cool! I have friends in _____ now!” In this age of technology, keeping in touch with friends made at the far corners of the earth is easier than ever. Teens and young adults are known for being quite interested in their friend groups. Broadening that friend circle to include people from different countries, races, religions, and cultures has an enormous benefit in the long run. It’s not a magic pill for reversing stereotypes or ending racism but being thankful for having met people from backgrounds different than yours is certainly a step in the right direction.
2. “I can’t believe I am here. This is… amazing.” This planet is full of awe-inspiring adventures. Exploring the Taj Mahal at sunrise, navigating ChiChi market in Guatemala, snorkeling in the Red Sea, and sharing a chai at a road side stand in Kolkata are just some of the big and small exploits that can make a kid say, “wow”. Connecting with people across cultures is often eye opening for young people seeking their place in the world. Realizing just how many experiences there are to be had in a lifetime can be freeing for young people, many of whom were just beginning to wonder if all there was to life was the familiar daily grind of their hometown. Recognizing the infinite possibilities in this world is something to be truly thankful for.
1. “I am so incredibly glad to be home!” Believe it or not, I love this one. Learning to “be thankful for what you have” is one thing, realizing with utter clarity that you are thankful for the “home” you come back to is quite another. Most often when a young person says this, they are referring to home cooked meals, playing games with siblings, and laughing with friends. Sure, some of them missed their cell phones, but that’s generally not the focus of their gratitude. Sometimes distance really does make the heart grow fonder.
The writer Frank Herbert once said, “Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” This could not be more true for young travelers. New experiences feed their souls and make it possible for them to awaken to a new view of their own lives and the world around them.
Have you ever traveled with young people? Did they express gratitude in surprising ways?
Travel is ruining my kids.
And me, for that matter.
All of our well meaning efforts for a broad education, liberal experiences in the “real world,” and our sincere efforts to raise kids who are cultured, multi-lingual and have some perspective on the diversity of the history, geography and human family of the planet have back fired.
Sure, they’ve been to the big museums in Washington DC, London, Paris, Berlin, Prague, and beyond. They’ve hit the culture highlights of Bangkok, Vienna, Jakarta, Singapore & Boston. They’ve learned their history first hand climbing pyramids in Central America, peering into American bunkers in Vietnam, and playing gladiators in the ruins of Roman colosseums in Tunisia. But instead of making them better people, people with depth of understanding and perspective, it’s ruined them
Case in point: Ezra, at six years old, standing in the middle of Notre Dame de la Guarde, the fantastic fisherman’s cathedral in Marseille says with authority, “Well, it’s nice, but it’s no Sistine Chapel.” He then proceeds to go out and play in the courtyard instead of marveling over the boats hanging from the ceiling.
They’ve made the classic American road trip, with seven of their best friends, no less. Ridden their bicycles nearly 10,000 miles and are au fait with the finer points backpacker culture (the good, the bad and the ugly.) They know how to haggle for hats and cab fare and they know, from experience, why they should pay top dollar for T-shirts and olive oil. But their privilege is completely wasted on them.
Case in point: Ezra (again… poor kid, perhaps he’s the worst because he’s been traveling the longest, proportional to his age) after a magical boat ride through a cave coated with glowworms, the likes of which are found few places in the world, he shrugs and says, “That was cool… but… well… it’s no Carlsbad Caverns!”
They’ve had fresh buffalo mozzarella in Rome, mole in Oaxaca, and Pad Thai on the island where it was invented. They’ve eaten a wide swath across continents, like the locust-teenagers they are. But it’s ruined us all. Thirty cents a kilo for clementines in Africa, twelve cents a piece for avocados in Guatemala, a buck a kilo for kiwis in New Zealand, mangos that melt in your mouth in Mexico, dragon fruit in two colours in Thailand, black bread to die for in Germany, meringues as big as your head in France. My mouth is watering as I type… we’re doomed forever to culinary disappointment.
My children have been ruined for food forever by their travels.
They’ll never be satisfied with a slice of American cheese. They’ll always compare the cost or the quality with that place in the world where the absolute glut on the market drove the price through the floor and we gorged ourselves until we couldn’t eat one. more. bite.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, to have their first Shakespearean play be at the Swan Theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon and their first opera at Sydney’s opera house. Now I realize that those were just two in a very long line of terrible parenting decisions that have doomed our kids to disappointment forever. How will adult life ever measure up?!
Are they going to spend their whole lives trying to replicate that perfect winter of learning to make coffee and chocolate from scratch, or in search of a mango that just doesn’t exist outside of the tropics? Probably. Are they going to be perennially disappointed by local theater and back yard adventures? Not likely. If there’s one thing traveling kids get a grip on it’s the precious nature of “local” and “back yard.” Will they appreciate the gift of what they’ve experienced? Eventually. I was about 20 before the gift of my childhood dawned on me. Would we do it any other way? Definitely not. In this case, the ends definitely justify the means.
While frequent flyer miles can help alleviate the costs of flights to a destination in a game-changing way, the travel that happens once in a destination can really add up too. This is particularly true in an affluent place like Europe.
But, as a continent that has a fabulous infrastructure for public transit, it should come as no surprise that even those with their own personal cars find a way to contribute to the public’s transit needs.
Indeed, carpooling is yet another task that the internet is revolutionizing in some way. Europe has a number of websites that exist to connect passengers to carpooling hosts, much as Couchsurfing.com or Airbnb.com do for travelers’ accommodation needs or Uber and Lyft do for local transportation needs
Unlike the short, local jaunts that Uber and Lyft accommodate however, these carpooling sites help you connect with drivers going long distances. For instance we’ve gotten rides for 150 miles or more such as Salzburg to Vienna or Berlin to Hamburg. Or even London to Paris in one case.
How it works:
Signing up for many of these sites requires registering a text number. If you do not have a phone that works internationally, we usually communicate with someone back home to use their text number and have them send us the code to complete registration.
Once registered, you have the ability to connect with drivers who have posted the routes they intend to do along with the payment required. Unlike Couchsurfing, the guest pays the “host”. It’s more like AirBnB in that way. However, we have always found the prices to be cheaper than the other public transit options, not to mention the trip is almost always quicker than these options as well.
Car-pooling sites you for Europe travel, by region:
UK carpooling sites:
German carpooling sites:
1.) Mitfahrgelegenheit.de -(the German version of carpooling.co.uk)
Non-region-specific carpooling sites:
1.) blablacar.com -(the site that seems to be most popular here in Europe.)
A few extra notes/challenges:
1.) As suggested above, some of these resources can be challenging without a phone. Even if you have a web-generated text number from apps like “TextMe” and “TextPlus”, sites like this do not seem to function properly with web-generated text numbers. (This is true for resources like Uber and Lyft too.) So even if you have a travel-friendly phone alternative like those mentioned here, not all of them will cooperate with these resources. Specifically ones relying on web-generated numbers.
2.) Even though Europe has a pretty decent coverage when it comes to these car-pooling sites, some regions of Europe are still lacking. For instance we’ve had trouble finding carpooling options to the Balkans.
3.) This car-sharing strategy is virtually impossible if you are a person who doesn’t like to pack light, because drivers often try to fill every seat in their car. Do not assume you are the only passenger taking advantage of any given car-share. If you have more than one or two pieces of luggage, include that in your correspondence with your driver ahead of time.
4.) Sometimes you can suggest the meet-up location and sometimes the driver will suggest a spot that works for them. You may have to do a little traditional public-transiting in order to catch your ride.
Of course, another reason I love using carpooling resources is because, like all the other people-to-people resources, it connects you with locals and other travelers.
I mean, in some ways it gives me the thing I love about hitch-hiking without the exhaustion and uncertainty. When people connect with locals, and locals connect with travelers, there’s a host/guest mentality that’s naturally built in and it produces conversations you simply wouldn’t have in the service-provider/consumer environment of traditional public transit.
We’ve had so many fascinating conversations with drivers and most times the hours spent driving just fly by. Next time you are in Europe, remember this carpooling option for your semi-long-distance journeys.
We’re sneaking up on our fifth anniversary of full time travel with our kids. When we left on our bicycle trip around Europe and N. Africa they were five through eleven years old. They are now ten through sixteen, and as comfortable in the livestock market in Tona Toroja as they are in a department store in the USA.
We travel specifically for the education and development of our children; we want them to grow up in the real world and become citizens of it in a way that transcends borders. There are so many things they learn in a classroom without walls, here are three of the most important:
1. People Are People
You can preach tolerance and multi-culturalism in a classroom until you’re blue in the face, but it’s so much easier to just take your kids to a park in every country you pass through, have as many guests in for dinner as you can lay hands on, and accept every offer of food or shelter from strangers as you go. Before long the kids stop seeing skin color, stop worrying about what kind of food hits the table, and get over stressing out about the language barrier. Pretty soon they’ll take off to play with the Indonesian kids and carry a soccer ball so that they can always draw in kids to play with.
I remember, when I was young, hearing my Dad say that it was good for my brother and I to have the experience of being, “The only white people within a couple hundred miles.” What he meant by that was that it’s a very good thing to experience life as a minority, perhaps to even be discriminated against a little bit. It builds compassion in a way little else can. It helps a developing person to see the commonalities, instead of the differences: We’re all doing our best to keep a roof over head, feed and clothe our families, celebrate the beautiful things in life, and leave the world a better place for our children.
It’s hard to hold on to an “us vs. them” mentality when you’ve eaten a meal with “them,” and count “them” among your friends. One of the primary benefits to liberal travel with children is that this lesson is absorbed organically, you won’t have to say a word to teach it.
2. Live Generously
We are not rich people, but on a world scale, we are fabulously, ridiculously, filthy-stinking rich. Just the ability to make American dollars as we travel and spend them in places that they go much further is a huge lottery win on the international economic scale.
We have dear friends who live in huts with dirt floors and metal roofs rusted through with holes. Others who support families of seven on less than $5,000 USD a year; some far less.
There is a lot of talk in traveling circles about how to give, and where to give, or more specifically, where NOT to give, so as not to exacerbate the problems. Careful consideration must be given to that balance.
In our experience, it is always better to live generously. When a need is presented, we try to find a way to give into it to fill it in a way that empowers instead of enables. We hope that our children will recognize their extreme privilege on the grander scale and do the same. We see glimmers of it, in their willingness to share the little they carry in their packs with kids who have far less. Their willingness to stretch a buck or do with less so that we can give more to someone else. And sometimes, they’ve seen us get taken advantage of too. But there’s a lesson, even in that: the “takers” are in the vast minority, and living generously is worth the risk.
We have so much, how can we not give?
3. Tread Lightly
The invention of plastic was simultaneously a boon and the bane of human existence. Trash is strewn from horizon to horizon across Tunisia. Barefoot children pick through heaps of plastic detritus in the margins of virtually every paradise. Plastic grocery bags are caught, like limp jelly fish on the coral of dying reefs in even the “best” of the world’s dive destinations. Jakarta is a fetid cesspool. Walking out in Beijing puts your lungs at risk. We can talk “green” all we want, but these are realities, and realities that are hard to remedy in places where money, education and resources are lacking.
It’s easy to look at the global problem and throw up our hands. We talk about that, in various arenas, with our children on a regular basis. But the answer lies in our own two hands. Understanding that every choice we make has consequences for the planet, and every piece of plastic anything that we buy will end up in a landfill somewhere eventually.
It’s not just about the three R’s, reduce, reuse, recycle, although those are important. We have to learn, as a race, to “need” less. To be happy without consuming more “stuff” and to tread lightly on the planet. One of the easiest ways to “teach” this is simply to travel. To allow kids to see the consequences of our over consumption first hand, and to connect the dots between the first world usage and the prices paid for that in other parts of the world. With global eyes, perhaps the next generation will do better.
What are you learning from your travels?