Jenn Miller has been on the road with her husband and four children for over five years and is well versed in all aspects of long-term travel. Each week Jenn will bring a unique insight into extended travel, touching on topics ranging from inspirational articles to practical trip planning to family travel to education on the road to interviews with interesting people she’s met along the way.
You might have noticed that I’m a strong supporter of travel and education. The two are not mutually exclusive in my book. In fact, I would argue that travel is a richer experience for the depth that a proper education adds to a person’s ability to think, reason, and question regarding his experiences in the world. I would also argue that no education is complete without a stint outside of one’s own culture. Does this mean that you’re not educated if you hold a degree from a university in the mid-west but have never been outside of a three state radius? No, it just means that there is more to learn. But that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? What is life but a cradle to grave education and re-education? The idea that we’re at some point “educated” because we’ve completed a set course is just silly, so don’t get your feathers ruffled when I make the assertion that travel should be part of a well-rounded education. I’m not criticizing you; I’m setting the bar higher for me.
Why do I think travel is a vital part of every well rounded education?
1. There’s more to learn in life than spelling rules and math facts
I’m not belittling traditional education. I’m a huge believer in a rigorous and thorough education for everyone. I’m not, however, naive enough to think that everything we need to know for full participation in “the real world” can be learned inside four walls with a new package of crayons purchased each September. The purpose of a good grounding in the basics is to equip us to take on the bigger challenges, both physical and mental, not to mention social or ecological.
I would also argue that no education is complete without a stint outside of one’s own culture. Does this mean that you’re not educated if you hold a degree from a university in the mid-west but have never been outside of a three state radius? No, it just means that there is more to learn.
Beyond enlivening and giving purpose to subject matter, travel teaches things that simply can’t be learned in a classroom:
- That “they” are just like us
- That we can live without many of our “necessities”
- That there are many sides to a story, historical or otherwise
- That we are stronger than we believe we are
- That we are in love with places and people we have not met yet
- That there are many ways to live a life
- That our assumptions are wrong: case in point, the mango you bought in the grocery store, in no way approximates the breadth and depth of the experience of “mango” in the tropics. Incidentally, your assumptions will be challenged beyond fruit.
- Travel teaches gratefulness in a way nothing else can
- The limits of yourself. Travel will challenge your pre-conceived notions, even about yourself… especially about yourself
The classroom is a good start. The world will continue your education.
2. Proper socialization happens in the real world
Can I just say, that as an alternative educator I get oh-so-tired of the argument that proper socialization must occur within the confines of the educational establishment? Poppycock! Proper socialization happens in the real world, and we all know it.
It’s in our interactions with a broad swath of humanity that we come to find our place in the world. Not in being trapped within one social context. Travel will socialize you in a way that changes you forever. Skin colors begin to blend into one. Accents, while giving you hints about a person’s origin, will become a sort of music to your ear, instead of something that makes someone “weird.” You’ll begin to learn the real meaning of tolerance as you find yourself and your own narrow set of beliefs on the side of the minority, and you discover what it means to be at the mercy of the majority. Tolerance extended is a beautiful thing. You’ll learn about compassion from the old, the weak, the sick, and the children of the world in a way that humbles you… or at least it does me… when I consider how much those with so little are willing to give.
Proper socialization happens in the real world, and we all know it.
If you’re an adult who’s never been outside her own culture, please be mindful of the fact that your education is not complete without proper socialization. If you have children, do them the great favor of dipping them in the real world for a while, and allowing them to feel and find their place in the human family at large.
3. Travel provides a “Why” for formal education
Travel often provides a person with the “why” for the subject matter that’s boring her to tears in the classroom.
- Spanish seems a silly thing to learn when the upper peninsula of Michigan is your only frame of reference, but it’s an all consuming necessity the moment you step off of the plane in Bogota.
- The Vietnam War seems like a long list of dates and odd place names to memorize until you find yourself peering into an old American bunker above the Perfume River, with the son of a Viet Cong for a guide.
- Pol Pot got exactly one paragraph in a high school textbook. It took a little longer than that to explain to my kids why there are so few old people in Cambodia. They were riveted.
It’s hard to get a person interested in abstract concepts, and the rest of the world is an abstract concept to many. If, however, you’ve got a point of reference – a person, place, thing, or an experience to tie the information to, then all of a sudden it’s a whole different ballgame. So many of the subjects that are “dry and boring” inside classroom walls are the greatest stories ever told when you have been to the place in question. The cathedrals of Europe enliven Catholic history like little else. The pyramids of Central and South America tell stories that no three week unit on Mexico in third grade ever did. I’ll never forget my eight year old lighting up like a comet and tearing around the museum room at the ruins of Copan, in Honduras, when he made the connection that the hieroglyphs told a story, “A REAL AND TRUE STORY!”
Maybe you didn’t have the chance to travel when you were a kid, or even take a semester exchange through your high school or study abroad during college. That’s okay. Travel now. Your education is still in progress – get out there, learn more, rekindle lost interests, let the world teach you!
4. Often passions are kindled and life missions unearthed
Often, travel opens our eyes, not just to the world on the surface, but to the human world, the lives and experiences of our brothers and sisters on different parts of the planet. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that awakes your passion, or shows you a place where you could be of service and make a real difference in the world. Sometimes, it’s a moment that alters the course of your whole life, sometimes it’s a simple opportunity to sow into the life of others as a free gift to the universe.
Sometimes, travel shows us who we are in the context of the whole world in a way that simultaneously brings us to our knees and inspires us to get up and do something.
- Like the grandmother who visited Cambodia on holiday and stayed for years, working alongside a fellow who is single handedly caring for 20 orphans in his family home.
- Like the family who drove into Guatemala looking for adventure and ended up building a farm and a humanitarian project around it.
- Like the serendipity of hearing a public radio segment about a literacy program called Co-Ed Guatemala, visiting one of their schools in Pixabaj and, as a 14-year-old, working hard to raise money so that other kids can learn to read.
- Like discovering it will only take $400 a year to put a young man through school as an English teacher and making the commitment, on the spot, to be his benefactor.
Sometimes, travel shows us who we are in the context of the whole world in a way that simultaneously brings us to our knees and inspires us to get up and do something. Sometimes, through travel, our life’s work and passion presents itself; sooner rather than later if we’re lucky!
5. The purpose of education is to prepare a person for the real world
If the purpose of education is to prepare a person for the real world, why is our educational system set up to insulate us from it? It is in the real world that we discover our true selves. Is is possible to call an education complete that has not included a stint “in the real world?” Can we limit our “real world” experience to only one culture, one country, one “reality?”
If what we’re seeking is actually education, and not simply “schooling,” then we can’t leave out the experience of swimming in the big dirty pool of humanity that is the “rest of the world.” Schooling might happen between four walls, in one culture, in one location, but education is ongoing, from birth to death, and is constantly occurring with every breath both as individuals and collectively, as the human race. We’re all learning together.
There are two sets of people finishing this article:
The set that agrees with me and knows exactly what I’m saying, and the group that is now formulating mental arguments to the contrary, annoyed that I would consider them less than educated simply because they haven’t had the opportunity to travel.
If you fall into the latter group, let me issue a challenge: before you blast me with all of the ways I’m wrong, and before you assure me that you’re perfectly well-educated without ever setting foot outside your home country, commit to taking a trip within the next year. Not a trip to a resort that insulates you from the place you’re visiting, but take a trip that puts your boots on the ground somewhere completely different for at least a week. Two would be better. A month would be a great start. Take the trip. Then, when you come back, if you really believe you’ve learned nothing, and it has not changed your perspectives and added to your education, I welcome your rebuttal, and I’ll read it very carefully, seeking to understand and grow myself.
And that’s the big thing, I guess: we can’t know what we don’t know. Travel is vital to a well rounded education, but only travelers can really understand that, which sounds pretentious as hell, doesn’t it? But it’s not meant to, and the lessons travel teaches are exactly the opposite. They’re lessons of humility, grace, compassion, understanding, mercy, gratefulness, tolerance, persistence, endurance, love for others, love for self, community, independence, interdependence, and at the end of the day, the deep value of education in the truest, most global sense.
To read more about travel and education, check out the following articles and resources:
- If you want to start planning your own trip, sign up for our free program Plan Your RTW Trip in 30 Days
- Read Long Term Travel as Education
- Read Why You Should Forgo the American Dream and Let Travel Transform Your Life
- Read The How’s of Road Schooling