How to Raise Good Citizens – Fostering Multi-Generational Travel
“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was about to happen.” – A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
This was true the minute I spotted my husband, leaping lawn furniture to meet me. True, the moment I held our daughter in my arms. Sometimes adventure presents itself. Sometimes you have to seek it out. Either way, the importance of adventure to family life should not be underestimated.
I’m always surprised by families that don’t travel together. Even as a little girl, my family would take road trips – 9 people in a car – from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, PA for lunch with the grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It didn’t matter to my parents that we spent twice as long in the car on a 5-hour drive as we did with our relatives. It was a way to stay connected.
If you agree that family connection is important, plan a trip with your parents and children and grandchildren. Re-connect. Rinse and repeat.
That’s how we’ve done it for all of my daughter’s life. When our daughter, Jackie, was born, we dreamed of the adventures we would have with her.
By the time Jackie was seven, one of the family jokes was that she could get you from one place to another, anywhere in the world. From her first flight at 2 months old, air travel never confused her. She thrived on it. As she grew, she took to the planes, trains, and automobiles as well as subways, buses, boats, bicycles, rickshaws, and horses.
An easy way to entertain her on car trips would be to throw random destinations at her so she could tell us how to get there.
Omaha to Chicago?
What part? The Bears Stadium. Queue the eyeroll. Parents can be so silly. Take a car or bus or taxi to the airport, flight to O’Hare, El to the Stadium. Next?
Omaha to Paris?
Okay. A little tougher. Car/bus/taxi to the airport, flight with connection thru Chicago or New York to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, with a taxi into the city since the airport transfers were unreliable.
Omaha to a tiny village in Africa?
Her answer to the question when she was little was: car/bus/taxi to the airport, flight to the big city in Africa, and she’d do research on whatever the equivalent of a rickshaw was for getting to the village you wanted and get back to you.
Fast forward 15 years.
The irony is not lost on me that, as I write this, she’s in the village of Bettanti in Senegal. Getting there requires an uncomfortable 7-hour car ride and an even more uncomfortable 2-hour boat trip from Dakar. For those interested, Dublin Airlink to the airport, connection through Lisbon (flight late so 24 bonus hours in Lisbon, thank you, Marriott!), flight to Dakar, 2-hour taxi to NGO housing.
She’ll earn her Master’s Degree in Development Practices or “sustainability” at the end of 2020. Jackie has been named Humanitarian of the Year and Philanthropist of the Year by the Carter Center, and we relate much of her good citizenship to traits she learned at home and developed through travel.
Parents: Give the Gift of Adventure
We no longer “need” material things. We have enough. We give each other the gift of adventure for celebrations.
Please don’t confuse “adventure” with “expensive.” Travel needn’t be costly.
You can take supremely inexpensive trips in your own backyard. Local events are often free, so the only cost may be the gas it takes to get there. Outdoor adventures are often as inexpensive as the park pass entry (tip: invest in an annual pass to save even more).
Adventure, to us, means something outside the daily work/home/sleep continuum.
When I moved to Prescott, Arizona, Jackie got me line dancing. Boots ‘n all. When she went to college in Washington, DC, I got her a summer pass to kayak or stand-up-paddleboard on the Potomac River from Georgetown to the Monuments.
When I visited D.C., we went kayaking together. As with skiing, her skills exceeded mine. She helped me in and out of the kayak at the pier and through the shallow marsh on the west side of the river. Her ability to teach and assist me always impresses. There may be no better feeling as a parent than when you see your child surpass you at something meaningful, then stop to help you catch up. She not only helps the world; she helps me, too.
Whenever we can plan coinciding time away from work and school respectively, we take big trips. Last year, we visited 4 continents, two new to us – Oceania and South America.
She tells me that my willingness to travel to new continents and explore new cultures expanded our relationship. She perceived fearlessness as I harnessed over the edge of Auckland’s SkyTower, 1076 feet over the ground, which portends hope for future escapades.
Multi-generational travel can so easily expand family relationships. It’s simply a matter of taking the first trip.
Jackie’s initial reluctance to take a photography expedition to Machu Picchu surprised me. She claimed no particular interest in photography. The trip wasn’t on her bucket list. That said, we would spend two weeks together in another country, and her Spanish was better than mine, so she accepted. Her advancing language skills allowed me to see her in a new light.
At a mid-day meal with four of our new photography friends, she was able to communicate everyone’s needs and assist with adjustments for dietary restrictions. Her quiet confidence, appreciation of the server’s work, and open attitude towards cultural norms in Cusco made our trip so much easier.
Travel somehow becomes both an equalizer and an expander. As our family positions equalize in adulthood, our capacity to understand the other’s strengths and skills expands our interests and common bonds.
I’ve always told my daughter we won’t be “friends” until I stop being financially responsible for her, but I find her skills mesmerizing. I’m raising the friend I want to know. She’s fascinating.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
Mr. Miller had it right. Every destination allows me a new way of seeing what a wonderful young woman my daughter has become. It turns out, I’ve created a young woman who will become one of my best friends. Your travels with your own family can build the same perspective.
Coming up, our next big trip after grad school: Our last two continents – Asia and Antarctica. Life is a grand adventure.
Tips to Foster Multi-Generational Travel:
- Start kids young. The more they enjoy travel, the more they’ll want to do it with anyone available – even their parents.
- Let everyone take a turn choosing destinations. Grandparents may gravitate towards excitement, parents towards relaxation, and kids towards a Disney theme park.
- Pack your patience. Practicing courtesy and humility raises better humans by example and allows for a more peaceful trip.
- Mix up the activities. Families may enjoy laying at the beach, but not for an entire vacation. Seek out adventures and mix them with educational or historical activities. Schedule a little downtime.
- Let the youngest in the group be the expert. I’ll never forget the year I took my parents and my daughter to Whistler, B.C. My father, in his 50s, had never been on skis. He was willing, though, so we took lessons as Jackie went off to ski the blue trails with her kids’ club. Dad soon surpassed my skills at skiing (I start well, but never improve) and was taking the green trails with Jackie before the end of the trip. The pride I felt watching my daughter gently correct her grandfather’s position (as her instructors had done for her over the last 5 years) to improve his balance was worth more than the cost of admission.
- Learn something new together. If you want some great laughs, take a cooking class. If you want someone frustrated, take a photography class. Either way, you create new memories.
- Tragedy + Time = Humor. Now, I’m not talking about real tragedy – not death or serious illness. I’m talking about little tragedies, as in the campgrounds were rained out, the canoe tipped over and you lost all your liquid refreshment, and Mom was so covered in mosquito bites she could barely see out of her swollen eyelids. Yeah, it’s almost funny now.
- Share your grand adventures with friends and relatives. It could encourage them to go explore the world with their family, too.