There are many benefits to family travel. The experiences your children will have on the road will shape them into thoughtful, well-balanced citizens, capable of taking on the world. My parents have been traveling with me for as long as I can remember, making it our permanent lifestyle when I was only eleven years old. I am now sixteen and have no intentions of ending my nomadic lifestyle when I become an adult. I would like to share a few of the reasons parents should travel with their kids, from my perspective.
Kids learn to deal with other cultures
There’s no better way to get kids involved with other cultures than to put us in direct contact with them. Early exposure to different ethnic groups around the world will teach us how to comfortably interact with them and make lasting friendships. The ability to be at ease among other societies will be a major asset when your child is grown and dealing with “the real world.” One of the best gifts travel has given me over the years is a complete lack of discomfort when surrounded by all the chaos and confusion of an unfamiliar culture. I feel at home wherever I am, whether it be driving down an American interstate in an S.U.V, or competing with camels and donkey-carts on a bicycle in Tunisia.
“One of the best gifts travel has given me over the years is a complete lack of discomfort when surrounded by all the chaos and confusion of an unfamiliar culture.”
Travel will rapidly teach children how to make connections with those around us, despite natural difficulties such as the language barrier. We learn quickly that language is really no restriction, as we can all connect through every day activities, such as music or sports. For example, I once found myself at the top of a beautiful mountain, deep in the wild highlands of Guatemala. My family and I were given the opportunity to visit a local self-sustaining school there, and how could we refuse? When we reached the top, I was surprised to find that few of the children who surrounded me could speak Spanish, let alone stammer a few words of English. I was surrounded by children, many of them younger than I, without any chance of proper communication.
What could I do? For a kid who had never traveled, this could have posed some serious problems. In all likelihood, he or she would have felt awkward or unwelcome at first. But I think eventually they would have come to the same solution as I did. I wanted to ask if they had a soccer ball. So I used a kicking motion and shouted “Goal,” trying to demonstrate a ball with my hands. They did, as many toothless grins and enthusiastic nods revealed, and the black and white ball was quickly retrieved from a nearby shed. Problem solved! Neither of us used the same words for the ball, the goal, or other technicalities, but everyone knew how to play, so what did it matter? Travel will quickly teach children to reach past the limits of language to connect with others on a far more basic level.
Traveling children are more likely to be bilingual
Learning a foreign language becomes much easier when those around you speak it constantly. Children living outside their native country are much more likely to be motivated to learn other languages than children within a school program. The ability to pick up other languages helps us to become more comfortable in a foreign environment. Language courses are the perfect way to speed up our progress in another language. While in Guatemala, my parents put me in the backpacker’s Spanish school. Not only did this experience allow me to get to know a local woman, it was extremely educational.
But being around native speakers is more than just educational. Not only does leaving an English speaking environment force you to leave your comfort zone, where communication is easy, it brings you to a more complete realization of the differences between cultures. Many Americans have never seen the outside of their country, with many only taking the package trip, complete with resorts, English speaking staff, and guaranteed comforts.
While this method of travel may be comfortable and easy, it’s impossible to fully realize the depth of a foreign culture from your poolside chair, where everyone speaks English to some extent and is accustomed to dealing with the American tourists. Where would the motivation be to learn their language, adding it to your own? How could you experience the differences in that culture? By taking ourselves away from the comfort of those who are fluent in English, drowning in a wild local market or on a crowded city bus, we can realize how important it is to learn a foreign language. The sooner your children have the opportunity to widen their knowledge of foreign languages, the better. It is commonly known that we find it much easier to pick up a language than adults do, and what better way to teach us than to immerse us in a foreign culture?
Kids learn to go with the flow
Travel is one of the best ways to teach kids to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Early on, we learn the importance of being able to “go with the flow.” Taking things in stride becomes second nature, a skill which will serve us well in our adult years. Also, conditions that seem intolerable to others won’t phase us. For example, trekking through a dusty desert on a hot day, having to use the jungle floor as a bathroom, or cycling through a freezing downpour in England become everyday difficulties to overcome.
I remember one of our very worst days thus far. We were cycling through England, where it seems to rain for most of the year. Unfortunately, the fickle weather gods made no exception for a few intrepid cyclists, and nearly every morning we woke to the depressing sound of H2O dripping down relentlessly onto our tents.
What could we do? There was no putting off our trip for nine months until the rain stopped, we had a ferry waiting to carry us to sunny Holland, and we had no choice but to slog through the ever-growing puddles of muck towards the coast. I donned the too-tight bike shorts, rolled a soaking tent into a sopping wet canvas imitation of a Swiss Cake Roll, and loaded my bike down with about 40 pounds of gear.
Then, off we went, leaving a muddy patch of ground behind us to mark our passing. I was always just behind Dad, and no matter how far behind him I rode, I could never get far enough (without annoying the brother behind me) to avoid the spray of mud that constantly flew from Dad’s tire into my face. No matter though, I slogged on through it. The rain was cool at least, and kept off what little heat there was. We were near the famous Sherwood Forest, the scenery was beautiful despite the rain and mist, and the day was relatively normal, for England.
“It was through the hard moments that I was taught to deal with any struggle to come my way.”
It was then that disaster struck. A patch of gravel appeared out of nowhere, and as I swerved to avoid it, I rode into a slippery slime of muck that coated the side of the road. The curb decided it would help me out of the muck, and tore my tire away from the slime. I flew, tumbling head over heels over the front of my bike. A patch of stinging nettles reached out prickly green arms, caught me, and held me close in a malevolent embrace. My bike crashed on top of my bruised body, pressing me deeper into the nettles. It was a while before I could disengage myself from the mess and pull my swelling body out of the nettle patch. Yes, it was miserable.
But I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Why, you may ask? A few reasons. For one, it makes a rather excellent story, doesn’t it? For two, I learned a thing or two about gravel and curbs. And for three, the day, for all of its miserable difficulties and painful spills, taught me that despite the disagreeable moments that are bound to happen in life, they are simply moments in time and aren’t likely to last. Plus, you are almost sure to get a story out of it in the end.
It was through the hard moments that travel showed me how to deal with any struggle to come my way. The miserable days taught me to deal cheerfully with the hard things and to be all the more grateful for those flawless days on which I remember why we decided to leave the guidebooks in the dust and see the world for ourselves. Is there any better way to teach us this?
International experience will help them to develop future careers
International experience is extremely important for many different parts of an adult life. Being on the road naturally teaches us flexibility and management skills, something many adults struggle with. Also, interacting with citizens of the world from early on will give us a broader mindset than we might be able to gain while living a “normal” life. All these traits can be indispensable when searching for a career in the future.
Travel has allowed me to have a head start on an online travel writing career, something I wouldn’t be able to do if my family had stayed home. It’s also showed me that anything is possible. My generation is going to have so many opportunities to change the world, to live the way we see fit, and to break out of the common mold.
“Travel is one of the most effective ways to break us out of the American mold born of tradition and open our minds to see that the world is far bigger than we had previously imagined, and the future is really open to whatever dreams we may have.”
Travel is one of the most effective ways to break us out of the American mold born of tradition and open our minds to see that the world is far bigger than we had previously imagined, and the future is really open to whatever dreams we may have. The experiences we have on the road will allow us to know our own desires with more clarity, and so when the time comes, we will be able to make an informed decision about the direction we want to go with our lives.
This is one of the many things that kids who are raised traditionally struggle with. I’ve met dozens of teens who don’t know what to do with their lives. Listen to those around you, and tell me you haven’t heard again and again, “No, you can’t do that because of (fill in the blank).” Our dreams can be killed early on, leaving us unimaginative when we’re grown. Travel can open young minds to show them that even the most extravagant dreams are attainable, and it will also give us a global perspective on life. Is that not worth something in a world where entrepreneurial and international skills are valued above many other things?
It’s the best form of education available
There is no better school out there than Mother Nature herself. Where better to teach us the essentials of life? What better playground than the oceans, the forests, the deserts? What better playmates than children from around the world? Of course, I’m not suggesting that going completely without textbooks is a good idea. But bringing them with you as you travel is, in my opinion, the best form of education our world provides.
Road-schooling is not for everyone, but it’s been the best option for me. At sixteen, road-schooling has permitted me to graduate early and enroll in Oregon State University while living on the road full-time. Maintaining a proper education while traveling doesn’t have to be difficult. Many textbooks can now be acquired electronically, which means less heavy books in my backpack.
“A traditional school setting, complete with fluorescent lights and hours of time with peers alone, would never have offered me the educational opportunities I have today.”
Having the world as a teacher has taught me far more than just the basics of math, science, and English. I spent a few weeks learning from a fantastic blues guitarist, Steve James, in Guatemala, an experience I would never have been able to have were we not on the road. I took lessons in both Katchiquel (a local Mayan language) and traditional weaving from a sweet Mayan woman named Imelda. I learned about the gladiators by visiting the colosseums of Rome and Tunisia. Did you know there were colosseums in Tunisia? As it turns out, the Roman Empire extended into Northern Africa! I saw Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummers Night Dream” for my first live play while in Stratford Upon Avon. He, and other historical figures, came to life in a way they never would have had I simply read the history books. They became real, tangible people I could relate with, having come to terms with them on a much more personal level.
“It will set us into the real world right away instead of placing us in an artificial setting until we reach eighteen, when we are suddenly expected to be capable adults with zero experience in the outside world.”
Traveling with your children will not only provide you with wonderful memories and stories over the years, it will give us an outstanding opportunity to learn and grow into amazing citizens of the world. It will give us an outlook on our planet that we wouldn’t achieve any other way, and permit us to understand other cultures with a depth we would not be able to gain while in a normal classroom. It will educate us above and beyond what even the best traditional setting could offer. It will set us into the real world right away instead of placing us in an artificial setting until we reach eighteen, when we are suddenly expected to be capable adults with zero experience in the outside world. After all, in what adult situation are you placed into a room with people exactly your age, experience, and culture, for seven hours a day? Do you think being raised in this situation truly prepares us for real world experiences and challenges? Do you think it’s fair to expect us to suddenly be a capable adult after having been in this unnatural system for most of our lives?
Educating us on the road allows you to bond with us in a way you never would had you stayed home and in a structured lifestyle that required us to be at school for most of the day, and then busy with homework at home. Travel brings families closer together, as we rely on each other for entertainment and mutual enjoyment of our experiences. Travel will allow us to make our own conclusions about the world around us, learn more than you could ever believe possible, and grow into thoughtful, intelligent adults, capable of following our dreams and taking on the world one step at a time! What better form of education could you ask for?
For me, life on the road has been an epic adventure. I can’t thank my parents enough for taking that scary leap of faith and deciding to travel with me!
Have you thought about trying to educate your children from the road? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more information on family travel, check out the following articles:
Photo credits: Blend Images, all others courtesy of Tony Miller and may not be used without permission.