WHY DO I WANT MY KIDS TO TRAVEL?
(11 Reasons to make my kids see the World)
The importance of travel for children
During the last years, I have been asked why do you travel? More than once. Even if travel has become a routine for us; even if I pack more often than I like to, the question still amazes me. Why do you ask why? Isn’t it obvious? It seems it isn’t. Sometimes I put lots of effort in giving an answer, and I tell about all the whys (I do hope time’s not a problem), sometimes I can be painfully straight. Lately, however, there’s a new trendy question: Why do I want my kids to travel too? Or better, why am I putting them through such an ordeal? Making them miss school, suffer from jet lag, and at risk of catching who-knows-what tropical disease. Well, I hope time is still not a problem. My reasons are endless, these are some of them.
Travel makes children overcome shyness
Some years ago I took a day trip to Rome, a quick, crazy city break as my mom was finally visiting. We took an early flight and off we went, my 60 something mom, my five-year old, and me. Everything had been fine during the morning, but as expected, at 3.00 pm we were exhausted, sleepy and the Roman heat was merciless. We needed a rest. Yet, my son, still full of energy, was dying to see La Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth). Tired of hearing him ask me where it was, out of patience, I said to him: I have no idea where the f… Mouth is, I’m no Roman, go ask someone else! To my amazement, he turned, fixed a man and walked towards him. He asked him two questions. Are you Roman? Could you please tell us the way to the Bocca della Verità?
He was the most shy kid in his class. He was the one hiding behind the curtains during every school performance. Who would have ever guessed that in a different context he would just go and ask? This was the first of a long series of “Go and ask” with a positive outcome. And he manages to do it even with language barriers!
It’s not rare to hear that homeschoolers can’t socialize. This proves the opposite. Both my kids engage in endless conversations on trains, markets, the beach. They make friends, and keep in touch with them in time. They interact with monks, vendors, or kids. And again, language is never a problem; if anything is another thing to learn. As the mother of a very shy boy who is not shy when he travels, this is one of the most important reasons to make my kids travel.
Travel makes children overcome fears
Travel involves facing the unknown, even when you are returning to the village you go every Summer, there’s always room for the unexpected. When you travel to new places this room widens. When a destination is also remote, fear can be recurrent, at least until arrival. It happens to adults (I used to dream about snakes before traveling to Thailand, as I wrote here), for kids the feeling is enhanced.
However, and before arrival, fears are there. Some kids might be afraid of flying, or getting lost in an airport. But there is more. A different bed, room or city. New sounds, new food, new smells. Put everything together and it is overwhelming. But they have no other option, they must face and make peace with fears, and in most cases see they were not real after all.
Travel makes them smart
I love to plan my trips on the dining table with kids, husband, guides and maps. We all discuss and even argue about what to do, and why to do so, trying to make the most of our time. As much as I love this, I am a non disclosing parent… I do not tell them all about what they are going to see. I let the trip itself be the guide.
Many times I’ve found them discussing and deducing facts on their own, resulting in a more effective learning process. I hear them asking for a price in another currency, making the price conversion in less than a minute. I see them make language deductions when reading street signs.
They are even able to guide me through a city while reading the map, because I know there’s no way I get lost when they read the map.
Travel improves independency in kids
As they are still very young, this independence is still limited, but not less important. It’s been a while since they are responsible for their luggage, they know in advance what pieces they will need so they can choose (as long as not every tee is a Spiderman tee!). They know they have to carry the backpack so they must be wise as far as weight. For the same reason, travel has taught them to decide on entertainment: Is a book better than my Kindle? Is the Kindle better than a tablet? Do I need pens? Shall I take my friend’s address to send him a postcard? If I carry my savings, what will I buy with that money? If I want my souvenir to fit, should I leave something behind?
They learn to make choices, their first choices. And they get ready for more important ones still to come.
When kids travel they learn from differences
Everything is different when you travel and this teaches a child to adapt. But also to learn that different does not mean bad, scary or crazy. It just means something other than what I know. Neither worst, nor better. Just different. A different kind of house serves the same purpose, a different religion too. Differences get ourselves closer to what is different. And when you get close to it, you see it better. Fears go away.
When you understand differences, you tolerate them, live with them, accept them and recognized them as natural. You can defend them even if they do not belong to you. Isn’t this World lacking that?
Now they know they cannot expect milk every single breakfast, sometimes there will be noodles.
Travel makes kids get a grasp of different religions
My kids were not educated under any religion. I went through a conversion as an adult but my secular mind does not allow me to impose a belief on anyone. I am only giving them the tools to approach every religion in a candid way. They can ask questions and even pray in whatever kind of temple they are visiting. As long as they are respectful of rules and traditions, they are free to live religion as a very personal experience.
I’ve seen them praying to Buddha in Thailand and in thoughtful introspection inside a Synagogue. I’ve seen them marvel to the call of the prayer in Morocco and visit Cathedrals is wonder. These visits have ignited endless questions about God, about traditions, and wars as well. About – again – differences. They are still young to make a choice and, in any case, I am in no hurry. But when the time comes, it’s going to be their own. As I believe it should be.
Travel is better than formal education
If I am so much supportive of homeschooling there must be a reason. And it’s that I’m so little supportive of formal education (mind you, I used to be a teacher!).
Learning is a difficult process, it implies stress and effort during an age which does nothing to make things easy. Why was I putting more stress to that process sending my children to school? Where, besides some coherent rules they also learn at home, they had to respect a bunch of other rules that made no sense at all. I do not intend to make a list of all the silly things I have seen, read or heard from Italian schools. It’s enough to say that all the so-called important facts about History, Geography and Languages my kids know were learnt on the road. They are quick in Maths and, more than anything, they have never lost interest in learning. Experiences are more real (as I discussed here) and intense, making them hard to forget.
About respect… Well there is no single attitude or behaviour I’d like my kids to pick from their former schoolmates. And about socialization? Can a fifteen-minute break with people of your same age, every single day, for very long years be called socialization? Not for me.
Travel enhances communication within the family
I remember my kids coming back from school in the afternoon, sitting in front of their homework and being exhausted after it all. It was not rare to ask them How was school today? and hear the same answer No news. Everything ok. It’s always the same.
This has changed a lot since traveling became regular. There is always time to discuss and talk about something seen, something we are about to see. Some new taste, how this compares to that. There is always interest and expectation about what’s about to come.
I have also noticed a more open attitude to subjects that were not their favorite at school. The concentrate better and focus more because there is more to see, more to listen to and more to learn.
Travel makes children learn to share
It’s not strange for children to be offered things when they are traveling. A piece of fruit, a little souvenir from a place, even advice.
This puts them on the other side; showing them people who are happy to offer what they have to strangers.
And when people have very little, a smile can do as well. This has made them aware, there are people who have less, others that have more.
They see it’s easy to fall on any of the sides.
Their bond as brothers has become stronger as well, as they find themselves sharing a lot more than they do at home. And when fighting happens, not having my bro on my side is boring… so they fix it fast.
When they travel, kids learn tolerance, patience and respect
Have you ever been to an airport waiting for a delayed flight to depart? This is the best lesson you can teach a child about patience, tolerance and respect.
Waiting in lines to board, to go through security, to enter a museum, to check in a hotel. It is a mess at the beginning if you let it be. It can break your parent’s nerves. But suddenly it becomes part of the routine.
It’s not an ordeal I make my kids go through, as I’ve been told. It’s just another lesson.
Travel is a game, it makes kids remain kids as long as possible!
Children grow up fast. Too fast, these days. The joy, the excitement, the thrill of preparing for an adventure is one of a kind. The adventure in itself, a huge amount of experiences and memories.
When traveling, children grow and learn without noticing. They understand the world without making themselves useless questions, but meaningful ones. Kids become passionate, alert, open-minded, and have their own opinion. Even better, they understand it’s ok to change one’s mind.
And they learn to live in awe. Nothing is taken for granted. Not even a dish of food, not even a place to sleep.
The latest phone device or the ultimate computer game get a new perspective, there are more important things to wish for: playing with the sand, bathing an elephant, climbing a mountain, swimming with whales. A boring rainy afternoon in a hotel room does not mean dull cartoons anymore, it’s family games and planning the next adventure. A trip to the market can be a quest.
Treasures are real treasures. You found them on your own.
So, when they ask me, why do I make my kids travel? The answer is so simple. If adults love to travel, why wouldn’t children love it too?
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