As I’ve stated before, one of my objectives in this blog is to encourage families to travel with their children. I enjoy sharing some of our personal experiences and I am glad to offer some tips from time to time that I find make whole-family travel easier.
However, today I want to back up and share what I want my child to gain from such a travel-focused life, and I hope it resonates with some of what you want for your children as well.
I think I could add more reasons or state them differently, but here are the top 9 things I want Petunia to gain from traveling.
1. My time and attention
We do make “family fun time”, as we call it, a pretty big priority around here. But let’s be honest, there is always work, housework, sports practice, growing a small business, Facebook (for me), t.v. (for her), and living ordinary life that gets in the way of meaningful connection. We still have thoughtful games of checkers and cards, good conversations over ice cream, and plain ol’ cuddle-on-the-couch moments. I am not saying we need travel to give our children our time, just that it’s a great opportunity not only to give them more attention, but to have deeper talks born out of richer, non-ordinary experiences. Not only did Petunia get the full attention of Mama and Daddy all day on Canada Day when we celebrated it in Ottawa, but we got to speak about what that day meant, compare it to our Independence Day and have all kinds of good talks.
2. A sense of adventure
a.k.a. A willingness to take risks! I want her to climb the mountain, literally and figuratively. I want her to try things she thinks she cannot, but will try anyway because the location demands the chance be taken. (Which, by the way, is how very unlikely little I climbed Mt. Fuji.) There are rivers to raft, strangers to talk to, subways to ride, paths to wander, and I pray she’ll have a sense to undertake a lot of adventure. In travel, as in life, I want her to be brave. (To my mother: I will be okay if she leaves out certain adventures I sought to undertake, but you would love the redemption, I understand; so let’s just see how things go, shall we?)
There are many ways to gain and practice compassion while traveling, from giving up your seat to the elderly at an airport or bus, to coming face to face with real need and hurt in the world. When we’ve traveled out of our normal zone, we’ve encountered homeless people in cities, desperately impoverished children living in shacks in Uganda and a broad spectrum of people with all sorts of special needs. We want Petunia to know about poverty (including, actually, that it exists in our hometown), loneliness, and the vulnerable of society, and we often use our experiences as springboards into life lessons. Of course, the discourse and practice of compassion happens fairly regularly around our house (I am employed as the Director of Compassion Ministry at our church, after all) but the world makes a great classroom for further study and exercise.
Yes, just a good ol’ time! Amusement parks, favorite characters, swimming in all kinds of things–hotel pools, water parks, rivers, resorts, lakes–all of it, riding all modes of transportation, interactive museums, picking out souvenirs from nature or unusual stores, playing fun games with friends you meet and keep for two hours, hiking, camping, interacting with animals, whew! I want Petunia to have FUN! And we want to have a lot of fun with her!
Petunia leading a “friend of a couple hours” from the campground.
5. An expanded education
It’s funny how you’re always learning something in travel, even when you’re not trying. Architecture, historical markers, fun museums, names of town–everywhere is a chance for you all to learn something together or for you to teach your children. Add to that purposefully putting in a little learning: History in our great cities, geography by studying a map of where you’re going, math by measuring the distance and/or converting currency and/or accounting for the time difference back home, foreign language that can be put to practice, social studies, art…and then all types of museums where you’re learning facts on any of the widest array of subjects all the while enjoying yourself. Petunia loves museums, so we’re grateful for that extra bit of grace. We can learn a lot in a classroom (and boy are we grateful that Petunia has had some of the best teachers) but some lessons that stick with you forever are the ones you get by living them out.
6. Healthy self-confidence
I believe there are many reasons that travel raises the level of self-confidence in a person. For one, there’s something about going places and doing things that are outside of your comfort zone and living to tell the tale that boosts courage. Then there are the experiences where you really try something you think you can’t do and, succeed or fail, the experience alone can raise self-esteem. Ok, especially succeeding. However, I’m a firm believer that if you succeed at everything then you aren’t trying hard enough. Finally,
suppose I had Petunia just may find herself someday in a work or social situation where it seems everyone else is smarter, richer and more connected. But when the conversation really gets going and she knows a thing or two about countries, currency, and landmarks from personal experience, throw in some opinions on the best art galleries, or science museums, or beaches or NY pizzerias…well, it might just help self-confidence.
Standing before the mighty rushing Nile, right where it crashes northward over falls that are too dangerous to raft, one can’t help but have an appropriate sense of one’s own smallness in this world. Playing with children who will most likely never own a brand new toy in their life, but give you a prized Barbie doll head because they want to give you a gift is humbling. Gazing up into the sky and still not seeing the tops of the glorious trees in majestic forests shouts in a whisper that there is an amazing, creative author of this world and we are just one, though dearly loved, individual in a great span of time.
8. Good memories
This is different than #4 above. We traveled places for Petunia to have fun long before she would have been able to develop any lasting memory of it. Fun is important in its own right. However, fun lived again through memories, and not just fun but wonder, sadness, excitement, even a little fear, discovery, anticipation…these…these are treasures. I cannot overstate the times a smile has caught my lips unawares or a sudden tightening of the chest brought on by a song, a smell, a sight, hearing a name, or reading a phrase that to me will always be linked to a certain memory of other times and places usually, in my case, experienced through travel. My life is richer in layers because of these memories and I wish for Petunia to have all her heart can hold.
9. A broader perspective
The more we become interconnected through social media, the more I learn about how others feel on a wide variety of topics, many of them ridiculously mundane, but others of great import. Many times I’ve read the opinion of someone that I generally find to be well mannered and fairly well educated on an important topic and thought to myself, “They just really have no idea.” And that’s not mean; it’s just true that, often, they really just do not have an idea of the other side of the argument. It’s very easy to live life in a single state or two, grow up with people like you, travel only to places that cater to people like you and then espouse opinions and make declarations on social media or real life without ever understanding where the proponents of the other side of the argument are even coming from. To be clear, in this home, we hold some strong opinions. On the other hand, we want Petunia to meet people and go places that aren’t in the least like us or like home. I want her to meet–and know–people of different races, religions, cultures, political parties, socio-economic levels and more. I want her to have a perspective on this whole wide world and all the people that the issues affect. I want her to grow up into a young woman who holds her own very strong opinions and beliefs and will defend them, but not because she doesn’t realize there are other ways to think. I want her to confidently go on with her choices because she believes they are right, not because she believes that people who hold differing opinions are dumb. I want her to grow up and be known for what she is for rather than what she is against. And I want the same for her parents.
What’s on your list? Please share because I very likely want them on my list, too.