Traveling is deeply important to our family, and we prioritize it over many other things. As the kids have grown, we find traveling with them is fun . . . most of the time. They are old enough now that we can actually get through a museum and sit through a dinner at a nice restaurant. They will engage in conversation and even come out learning a few things. Travel takes time and money so it’s important to make the most of any family trip no matter where you go.
Here is why we travel, and most importantly, why we drag our kids along with us.
Travel makes you “smarter”
This is obvious, I know. But I’m talking beyond reading placards at the museum. For teens, traveling can bring all they things they are learning to life—geology, geography, history, chemistry, literature. When you visit a World War II cemetery and use the opportunity to talk about the battles, the history, the military, history is enriched by being in the very location. A trip to the Grand Canyon allows kids to see the layers of the earth and marvel at nature.
By “smart,” I also mean savvy. Travel teaches kids how to maneuver public transportation (buses, trains, streetcars), read a map, or even cross the street. It might shock people in some countries how not “street smart” kids are these days. Until you’ve walked down a New York City or London street, you have no idea how dangerous bikes, alleyways, or cars can be, especially in countries where you have to look right and then left instead of left and then right.
Travel helps you better understand your place in the world
For many, growing up in one neighborhood, city or state for your entire life can isolate you from what’s going on the world. I’m not saying everyone needs to visit the poorest regions of the world to get perspective, but even visiting another city where people don’t speak your language forces us all to dig deep inside ourselves and ask difficult questions like “why I am here?” and perhaps even “what am I missing?”
Many times, kids, and adults even more, assume their way is the only (or best) way. Seeing how others live, work, play, or are educated expands your thinking and helps you realize you’re one little piece of a giant world. And maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything there is to know.
Travel prepares you to do better
This follows nicely with understanding your place. Seeing how many countries recycle or think about the environment more than others or how public transportation is used more than cars in other countries, can lay a foundation for your teens to push beyond what is status quo in their local community. See what is done in other places to make change somewhere, especially back at home. Take a look at how children and teens in other places spend far more time outside and away from screens to realize not everyone lives the same way.
Travel tests the limits—forcing you to adapt, be flexible
Travel makes you vulnerable. Step off the plane in any international airport and the rules for everything can change. Add in not knowing the language, and you feel about 14 years old on the first day of high school. I’m surprised in my travels how I have to take my Type A self down several notches and try my best (which is no small feat) to relax.
Each country, and even cities, have their individual social norms for daily life–restaurants, elevators, cabs, trains, grocery stores, even waiting in a queue. There are unwritten rules for each of those. In a German grocery store, you better be prepared to wait in a line, possibly the only line as it snakes the store and bag your groceries fast and furious before the next person’s food flies down to push yours onto the floor.
Simple tasks in another country can try patience and push you to the limit. Things we take for granted can take hours or days to accomplish. I think it’s so important for kids to see how things aren’t always easy and how the best laid plans sometimes don’t happen.