“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain, “The Innocents Abroad”
Warning: If you travel with kids, they will be changed forever! As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
The thought of traveling with kids may seem daunting. Perhaps you’ve decided to wait until the kids are older, when you have more money or when everything is perfect. But guess what? Life will never be perfect.
Travel isn’t just about discovering new places — about swimming in the Pacific Ocean or hiking through a rugged national park. It’s about discovering the real you away from the busy schedules, distractions and technology that hold us hostage to living our best lives.
In 2013, we found ourselves in a precarious situation. Our consulting company began picking up clients in other states and overseas. Before we knew it, my husband was gone for months at a time. Not seeing his family for extended periods began to take its toll, and I felt I like I was raising four kids alone. We had a dilemma. So we hatched a plan, a crazy one: We found tutors and online teachers for our kids (ages 5-15 at the time) and hit the road. We traveled for three years to 45 states and 10 countries, wherever the clients took us.
It wasn’t easy. The kids’ fighting didn’t cease because we were traveling. But in the midst of traveling, we discovered we’re such a small piece to a larger puzzle in a diverse and beautiful world. It’s been a gift and an honor to see the world through the eyes of our children, without judgment, prejudice or preconceived ideas. Here’s what we learned:
1. To take risks. On the road, I discovered the kids’ willingness to try new activities, away from the judgment of their peers. They would try to speak broken Spanish in Mexico or tell a scary story by the campfire. Risk did not come without failure. Falling and getting back up develops the muscle memory that tells us we can do the hard things.
2. To slow down. We sidelined ourselves from the chaos and hurriedness of life, carving out intentional moments to hike, bike, kayak and tell stories, creating memories and quality time. It told our kids they’re important enough for us to truly listen and just be with them.
3. To appreciate diversity. The world is full of different languages, cultures and ideologies. But friendship has no border. My 8-year-old inserted himself into a soccer match at a local park in Barcelona. “Mom, that kid is my best friend!” “What’s his name, buddy?” “I don’t know; does it matter?” Deep down, we are all just humans with a need for connection, love and community.
4. Critical thinking. The kids had to decipher train maps, subway systems, street grids and departure times. In the beginning, like a sea of minnows following a larger fish, they wanted a passive role, following us. Now they have navigational skills and an awareness of their surroundings.
5. Independence. Each kid had a day to shine. They helped to plan events, problem solve and use their skills to lead the team. It eliminated all the “Hey, Mom” questions, because someone else was on duty to lead, solve and suggest. This allowed them to try and fail in a safe environment.
6. Empathy. When we traveled to California, we made it a point to volunteer at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, handing out food and clothes or cleaning up Echo Park. The kids took chore money and bought food, socks, blankets and bathroom supplies for the homeless in Atlanta. Once you’ve seen suffering, you cannot unsee it. Your heart grows bigger, and the need to help grows stronger.
7. Flexibility. A missed train, bad weather, a closed museum. Life is full of Plan Bs. It teaches kids to re-strategize and recalculate. This attitude generates adaptability, setting them up for success when life throws the inevitable curveball.
Remember, there’s never a perfect time to do anything. Just go. Grab your passport, your plane ticket or national park pass and hit the road. Life is a mess and a masterpiece, where lessons are learned along the journey.
Stephanie Pletka is a southern transplant, writer and blogger living with her husband and four kids in Scottsdale. Learn more at stephaniepletka.com