“Though it seems counterintuitive, it is physically permanent stuff that evaporates from our minds. It is memories in the ether of our consciousness that last a lifetime, there for us to enjoy again and again.”– Arthur C. Brooks, Abundance without Attachment
My parents still talk about the boat trip my grandparents took them on when they were teens. They were dating and my grandparents included my mom in the family trip that year. They took their four kids—two with spouses, one with a girlfriend—and rented a boat in British Columbia. That trip was 50 years ago and those kids, now grandparents themselves, still talk about their week together.
When my husband and I married, we knew we shared a love for travel. We wanted our future kids to learn to adventure. And over the past 15 years we have taken many trips, some of them simple, some of them crossing multiple states, Mexico, and Canada.
This fall, my husband had a business trip in Pennsylvania, just prior to a family wedding in West Virginia. When we looked at the logistics, we realized that we could either drive separately, or the family could go along for the business trip and we could all be together. And once I knew that we were traveling through Pennsylvania, the homeschooling mom side of me took over and we added in a few stops to experience some history.
Some ideas to raise travelers:
- Raise travelers vs. tourists. Ben Sasse in his book The Vanishing American Adult encourages parents to focus on raising travelers vs. tourists and marks the distinction as working vs. consuming. He encourages parents to have their kids plan the trip, or at least parts of it, and bear some responsibility. I recommend that they learn how to plan and pack light for a trip. Teach them how to economize, bringing one stuffed animal or toy, carefully chosen books, a few snacks, and a good water bottle. Have them plan their clothes based on weather and what they will be doing.
By the end of this trip, we realized our kids think we need phones and GPS to travel. Next time out, we have determined to bring along paper maps and have them do the navigating. We are challenging ourselves to do a short trip device free and tell bosses and family that if they want to reach us, they will have to catch us in our hotel room. We also plan to have a rite of passage where we have a child plan a trip by learning to book a hotel room, a flight (if needed), as well as budget and plan what we will do.
- Incorporate learning. We went to the National Constitution Museum and talked about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. At the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia we walked through a giant replica of a human heart and then stood on a scale as “blood” poured down to show how much blood was pumping through our bodies based on body weight. We were the only family present to watch the dissection of a cow eye, which made one daughter have to walk away, but kept the rest of us entranced. A museum employee chatted with me about how kids on school field trips are so distracted by friends and run from display to display without really learning anything; kids with their parents, stay, linger, and ask questions.
- Talk about what you see and experience. As we drove to the Flight United 93 Memorial in rural Pennsylvania, we discussed what happened there. We talked about the bravery and courage of the crew and passengers. I gave them an opt-out if they were overwhelmed, but this history that I lived through is, for them, just that: history. At Gettysburg their dad, who has been through a role play exercise there for a leadership course, talked them through the three days of Civil War battles as we drove through the park with the guided audio tour.
- Travel is serious, but it should be fun too. I can be so focused on the educational value of a trip that I forget that minds and bodies need a break. At the end of every trip we take, we ask each child: “What did you enjoy doing the most? What was your favorite day?” On a trip to southern California, we packed in a lot of tourism including Disneyland and Legoland. Their favorite day? The day we took off to do laundry and buy groceries and, when finished, just went to the beach. This trip, on our break day, we went hiking—the real kind without trail markers or a paved/gravel path, and I had them work on their sense of direction.
- Don’t forget the cultural value of travel. My kids are suburbanites. This trip to the city they experienced their first Uber ride. We went to Reading Market Terminal and walked each and every aisle so they could view the various stalls, offerings, and vendors, and then pick what they wanted for lunch. We talked about homelessness and urban problems. We dodged crazed Philly drivers crossing streets.
“Travel,” Ben Sasse writes, “…offers the young person a broader menu of choices for how to think about life, and then for how to build better habits of living.” Travel has had a profound effect on my life and how I live and view the world. Teaching my kids to make travel a way of life is part of my mission.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following pictures courtesy of author.