passportTonight we took my husband to JFK International Airport so he could catch a flight.  The topic of why we travel came up into our conversation.  In this case, my husband is going home to see his family, but usually we travel for a variety of reasons and we started talking about them.  We talked about experiencing different food, languages, architecture, art, meeting new people and more.  I felt such a sense of pride when my 5 year-old son turned to my 7 year-old daughter and stated very matter-of-factly, “You learn a lot of really cool things when you travel.  You see things you’ve never seen before.”  He gets it, he really gets it!

The power of travel is something that I get excited about.  I’m definitely a victim of chronic wanderlust.  I’m also a big proponent that the world has so much to offer and we need to get out and see it.  From day trips to long weekends to longer trips cross-country or abroad, I believe that travel can cause big changes in a child’s life.  Now that our kids are both in elementary school, we have to work around the academic calendar…..or not.  Since we believe that our kids learn more on the road, we generally have no hesitation taking them out for a meaningful vacation.  By opening up the world to them beyond U.S. borders, or within, they become more aware that there is a whole other world out there to explore.

Just because we have kids has not stopped us from traveling.  I think that it does stop some parents.  I know people who would not dare venture into the unknown with children who have unpredictable behavior.  I disagree; you have to take a chance.  My husband has always stated that there is not much difference between being home with young kids than being away. It’s a change of scenery.  Besides, you can always make a side-trip to a playground when the kids get antsy.

I happen to have two kids who love school.  On Saturday, they actually start counting down the time until they go back.  My son gets homework once a week.  As soon as he walks in the door, he pulls it out of his backpack and sits down at the table to get to work. It does make life easier, I must say.  But they know as well as I do, that given the opportunity to take ourselves away to a destination far away, new experiences await that can teach just as much, maybe even more.  Besides, we take their homework with us.  The last time we went on a trip in January, the kids’ teachers sent home assignments to do while we were away.  If I told you, our kids were doing homework in the airport, on the hotel floor, in restaurants, would you believe me?  I kid you not.

Whenever we go on a trip, we, as parents, notice visible positive changes in our children.  Whether it is a higher maturity level, significant language development or even the reaching of new milestones, we can’t help but notice when we get back that our children have benefitted from the experience even more than we, ourselves, do.

You should see our kid’s passports.  It is completely enviable.  I didn’t leave the country until I was 16.  My kids have a book full of stamps to destinations all over Europe at ages 5 and 6.  By the time my daughter was 3, she had already been to England, Scotland, Germany, Czech and Jamaica.  She was a global baby.

When she was 2 and my son was not even 1, we had a wedding in England.  We decided to take a side-trip to Europe and venture to Prague and Berlin via the train.  It was incredibly adventurous to stay in hotel rooms with two babies, but we did.  We took the train from Berlin to Prague which wasn’t as hard as it sounds.  Our kids loved the novelty of doing something other than driving.  I can’t truly say that they learned as much as we did at the Jewish Museum in Berlin or walking across the stunning Charles Bridge in Prague, but I’d like to think that some of that trip is tucked into the right side of their brains and that they will remember pieces of that trip and other big trips later in life.

While we were in England on that trip, we stayed in a big house with loads of my husband’s friends who went in and out of the house on a rotating basis over the course of a week.  The kids made lots of friends, ran around naked in the yard under the sprinkler (yes, even in English weather!), tried new foods and experienced the country side and coast line of England.  I so vividly remember coming back with children who had better socialization skills, new knowledge and a lot of excitement generated from their new experiences and friendships formed in that house.

We go to England once a year as a family; each child goes a second trip every other year alone with my husband as well.  Even England is an English-speaking country; life is different in every way.  We drive on the other side of the road, dine on fish & chips, listen to different types of English accents and stay with family members in various parts of the country. Everything about our visit is different to the life we lead back home.  Taking them out of their element, placing them in new cultures, introducing them to new experiences is something that is very special.

While we’re away, we let the kids see the world through a different set of eyes.  They bring their own cameras, record video footage of interesting experiences and we come home and watch them to relive the moments.  While we were in Iceland this past August, we went on a tour that included seeing geysers.  They were so enraptured by the experience that we still watch the video that captured their delight at this hydrogelogic phenomenon.  They also write postcards to family and friends and bring back interesting souvenirs to remember our experiences.  The trips really seem to resonate as great adventures.

To make the trips more educational, we read signs while driving along, listen to the radio, dine on as much authentic cuisine as we are able to (this is not always easy with picky eaters) and encourage them to keep a journal or scrapbook.  We collect museum tickets, transportation tickets and any information on the places we visit and insert them into photo albums.  We use guidebooks to teach them about the history of what we are seeing and we even take them on tours so we can all experience all there is to experience about a new place.

Do I sound like I possess a bit of wanderlust?  Of course, I do.  The wanderlust is contagious and my kids seem to have the bug.  And the quest for more passport stamps.