There are a million different ways to do right by your kids.
In my opinion, one way is to show them around the world. When I think about how traveling will benefit the kids, here are a few of the things that I think about:
Travel will not automatically endow upon my kids an immediate sense of perspective. Life clearly doesn’t work that way. Travel won’t stop the last 2 minutes and 36 seconds of their video game from being the most important thing on the planet. That one Lego piece will continue to be akin to the Holy Grail, worth fighting one hundred wars over. They will remain kids, after all.
Here is the way I see it: As children accumulate experiences, they add them to the toolbox that they will draw from as they mature and begin to make their own sense of the world. Every experience, positive and negative, shapes the way a person understands and interacts with the world. Our five year old may not have vivid memories of this trip in his adulthood, but he will hold these experiences inside himself and they will contribute to his understanding of the world, which will grow and mature as he does. For the same reasons that you hold a newborn baby when it is crying or read a book to a one year old, you take a child of any age traveling.
And though it will still be totally no fair that his brother got an ice cream cone and he didn’t, somewhere inside my kids will eventually be able to draw on the experience of having watched a little boy in Cambodia picking noodles out of the garbage because his family has no money for food. Or maybe they’ll meet a man from Laos who no longer has any legs because, while working in the rice fields, he accidentally stepped on a landmine that has been lodged in the ground since the Vietnam War. Then their internal gears will spin and someday (hopefully / maybe) they will decide the Legos and video games aren’t really that important after all.
Cultural and Global Understanding
They may also remember some little nine year old boy, so good at soccer, who became their best friend even though they couldn’t communicate in words because they didn’t share a language. Or a smiling old woman in a shop who always gave them an extra cookie. These things will stick.
They will have the opportunity to experience things that will help them understand that there are million “right” ways to be and to live out your days. As much as there are obvious and enormous differences between people of different cultures, they will also begin to see the humanness that exists in all people, and I think that they will eventually learn from travel that people are the same in more ways than they are different.
Maps can be abstract. I remember studying all the strange names of places on the world map growing up. They were exciting to me, but also held some sort of distance at the time. They felt too far away to reach.
Another extreme benefit of traveling is the opening up of the world that happens when you travel. When you’ve stood on the other side of the globe, you realize that it isn’t really that far away. It isn’t that inaccessible. A person that has traveled internationally understands that the world is open to them and full of opportunity. Having this understanding at a young age is a gift.
Travel creates in people a sense of empowerment. When you move yourself away from the familiar and towards a place that feels so foreign –confusing etiquette, written and oral language that holds no meaning to you — your world is shaken upside down. Everyday activities like interacting with people, finding your way around, or ordering a meal are suddenly laden with challenge and a feeling of accomplishment. There is empowerment in having navigated successfully in a foreign world and I am quite certain that, though they might not be old enough to recognize or verbalize it, the kids will benefit from this as well.
We had a good life before we decided to go traveling. It probably looks a lot like others that are in this stage of life. Sports practices, homework, sleepovers, chores. We were always coming or going. It was busy. Sometimes difficult, but truly a good life.
Part of our feeling of busyness came from that fact that our schedules never aligned in a way that gave us the opportunity to have down time together as a family. Eric worked an intense schedule in the summer but had more breathing room in the winter, while I was busy with work in the winter and had the summers off. The boys also had the summers free, but during the winters had a schedule full of school, hockey practices, and games. All that added up to us not really getting a lot of quality family time that we were able to relax into all together.
I remember one conversation that I had with Eric in which I verbalized the fact that we already had every minute and every dollar coming to us spent far into the future. There was something suffocating in that thought to me. If I remember right, it was during that conversation that we started to make the decision to try something different.
I am really looking forward to spending five months together, without the distractions of life pulling us a million different ways. If none of the other benefits that I talked about above pan out, there is no doubt that there is a benefit to our family getting to spend such an uncommon amount of time together. I can’t wait.