#1 - It Gives Them a Global Perspective of the World
I traveled a lot domestically growing up, but international travel was never within my family's reach. During college, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy the summer between my junior and senior year. Sure, I was excited about the experience, but I was not prepared for what lied on the other side of the Atlantic and the impact it would have on me personally - Not to mention my entire career path.
No one told me that people laid in the park for no reason and gathered in lively piazzas until the wee hours of the morning.
No one told me that three hours around a dinner table is the norm and that cars in Europe are half the size of those back home.
No one told me that the Pantheon was so absolutely perfect and that Michelangelo's Pieta would bring me to tears.
And even if they had, I probably wouldn't have believed them.
Last year I led two family friendly tours from London to Florence. Here is a smattering of observations I heard from my younger tour members over that two-week period:
- "You mean you can drink before you can vote?"
- "Why don't we have trains like this in America?"
- "Everyone here doesn't seem to be in such a hurry like they do back home."
- "No wonder Europeans are so thin. They walk everywhere!"
- "I feel really safe, even at night. I'd never walk down a dark alley at home."
Individually these are just small observations made about a place much different from home, but together they form a much larger perspective of the world and our place in it. Before my younger tour members left home, they likely thought the American way was the only way of doing things. Slowly their perspectives began to change and they quickly realized that the people on the other side of the Atlantic aren't much different after all.
#2 - It Breeds Confidence & Responsibility
At age 40, I still find great confidence in conquering public transportation in a foreign country. I travel with a lot of smart people, but even the brightest need a little orientation to understand the intricacies on the Parisian metro system. Now imagine being 12 years old and instead of letting your parents do all the navigating, you take it upon yourself to learn alongside them and eventually guide your family from one metro stop to the next. There is such power in that!
I think we often underestimate what kids can do and how empowering them with just a little responsibility can turn a rather negative (translate - whiny) experience into something wonderful. Family vacations can be exhausting, but consider incorporating a few of these tips to spread responsibility (and learning) across family lines:
- Include your kids in the planning process. Check out books/travel guides from the library and let your kids throw out some of their top destinations. Consider adding places they have studied/will study in the near future in order to build those connections.
- Give your kids spending money and have them wear a money belt. In smaller villages, let them wander around the local market for a while (age permitting) and see what kinds of things they come back with.
- Give your kids an old-school map and have them help you navigate. Let them make wrong turns and celebrate when they find what you are looking for.
- Take turns choosing restaurants even if it's not your first choice. Make a game out of finding good/local restaurants with the fewest tourists. Let your kids pick a few items to share off the menu and eat family style.
- Visit the book store of major museums before you enter and choose a few postcards. Get a museum map/interact with guards and make a scavenger hunt out of finding the pieces of interest.
A child that experiences Europe in this manner will likely jump at the chance to travel/study abroad in college because they have enough experience and confidence to know they can tackle a foreign country on their own.
#3 - It Makes History Come Alive
Several years ago, I had a young girl named Olivia on my tour. Olivia was a sharp cookie who could name more Roman emperors than most adults and her working knowledge of Latin wasn't bad either. Olivia was ecstatic about visiting Rome (the last stop on our tour) and I knew I wanted to do something to capitalize on her excitement.
When our train subway car arrived at the Colosseum metro stop I primed the group by saying "Are you ready for this? You have waited your whole life to see the Colosseum and it awaits you. Get ready to be swept up in its enormity." Then I called Olivia to the front of the group and asked her to walk up the stairs with me. The look on her face said it all and the tears down her cheek, once she caught her first glimpse of the Colosseum, made it clear that this memory was imprinted in her psyche forever. These emotions could have never been achieved through the pages of a book. Although Olivia knew exactly what the Colosseum looked like, it was the experience that changed her and (I hope) continues to change her long after she returned home.