16 Ways Long-Term Travel Will Benefit Your Kids (and You)

by Lainie Liberti Feb 6, 2014
1. They’ll learn a language through complete immersion.

There’s no doubt children learn languages much more quickly than adults. In fact, I’m jealous how my son Miro has become fluent in Spanish through listening, interacting, and play versus any formal study.

Experts will urge language learners to immerse themselves in the language and culture; I’d urge children to play with other native speakers. That’s the quickest and most natural way to learn, in my opinion. Long-term, slow, immersive travel grants the opportunity for children to interact, and when a non-speaker plays with a group of children who don’t speak English, all play happens in their native language. This is where I’ve seen Miro absorb vocabulary and syntax effortlessly.

There’s no doubt in my mind, play is the best and most natural way to learn a language.

2. They’ll receive a worldly education in context.

We’ve explored the artwork of Botero in Colombia, Guayasamin in Ecuador, Recinos in Guatemala. We’ve explored countless museums, studying pre-Columbian artifacts in the countries they were discovered in. We’ve traversed over 40 different ruins, spoken with noted researchers and archeologists, and developed our own ideas about history. We’ve learned the art of traditional weaving taught by the famous weavers of Chinchero.

We’ve spoken with the victims of war, listened to their stories, and empathized with their struggles, as we learned about politics and economics as expressed through the human condition. We’ve put our hands in the soil, planted native plants, and explored the historical relationship between humans and plants within the world of ethnobotany. We’ve learned about pirates, trade, and colonialism in Panama, stumbled on legends of zombies, and carried out our own investigations through local inquiry.

We’ve gone on archaeological expeditions, explored Inca graveyards, and witnessed the unveiling of 500-year-old remains. We’ve helped document the anomalies of ancient cultures, held 1,000-year-old skulls, and questioned if they were of human origin. We’ve explored the highlands, the Andes, the beaches, and the jungles and witnessed volcanoes and other geological wonders.

And that’s just to name a few. For us, immersive travel has equated to powerful experiential learning.

A kid sitting in a plaza

3. They’ll learn self-reliance and how to combat “boredom.”

As parents, how many times have we heard, “Mom, I’m bored”? Before we left on our travels, I believed it was my responsibility to keep my son entertained. Now that I’ve shifted that belief and allowed my son to discover and define his own time, and empowered him to make his own decisions regarding his interests, curing my son’s boredom has become his responsibility.

While traveling, there are always new things to stimulate, excite, and engage your child. When the external things aren’t available, my son has learned to occupy his time through drawing, reading, and writing. But the bottom line is, because self-reliance is part of his responsibility now, my son takes steps to avoid “boredom.”

4. They’ll receive incredible socialization.

My son has been to 14 countries so far, and just because he isn’t in a classroom of kids his own age for eight hours a day doesn’t mean he’s not being socialized! Travel presents opportunities to connect with people of all ages, all walks of life, all nationalities, and all professions. Socializing is a no-brainer when it comes to travel, and there isn’t another activity out there that offers such diverse social opportunities.

5. They’ll learn to see similarities instead of looking for differences.

At first, traveling through different countries and cultures, we tended to see the differences. However, over time, Miro and I have learned to see the similarities, which is a definite shift in perspective. Different cultures and customs are simply a way to express our humanity.

One example: Growing up culturally Jewish, Miro and I have zero connection to the numerous Christian / Catholic traditions throughout Latin America. We’ve seen numerous processions, been woken up by fireworks, witnessed singing masses, and often felt out of place during the praise of Jesus. But for us, the opportunity to see the overwhelming community connection has been momentous. Although we don’t have the same beliefs, culture, traditions, or customs, we do share a collective humanity.

6. They’ll practice tolerance and acceptance.

This will benefit you as well as your child(ren). Through travel, we’re granted that magical opportunity to practice tolerance and acceptance on a daily basis. Travel brings out the worst (and the best) in people. Living in close proximity with one another full-time, you get plenty of opportunity to practice this lesson, thanks to each other’s quirks.

Although Miro and I are a small family, we often have other travelers come in and out of our lives. We think we’ve gotten pretty good at tolerance and acceptance, but we find we’re still challenged when we have people staying with us. I can imagine the challenges a larger family must face in terms of honoring each other’s space, needs, and preferences.

7. They’ll learn patience.

In conventional non-traveling lifestyles, patience is expected but rarely practiced, as routines, schedules, and obligations often become the norm. Travel is the opposite; the unexpected is expected, and there are so many times when there’s nothing to do but “wait.” Waiting in long lines, check-in, security procedures, and boarding all require patience. So does embarking on 30-hour bus rides. The opportunities to experience and practice patience become limitless during travel.

Mom and son at Machu Picchu

8. They’ll learn group decision making.

As parents, we say “your opinion matters.” But children’s voices are often quieted in conventional life, as routines, schedules, and responsibilities take a priority. However, traveling provides the perfect platform to encourage all voices to be heard and to create equity among the group (family) as a unified unit. Practicing group dynamics is one of the most important life lessons, and encouraging your children to speak up and share their needs, desires, and interests can be a valuable way to learn it.

Through consciously focusing on what is best for the group, every voice must be heard and each person has the opportunity to exercise positive leadership in one circumstance or another. On the flip side, grace and compromise become essential. You can’t teach this stuff in books — this sort of lesson must be learned. Miro and I continue to practice it over and over, and we’ve gotten better at the compromise part, but in all honesty, it’s not easy.

9. They’ll learn adaptability.

When you travel, things ultimately do go wrong. There’s no avoiding it — things get lost, there are unexpected weather conditions, issues come up surrounding transportation, and places are closed when they’re supposed to be open. Being able to adapt or make do is an important lesson in flexibility and letting go of expectations. This is one of those lessons you get to practice over and over as a long-term traveler, so learning to laugh is always a better solution than crying.

10. They’ll become experts in real-world problem solving, budgets, and logistics.

Through travel, Miro has had the opportunity to make practical decisions, solve problems in context, and plan and budget our lives. You can’t get any more real-world than that. I don’t believe children are often empowered or engaged on this level in conventional life and often leave their parents’ house unprepared and inexperienced. (I know I was.) Miro helps on every level of our trip planning from selecting our next location, researching itineraries online, helping us find rentals, researching places to explore, etc.

Additionally, Miro and I look at our money as “ours,” and he knows exactly how much we have, when we have it, and what our budget is for the month. If Miro wants to plan a particular excursion for us, he can do it, but he considers our overall budget first. He’s empowered to take what he needs, as he never needs to ask if he can have anything, and I trust his decisions. Revolutionary, huh?

11. You’ll experience the world through your child’s eyes.

Travel offers new sights, sounds, flavors, and experiences, but as adults, sometimes we become desensitized to these sensations. Our children allow us to see the world freshly through their eyes and allow us to experience the world through a renewed child-like perspective. I hope to never lose sight of this quality inside of me ever again. (Thank you Miro.)

12. You’ll learn to trust the process.

Many parents are reluctant to trust the natural learning process. I came from an evidential system, where I believed education only happened when I could measure progress. However, travel reveals curiosity and sparks interest where it wasn’t before, which is evidence of natural learning. (It happened within me, too!)

Once you witness interests being born in your child that were never there before and listen to his/her reflections, you realize they’ve processed a new understanding based on the immersive travel experience. For me, my eyes lit up when I realized Miro was learning naturally and that the world, indeed, has become his classroom.

A kid standing in lane

13. You’ll learn together.

As we know, learning happens naturally. One of the greatest gifts our travel lifestyle has granted us has been being exposed to new things together. What makes these opportunities so different from a formal educational setting, where learning is passive, is that travel is participatory by nature. When a group of two or more are having the same experience, it invites the opportunity to process the experiences through conversation, which reinforces a deeper learning.

Formal education removes the family element from the learning process. Travel brings it back.

14. You’ll collect memories, not things.

Collecting things becomes problematic when you’re traveling. You literally feel the weight of your possessions, burdened by the responsibility of them, and zapped energy-wise logistically managing them. The question then becomes, “Do I really want that thing?”

Buying things requires spending our limited budget on them instead of doing something together. Our preference now is to choose the experience over the possession. But that transition took time and was not simple. We had to give up the American Dream first. Miro and I used to be the owner of many things, a 2,000-square-foot loft filled with everything imaginable. Miro had every toy he ever wanted. But through travel we’ve traded every one of those possessions for experiences, and we’ve truly gained much more in return. Can you just imagine everything you own fitting into a single backpack or suitcase? We can.

Travelers posing by crosswalk

15. You’ll create a stronger bond between you and your child(ren).

I didn’t want to miss Miro’s childhood. That was one of the motivations for embarking on this journey together. If we hadn’t, I was afraid I’d miss all of it within a blink of the eye. But what I never imagined was the incredible bond that’s formed as a result of our choices. Regardless of what happens in our lives in the future, together we’ve forged a bond that I can only hope all parents will experience with their children.

We’ve traveled together, had adventures together, learned together, and enjoyed life together. Through travel, Miro and I have created a bond based on trust, being present for one another, and the joy life has granted us.

16. You’ll experience “global citizenship” together.

Through our travels, Miro and I have shifted how we perceive our identities. We’ve learned that humanity is our family and the world our home. Global citizenship has become our way of thinking and behaving, with the belief that we can make a difference in the world. Through our travels, we’ve learned it’s our responsibility to value the earth as precious and unique, and we must act to safeguard it’s life and resources for future generations.

We’ve learned we must honor all of humanity as our family, all with diverse backgrounds and opinions, no better, no worse than our own. We’ve learned to identify with humanity first before we start narrowing our beliefs, passing judgment, viewing one another as somehow separate from oneself.

Miro and I have learned that the purpose of life is really about authentically connecting with one another no matter where we’re standing, or which direction we’re heading.

This post was originally published at Raising Miro and is reprinted here with permission.

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