My family lives a different kind of lifestyle, one that has influenced my son, Makai’s, development greatly. We sold our home and most of what we owned to travel the world with Mak during his formative years. We started traveling full time when he was five. Since then, we’ve visited eleven countries on three different continents. Makai has traveled more miles and experienced more cultures than both my husband and I had by the time we were 30. Today, Mak’s like most eight-year-olds in many ways, but travel has helped him learn skills some people struggle to develop into adulthood.
He’s learned ways to adapt in difficult situations.
Travel days — the ones getting to and from a destination — can be particularly demanding, especially for kids. The most challenging one for us included multiple connections. We were sure we’d set aside enough time for all the connections, but a series of delays on route to the bus, the last mode of transportation to our next destination, cost us two hours. This resulted in lots of racing around with heavy bags in crowded tube stations, and flat out sprints on busy city streets. Our frantic race to catch our bus was loaded with time crunches and multiple calls to action. We all felt tired, frustrated, and at times a bit panicked. But, even with all that pressure Makai had no meltdowns. There was no whining. There were only quick conversations about strategy. When he saw me or my husband struggling, he’d ask, “Do you need help?” or offer advice “Try doing it this way.”
Even when we felt certain we’d miss our ride Mak did his absolute best to keep pushing on. He was a team player throughout every challenge that morning and we ended up catching our bus because of that. He remained focused on achieving the goal and wasn’t bogged down by all of the obstacles that stood in our way. Learning how to focus and tackle one challenge at a time has taught Mak perseverance can pay off in difficult situations.
He’s learned the importance of getting out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes we visit incredible places for a very short time. One of those quick trips was to Toulouse, France — a beautiful city with a huge Ferris wheel in the center. The ride is a popular tourist attraction. In town for only 48 hours, we knew the quickest way to get the best views was from the top of the giant ride. Both Mak and I felt some apprehension as we looked up at the massive wheel; I even volunteered to skip the ride to save money because of my fear of heights. As we stood, deciding if we should climb aboard, Mak started to reason and finally said, “This is the only chance we’ll have to ride this thing,” and led the way onto the ferris wheel to take in the view.
When it was over, he was so glad he went for the ride, and I was too.
He’s comfortable trusting and relying on others.
We realize we can’t always be in control while traveling. We need to engage with people we don’t know all the time and know we need to trust our instincts. That said, we have often benefited from the kindness of strangers. As a result, Makai is not afraid to approach people he doesn’t know to ask questions and strike up conversations. Locals we meet are sometimes curious about how we live and people of all ages want to converse with Mak as a result. He tells them about his experiences and he learns about life where they live as well. Meeting and learning about so many people has helped him to recognize different characteristics. This has helped him relate and become comfortable talking with all kinds of people. Mak is comfortable relying on different people because he’s learned he can trust his own judgement.
He recognizes the similarities instead of differences about people.
When Mak was five we visited Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. Seeing different kinds of people and looking different ourselves helped make similarities stand out. During that time, we watched a YouTube video where a young boy of Makai’s age was meeting Barack Obama. Shortly into the video, Mak turned to me and said, “Mom, I think he’s related to the President.” “Oh? What makes you think that” I said.
The child and the then President were both African American, the obvious similarity. He didn’t mention that. He said, “They’re both wearing ties.” He went on to say they both seemed to like being leaders and pointed out different mannerisms they shared. Later, when we visited Istanbul in Turkey, Makai saw many women wearing niqabs. Six years old at the time, he asked, “Mom, are they ninjas?” I said, “No, I think some women wear niqabs because they want to be modest, not ‘show offy’.” He thought about it for a minute then asked, “Why don’t you wear one?” I told him I liked being modest too, but I have a different belief system and liked wearing the kind of stuff I did. “Okay,” he said.
Travel has helped Mak recognize differences in people are normal. Ultimately, travel helped my son develop confidence by teaching him to expect that his opinions and perspectives will change. Seeing, tasting, and experiencing so many different things has helped him fear less and relate all to kinds of people.