Why 10 is the Perfect Age to Travel Internationally
I start this post with acknowledgment that it’s written from a place of privilege. The fact that my family gets to travel internationally means that we inhabit a rare place in society. And yet, there are many others like us. And for them, I would say — if you have the opportunity to travel internationally with your children, you have a moral imperative to let them know the privilege they hold. And with that comes a responsibility to do things differently from others to change our childrens’ perspectives for the future.
Our family recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to South Africa and Mozambique. We were celebrating my “retirement” after 20 years at www.BUILD.org going to my bucket list destination. In planning this trip, two weeks of which were with my husband and 15-year-old son and all four weeks with my 10-year-old daughter, I was often counseled that 10 was “ just too young” to appreciate such a trip. Well now, after having the experience, I can completely disagree. And not even that respectfully. That advice was so very wrong.
A 10-year-old is much less concerned than an older teenager about missing their peers or sports practice or social media. At 10, my daughter doesn’t have social media. At 10, my daughter was able to experience the pain of poverty in some of the townships by sitting and crying asking painful questions about why these inequities exist, where older teenagers and adults might feel they need to be stoic. She felt things so completely and fully and asked so many extraordinary questions that adults might not know the answers to or would be embarrassed to ask. Parents: do your homework before you go. Do you understand colonization? Aparthied? The geography and modern history of your destination? I did not and my daughter’s questions kept me on my toes.
At 10, going on safari felt very much like Jurassic Park as we would be looking at large bushes when all of a sudden a two-ton elephant emerged. It was wondrous for her as an animal-lover and as someone with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do who could just sit and experience what we were seeing. At 10, you still remember everything you’re told, so small details about the sausage tree or the fever plants or how to tell the difference between a black or white rhino were not lost on her and, in fact, with every experience, she gleaned more information and unlike her old mother, has retained it all.
So, where are the places that being only 10 might have meant she missed some of the experiences the rest of us did not? Our daughter, like many her age, is not an adventurous eater. While we dined on what might have been the best meal of our lives in Cape Town (where the food rivaled San Francisco), I believe she had cheese, bread and ice cream. She certainly did not take advantage of the gastronomic delights on this trip. But that was not the point of our travels.
We are extremely blessed that we had the opportunity to take this trip with our children and I believe that my teenage son had a great experience he will never forget. With that said, he had different concerns: would he lose his “streaks” on Snapchat? Would he be able to have wi-fi to connect with his friends? Would his coach be angry that he missed so many games? Would the girl he liked still like him when we got back?
At 10, none of this was relevant. All that mattered was the moment-by-moment experience, the awe and wonder of the animals and nature, the inspiring music, learning about apartheid for the first time, and visiting Nelson Mandela’s home. Travel is a privilege and if you can do it, 10 might just be the perfect age. As I tried to experience the trip as she did — living in the moment, feeling all the emotions of each new encounter and rolling with the proverbial highs and lows — I had the best trip of my life.