Growing up in the ‘80s, I lived a fairly boring suburban existence. My father worked [a lot] to support our family of five, and my mother was June Cleaver, for all intents and purposes—managing the household, raising three children, and making our comfortable life possible.
Despite being a one-income family, my mom knew how to stretch those dollars, like Suze Orman on steroids. We didn’t travel a lot, maybe one or two weeks each summer, and there was never any discussion about traveling abroad. It just wasn’t a luxury we could afford. Think more along the lines of John Candy in The Great Outdoors—I have fond memories of our family outings to the nearby dump where we would sit in a parked car watching brown bears forage for food (no joke).
Despite never leaving the country, in some years never leaving the state, my obsession with global domination began from a very young age. My mother’s coupon cutting and our family change jar were all it took to connect me with a world beyond my small town existence. Long before the bucket list became trendy, I was dreaming of Machu Picchu and the Great Barrier Reef.
As an adult I spent a lot of time nurturing this passion—traveling solo, living and working both in-country and abroad. With every adventure I felt more like the real me, building an inner-strength and finding comfort in my own skin — comfort I could never seem to find as an awkward and horribly self-conscious teen.
Fast forward to present day and my kids are rapidly approaching those same delicate (and impressionable) years. I feel the pressure mounting. I’m suddenly fielding questions about babies and bullying, in between basketball practice, girl scout meetings, and parent-teacher conferences. So what, pray tell, is a mama to do? How do I give them that same confidence so they can embrace life and be at peace with who they are?
Travel is my plan A. I don’t really have a plan B.
Before you roll your eyes at me and think, “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” note that I have no [current] plans to sell my house and drive across country in an RV. Sure, some families do that—and I applaud your commitment—but there’s something to be said for the stability of small town life. And, you couldn’t pay me enough to homeschool my children.
Fortunately, I have found the benefits of travel are much the same whether we venture to a neighboring town, or fly clear across the country:
1. Confidence, Independence, Adaptability
Exploring uncharted territory forces my kids to exist outside their comfort zone. It means asking questions, trusting that gut instinct, and rolling with the punches. They learn to thrive in any situation because change is no longer intimidating.
2. Fostering Creativity
Do you remember playing make believe as a kid? Everyday I watch as my girls create these fantastical worlds where they can fly like fairies, or cast a magic spell to breathe under water. Traveling gives them a taste of what is possible, lighting their imaginations on fire.
3. Respecting our Differences
Travel is an ongoing lesson in how to become a better people person. Even on the shortest of trips, we try to model that value which is most important to us as parents—treating others as you wish to be treated. Meeting new and different people who may not think, look, or act like them, is an opportunity to teach our kids about acceptance, understanding, and respect.
4. Experiential Education
A classroom education is invaluable. English, math, science, geography—this fact-based knowledge keeps society moving forward. But experiential education—lessons learned when we engage with others and participate in life—teaches our kids how to use that knowledge to feel, think, act, and react in positive ways.
5. Deeper Connections
When we’re on the road I’m less distracted by work and day-to-day life, so my kids receive my full attention. In exchange, they have a chance to see the real me, not just mom (who they love and admire because they have to). We connect in a different way, a more meaningful way, and our bond is strengthened by that connection.
I see my kids benefit from travel every time we hit the road, and no amount of money can buy those life lessons. So much of their future is determined by social interactions beyond our control, but travel teaches them to be strong in the face of adversity and to value themselves even when others don’t. It teaches them to respect the places we visit and the people we meet along the way.
Whether we are touring a museum, taking a hike, or embarking on a road trip to find the best ice cream in western Mass, my goal remains the same—to embolden my children, pique their curiosity, and get them thinking about the world beyond our borders. All of that, and we rarely leave New England.
Travel is not about how far you go, or how many places you can check off a list. It’s about what you take away from the experience. It’s about personal growth and keeping your mind open to things that are new and different.
I am already so proud of who my kids have become—our adventures have created these curious and compassionate little humans who aren’t afraid of a challenge. Someday they will pack up the car and drive off on their own adventure, and I know they will be prepared for whatever comes their way. I only hope that, once in a while, they invite me along.
You made it to the finish line, thanks for your time and attention :)
To find new ways to inspire your own kids, check out my blog.