I just returned from a trip to Uganda, my seventh trip there and my first alone. On all the other trips, my son, who is 16, and sometimes my daughter, who is almost 21, went with me. I knew it would be different being there by myself, but it was a lot harder than I expected! (My husband has never been because of his job, but one day I’ll get him there!)
We’ve homeschooled for thirteen years, and one of the main reasons we started on that journey was to expose our kids to travel. I was fortunate enough as a child to travel extensively with my grandparents – one of the perks of being an only child and living three miles away from them – and I have always thought that I learned much more from those trips than I ever did in school. I certainly remember a lot more of it than I do algebra!
Before I started my non-profit, we had still done a lot of traveling. We decided a decade ago to give our kids a trip instead of gifts for Christmas, and we usually go to somewhere tropical to get out of the North Carolina gray December. As part of our homeschooling, we’ve gone to Washington DC several times, Yorktown, Jamestown, the Outer Banks, and all over the Southeast and Florida. My son and I have stayed in London twice, for several days, on the way to Africa. I took my daughter with me to Chicago for BookExpo one year, and we did the convention in the morning and fun stuff in the afternoon.
When I started traveling to Uganda, it made perfect sense to take my son with me, plus it would have been hard for my husband to take care of him and work for two or three weeks at a time before he was driving. My friend who lives there homeschools (she has 13 Ugandan children!), so my son did school when the other kids were working, or went with me to the slums, babies home, or hospice that we work with. Through those trips, he’s discovered a great love and real talent for East African languages, and will be returning during his gap year to continue his studies.
My daughter has been five times, and is getting a minor in African Studies because of her love and understanding of the country. Both of the kids have seen and done things that have literally changed their lives during their time in Uganda, and both have really connected with friends and organizations there that they will know their whole lives. If my daughter could have anyone at her wedding, it would be the dozen or more people she loves who live there.
My mom frequently comments on the hardships of traveling with children. In fact, this time, she was happy for me because I could “relax.” (How doing three weeks worth of work in two weeks, since everyone stayed home, constituted relaxing, I’m not sure!) But honestly, I absolutely love traveling with my kids and always have.
Sure, when they were younger, there were challenges. Strange beds, eating out all the time, ears not popping when we flew (then there was the time my daughter threw up on the lady next to us on the plane… which I’d rather not revisit!). Packing, especially when my son was four or five, was a challenge. But if you do it regularly, you and the kids both get into a groove, and by about eight my kids were packing for themselves.
The thing is, when you travel with your kids, especially to somewhere new that has great historical value, you get to watch them catch the little spark of excitement that becomes a fire of passion for learning. My son loved the Tower of London so much on our first visit that it’s the only thing he asked to do on our second visit – in all of London, including riding the Eye, watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and eating some great food. You can’t get that kind of excitement from a book, no matter how well written.
The other joy is that you have a lot of time to just talk. So much of our lives, even for homeschool families, is spent driving around, doing errands, doing chores, and visiting friends, that it can be hard to really know your kids. I’ve always used time in the car for chat, but once they’re driving themselves, you lose that. But twenty-nine hours of plane and airport travel? Communication gold! Having lunch after spending three hours walking through a historic building or visiting families in the slums? You’ll find out things you never knew about your child and how they think.
I know that, in this economy, traveling is an expensive proposition. But you don’t have to go far. Most of us live within a hundred miles or so of something historic. Or you could adopt our Christmas idea, and take a family trip with the money you use for gifts. (We still do stockings, but no presents.) Our trips aren’t overly expensive. We drove to my aunt’s in Florida one year. We have exchanged our very inexpensive timeshare several times. We have done a few big things, like cruises, but the main goal is just to spend the days as a family, having fun, and getting better acquainted.
Travel is also a great investment in your children’s future. There is nothing that teaches them about different cultures, about how great America is (and how rich, regardless of your economic status), and how amazing different people are than traveling to another country. Who knows? Your child may discover an affinity for a language he’s never heard before, like mine. Or maybe find a fulfilling career by seeing opportunities in other places. At the very least, your family will make memories that will last a lifetime.
Disclosure: This guest post is brought to you by a book tour. I did not receive financial compensation for posting.