Travel as Education (after the Pandemic)

For those of us with travel in our DNA, this is a difficult time. We are stranded in our homes with no place to go. Besides this, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many parents have unexpectedly found themselves home alone educating their children. As they struggle with this difficult role, many parents can’t wait for schools to reopen. They want their children back in a classroom environment.

It seems like a good time to share my belief that education outside the classroom can be just as important to expanding minds as any normal schoolroom curriculum. Subjects like science, literature, art, history, civics, anthropology, and geography are easily pursued at home with the aid of the internet and books. Paradoxically, the current stay-at-home orders remind me of the value of travel for children. OK, I can hear you screaming, “But we can’t travel! We have to stay at home.” Very true. Please bear with me as I unravel the mental links.

After this is over, don’t forget the ways your kids flourished at home during these restricted days. They are rediscovering books (literature)? Cooking side by side with family members (nutrition and science)? Coloring thank-you notes for nurses and doctors (art and service)? Have they taken up sewing protective face masks for the homeless (practical skills and social responsibility)? Are they Googling? Streaming documentaries? Learning to dance? Searching for answers on the internet? This hands-on style of learning is not unlike the way travel can expand a child’s understanding of the world. So, when we return to “normal,” when we are back at work and our children are back in the classroom, I urge parents to be unafraid. When life opens up again, try travel with your children to expand their world view.

In her memoir, At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider declares in her preface, “I can shout from the rooftops that you can both love to travel and be happily married with children . . . Parenting and global travel—I can’t think of a better mix.” Tsh tells of the ups and downs of her family’s extended journey through details, conversation, specific travel experiences, and humor. It is clear by the end of this delightful memoir that her children have grown and matured during their international adventure. They have learned more about the world and about themselves than they ever could in a traditional classroom.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am an ex-teacher myself and I value classroom education. Essential for learning the basics of reading, math, science, history, and socialization, traditional education, at its best, coordinates facts and perfects skills. However, the experiences of travel can take children a step further. I’m not talking here about skiing and beach vacations at a resort, though these can be fun and relaxing. What I want to encourage parents to try with their children is the art of serious travel and discovery. Anything from a week at a national park exploring nature to a year traveling Europe in a van—there is no better way to help children connect with the world around them and develop critical thinking skills. In the long term, a few weeks lost from the regular school year won’t be missed and benefits will far surpass your expectations.

My experiences traveling with children —from two summer months traveling in a van around Great Britain and the Netherlands with my school-aged niece and nephew (see photo to left of Mike, Michelle, and myself eating smoked eel in The Netherlands, from my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads), to a winter month in New Zealand with our 18-month-old son and nine-year-old daughter in tow, to six-weeks backpacking Europe with a group of teen-aged Girl Scouts (photo right)—I am convinced that travel is a gift worth sharing. I challenge you to offer the experience if you haven’t already. You will be amazed to see what happens.


A few suggestions:
• Encourage the kids to help plan activities and places to go.
• Allow time between intense travel for relaxing.
• Make contact with local families and/or spend time at playgrounds.
• Encourage reading about the area you are visiting and limit access to TV and smart phones.
• Have the kids keep a journal or write postcards to themselves to mail home.
• Teach basic travel skills (how to use the metro, map/GPS reading, packing, safety in crowds, etc.)
• Don’t limit yourself to school vacations when lines can be frustrating. Besides, going during the school year will make your kids feel special.

In addition, two very important parenting suggestions:
• Know your children’s interests and responsiveness to different types of experiences. My son, an adventurous traveler as an adult, was an enigma in his youth. As a seven-year-old, he earned the nickname of “The Sponge” due to his insatiable interest in American history during a summer visiting Williamsburg, Plymouth, Boston, Washington, DC. and New York City, where he (unbelievably) fell in love with Tiffany stained glass at the Metropolitan museum. Three years later on a trip to Hawaii, he was decent company only at the beach or when we flew in a helicopter over a bubbling volcano. He was little more than an ill-tempered slug at cultural activities (luaus and museums).
• Allow some time for adult decompression, even if this means Father and Mother take turns or utilize local day-care opportunities. I’ll never forget the lovely sight of my toddler son sound asleep in an old-fashioned pram (photo on right) when we returned to pick him up from the municipal infant day care (known as a crèche) in Christchurch, New Zealand. Even better was the gourmet dinner I had enjoyed without a nursing child in my lap.

Here is an interesting article about planning travel after Covid-19:

What is your “travel with children” experience? Do you have any important tips to share?


2 responses to “Travel as Education (after the Pandemic)”

  1. Farie Momayez

    Wonderful thought provoking ideas and suggestions. I will definitely pass this on to my son and daughter in law, for the benefit of my grandchildren.
    Thank you for a well written blog.
    Farie Momayez

    1. Katie Slattery

      Thanks, Farie. I hope your son and his family do get the pleasure of traveling with their children while they are still young and malleable.

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