The Lessons Traveling Teaches Us. Why You Should Travel with Your Children.
It was the first time I ever felt small, insignificant. I was sixteen and traveling through Europe with my parents.
We were touring Pompeii, and the guide was showing us a drinking fountain with a granite trough. She made sure to draw our attention to the edge of the trough. It was worn down into a deep dip where thousands of hands had pressed as the person leaned in to scoop up a handful of water or fill a pitcher.
My mind reeled. This, inches thick, slab of solid granite had been worn through, not by the heavy tread of feet or horses or carriages, but simply the weight of a person’s body pressing on their hands.
Centuries had passed, and here I was, a teenager from the tip of Africa placing my hand where theirs had been. The fleetingness of time never loomed as large as at that moment—the power of travel.
Many of us have a deep love of travel, and I was fortunate to be born into a family and later married into a family that valued the lessons traveling teaches us. Throughout my childhood, my family traveled—not an easy or cheap thing in those days.
My earliest memories are going on board the Union Castle Liners from Cape Town to Southampton in England, a two-week trip! Later we flew from Johannesburg, also long trips when you have to fly over the entire continent. (To provide context: Africa stretches about 5 000-miles from tip to top. The USA is about 2 800-miles from the east coast to the west coast.)
This wanderlust carried over into my married life, which eventually flowed into the years when our children were born.
This was when I found people were happy to tell me that we were nuts:
Taking a three-year-old overseas? Going to an Indian Ocean island with a six-year-old? Traveling all over the UK with two little kids? Why? They don’t know the difference between the town they live in and a town founded in the 1600s!
Yes, the finer nuances of history and architecture are lost on younger children, but there are so many other lessons to learn.
We wanted them—from the earliest age—to know that our way was not the only way. All over the world, people did things differently. They dressed differently, spoke differently, lived in different homes, and ate different food.
Our life in Cape Town was not the only way or the “right” way. It was simply one way.
Each time we traveled, they would see new things that made them curious. We would talk about what they’d seen and, in age-appropriate language, try to help them learn and understand a little bit more about the world.
We also wanted them to see us (their parents) out of their comfort zone. How did we navigate through an unfamiliar world?
They saw us figuring out signs and menus in foreign languages, calculating strange currency, and, occasionally, flying by the seat of our pants.
Of course, when they were very young, they were mere observers, but this soon changed. They loved the fact that mum and dad were as new to a situation as they were—we were figuring it out together.
Driving on unfamiliar roads, they’d hunt down signs or spot places we could stop for lunch. With a child’s ability to zone in on little things, they’d point out small features we had missed. The delicate symbol etched on a worn manhole cover or the stone bunny buried deep in a flowerbed. And, as they moved at a slower pace, we adults were forced to take the more leisurely approach. In some ways, they adapted and accepted situations far quicker than we did.
We took old-fashioned steam trains, went to working Medieval farms, saw how cheese and pencils were made, walked the walls of ancient cities, and panned for gold. And they figured out that the words Coca-Cola are universally understood.
We were the Paterson Pioneers exploring uncharted territories—well, uncharted to us! We learned, laughed, squabbled, ate and walked, walked, walked.
When people learned that my children had had their passports before they were three years old and that my son had crossed the Equator three times before his fourth birthday, they just shook their heads. (I dare not add that this was in the days before the internet, electronic devices, or anything other than coloring books and crayons.)
I encourage all young parents to travel with their children—you can do it in your own county or country. Show them the diversity around them. Show them all the different lifestyles that make our world so beautiful.
There is not a single day of our travels-with-little-ones that I regret.
The sooner children learn that their way of life is not the only way or the right way, the world will be a happier place.