Why I Choose Travel For My Kids

You know how every once in a while you find a blog that is just plain ol’ refreshingly different? Honest. To the point. Relevant. Awesome.

Justin & kids from Great Family EscapeThat’s exactly how I felt when I found Justin Mussler’s blog, The Great Family Escape. Justin and his wife, Heidi, are planning to take off with their children to explore our world. They’re planning and working hard to make it happen. And they’re documenting it all on their blog.

I wrote last week about how much work it takes to make your dream come true. Justin is showing us that first hand. He’s documenting the struggles and the breakthroughs. He’s showing us how he and his wife are making it happen.

I asked him to write a guest post for me about why he’s doing this. It would be so much easier for them to toe the line and stick with the status quo. Why rock the boat when they are living a comfortable life in Boston? Here’s his answer:

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Why do I choose travel for my kids? This is something I have thought about often.  People ask me this question a lot, and honestly, my answer changes every time.

Some days I’ll say we travel so my children can experience the world and know it with their own eyes and ears.  I want them to start their lives with a blank slate and decide what they believe on their own.

Other days I say it’s so they can get a great education and learn of new languages, religions, and history.

Great Family EscapeAnd then there is a big part of me that believes traveling the world will teach my kids self-reliance, and if they can become comfortable traveling as children and meeting strangers, they will learn to be comfortable, confident and self-sufficient as adults.

I think it’s fairly obvious for anyone who has traveled, that traveling offers kids opportunities that simply can’t be had at home.  The world is knowledge.  It’s community.  It’s humbling.  And I want these things for my children.

That said, I think the real reason we have chosen to travel as a family has much less to do with the world and much more to do with us.

I have 2 children, ages 6 and 3, and I’ve been watching them grow.  They are so young, and yet they absorb everything.  They remember everything.  They are sponges.  My kids never stop.  They choose play and creativity over TV.  They find rubber bands fascinating.  I think they couldn’t care less if we travel.  For them, life is fresh no matter where they sleep.

And then there’s Mom and Dad.  Mom and Dad both work.  They begrudgingly drop their children off at school and daycare five days a week and hustle home to eat as a family.  They spend an hour or so discussing the day with the kids as they get them ready for bed.  Mom and Dad don’t love their jobs, but they push through.  Life for them has become a bit stale.  They love their kids.  They wish they could see them more.  They are ready for change.

Our family, Mom and Dad and the kids, is not much different than most.  We are middle class Americans.  We don’t struggle; we’re not huge success stories. We wake up every morning and go.  As long as things don’t blow up, we are pretty much content to watch TV, live between chores on the weekends, and save for retirement.

But I guess for us things blew up.  One day we realized that drifting through the same old life wasn’t going to cut it.  We weren’t happy.  We were bored.  Even the kids could see we couldn’t fake it anymore.

Great Family EscapeNext year we will be traveling the world with our kids.  We will be quitting our jobs, pulling the kids out of school, and learning a new life.  We will have a wealth of experiences.  We will learn new cultures.  We will take it all in.  But most importantly we will be together as a family every step of the way.

I have had many people tell me there are other ways to be “together” as a family.  We could find a way to work from home, go down to a single income, or try and piece together a plan that will provide us with the family time we desire. I’m sure they’re right, but I am not so sure all of that is what we are after.

When in Rome, you do as the Romans do.  And when in middle-class, American suburbia, you do as the middle-class do.  It’s the way it is.  It’s our make up.  You stay in one place long enough, you assimilate.  I want change, and I haven’t been able to find it so far doing the whole 9-5, mortgage thing.

Travel provides freedom.  Constant movement.  Change.  It provides us the ability to grow together as a family no matter where we are.  It challenges us.  It forces us to work together.  To rely on each other.  To grow.

When Heidi and I started thinking of traveling we found Nancy’s site and I saw a picture of her, John, and the boys standing by their campsite somewhere in the Mexican wilderness, and I instantly knew this was what I wanted for us.

Selfish?  Maybe. But is dropping my kids off at daycare each day any less selfish?  Risky?  Maybe, but stuff happens everywhere, and we all take risks.  Good for the family and kids?  100% Yes!  And as long as this is true, it’s a good thing in my book.

I have worked with children of all ages my entire adult life, it’s pretty much all I know how to do, and yet I am no child expert.  In my experience the children who do the best are the ones whose parents are there for them.  It’s not the kids who get straight A’s.  It’s not the kids who make the football team.  It’s the kids who have happy, supportive, involved parents who love who their kids are, and not so much what they do.

Ten years from now my kids might be in high school here in Boston.  They might be settled down with us somewhere overseas.  Or they might still be traveling.  They might be artists or athletes or bookworms.  They might not like school.  None of that really matters.  What matters is that they will have had years of being raised in the world with happy, supportive and enthused parents by their side.  Any kid who can say that is lucky.

I am fortunate to be able to travel.  Sure I have pinched and sacrificed to be able to do it, but I am still fortunate, and I am not going to waste my  good fortune.  I’m going to use it.

My kids will be happy anywhere we are happy.  And if and when they’re not, we will make a change, just like we’re doing now.  The world wasn’t meant to be glanced at through glass.  It was meant to be touched, tasted, and felt.  I’m gonna try exploring it for a while with my kids, and I think we’ll all be better off for it.

Follow Justin and his family as they make their dream come true: The Great Family Escape

Great Family Escape

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

The floating islands of Uros in Lake Titicaca are a great place to visit.

On the southern highlands bordering Peru and Bolivia there is a famous lake, Lake Titicaca. It is 285 meters deep and has a surface area of 8,300 square kilometers. It is one of the biggest lakes in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world.

Lake Titicaca houses many animals such as trout, kingfish and other native fish, ducks, geese, flamingos, Andean ibis, seagulls, and many llamas. It is the ancient territory of the Incans who believed that the sun god sent down his son and daughter to make the lake which they then walked out of. But despite all that it’s mostly famous for its floating islands.

The floating islands of Uros are made from tortora reeds which grow abundantly in the lake. The islands are created by first cutting (with a saw) a chunk of matted roots of the reeds from the coastal areas of the lake. The massive chunk of roots is then dragged to where the new island will be and is anchored in place with up to ten anchors, depending on the size of the island.

Once they have the base of their new island in place, the inhabitants pile up layer after layer of fresh reeds on top. The matted base is approximately one meter thick, and they pile up to three meters of fresh reeds on top. Once the island has been built up sufficiently, they can build their house and other structures from yet more reeds. Depending on the size of the island, there may be from one to seven families living on it.

When storms come, wind pulls out the anchors and the islands drift off to one side or the other. After the storm has passed, the people tie the island to boats and drag it back in place before re-anchoring it to the lake bottom.

For cooking, the local people have discovered a way to protect their island from burning: build their fire on rocks or matted roots/mud. They build up a few layers of protection under their cooking area and then don’t have to worry about burning the reeds of the island.

The Uros people dress in brightly colored skirts and jackets. They encourage tourists to visit their islands as one of their main sources of income is from the sale of their handicrafts.

It is said the floating islands have been around for hundreds of years. In the beginning, people built the islands and lived on the lake in order to escape payment of taxes to the Incan empire. Now, many generations have grown up in the islands and know no other life. There are schools and clinics on the islands.

The floating islands of Uros can easily be visited as a day trip from Puno, Peru.

 

The women of Uros wear traditional clothing in bright colors.
Their homes are completely made of tortoro reeds.
Tourism is one of their main sources of revenue, so they welcome boats of tourists to the island.
The women sell their handicrafts to tourists.
The floating islands are actually floating in Lake Titicaca and are anchored into position.
The base of each island is a massive block of matted roots from the reeds. On top of that they pile layer upon layer of fresh reeds.
Life on the floating islands is harsh – weather and lack of natural resources make life challenging.
Some of the islands have small solar panels to provide electricity for a television.
To cook, they pile up layers of matted roots in order to protect the reeds of the island from burning.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel