Four destinations every family should take their children to before they grow up

I get asked on a fairly regular basis where people should take their children. Given the amount of traveling we’ve done, they ask, where are the best places for a family vacation?

That’s a hard question to answer because every family is unique and they have different interests, but I finally set myself to think about this. I decided my criteria for the list would be those places that, if I were to have children again, I would make sure I took them.

In short, these are amazing locations/events that every child should see and experience.

Northern British Columbia, Canada

The entire Alaska Highway is a great experience, but if you aren’t interested in the whole 1500 miles, I would recommend just one small segment – the 300 miles from Watson Lake to Fort Nelson.

watching bison in british columbiaWhen we set off to ride our bikes from Alaska to Argentina, not only did I never dream I would be pedaling next to wild buffalo, I didn’t even know wild bison still lived! I had seen bighorn sheep in photos – but to encounter them in the middle of the road?

This section of road was something dreams are made of.  Caribou… bears… moose… bison… bighorn sheep… I would say British Columbia and the Yukon are just as exotic as Africa.

Whodathunkit?  Not me, that’s for sure.

If seeing all these animals in their natural, remote setting isn’t enough, you will also find Liard Hot Springs in this segment of highway. A beautiful place sure to enthrall kids of all ages, you’ll want to spend a few days playing in the delightfully warm water. Liard is a natural hot spring that hasn’t given into development and concrete pools – you’ll soak in natural pools in a natural setting.

Ica, Peru

stone museum ica peruThis destination, more than any other we’ve visited, sparked the most fascinating family discussions and led to many a brainstorming session.

I’ve written about the area before, so will just recap here. Please see this blog entry about the whole mysterious area for more details.

In short, this part of the world piqued our interest in ways nothing else ever had before or since. Starting with seeing conehead skulls in the regional museum, then on to mysteriously carved stones found in the desert, and culminating in a flight over the Nazca Lines, this area will get you questioning some very basic “truths” about our world as well.

In addition to the mysteries in the sand, one of the highlights of the area is being able to go sandboarding on the huge sand dunes in the area. You’ll head into the desert in a dune buggy, then surf down massive hills. The best part? The dune buggy meets you at the bottom so you don’t have climb back up.

 

Southern Taiwan during Chinese New Year

Seeing the Chinese New Year celebrations should be a must for every child! It’s amazing. Fantastical, actually.

chinese new year dragon

Notice the poles the dragon is standing on? As the performance progresses, the dragon will be leaping and flying and twisting and turning, landing on one pole, then another in the most spectacular show ever.

While you could see the celebrations in pretty much any Chinese area, I am familiar with those in southern Taiwan, and know them to be over-the-top spectacular. We lived in Kaohsiung, a city of 5 million that has pretty close to zero tourism, so we saw the real deal, rather than some hyped-up tourist version.

It would be worth being in the area for the whole week, in order to see the build-up to the actual day, but the real treasure is the day the stores reopen – I think maybe two days after New Year’s? Hang around in downtown Kaohsiung, waiting for the large department stores to open. That’s where the magic happens.

The larger stores put on the most spectacular shows prior to opening. I mean – THE. MOST. SPECTACULAR. Dragon dances with a twist, shall we say. Prior to the dancing beginning, look for a bunch of poles set up in front of the stores – that’s your cue that the magic will be happening there.

And once they start, you’ll know what I mean. The dragon, consisting of two men working together under one dragon suit, will be leaping and jumping from pole to pole, making it look absolutely effortless. It’s an extraordinary sight watching the nimble dragon twist and turn into all kinds of contortions in mid-air before landing on other poles.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any video of the spectacular dragon dances in Khaosiung, but was excited to stumble upon an event a few months later with the poles set up. The dragon got up on the poles and then got down – apparently, the poles were not set up correctly and were wobbly. So – no video of the flying and leaping, but you can see the poles here to know what to look for.

While not watching the New Year’s celebrations, there isn’t much to do in Kaohsiung itself, but you’re only a quick hour away from the beach at the southern tip of Taiwan. Who doesn’t enjoy a day at the beach? Eat lots of seafood for me, will ya?

Ecuador for New Year

This is another one of those celebrations I would like to see every kid experience. And every adult, for that matter. Ecuadorians know how to do New Years right!

dancing with viejo ecuador

Dancing with a Viejo before burning him at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

We were just outside of Quito for New Year, but from what I’ve heard, similar celebrations happen throughout the entire country. I would imagine you could pretty much throw a dart at the map of Ecuador and find a nice celebration to take part in.

There are quite a few wonderful traditions in this part of the world, but my favorite is that of the Viejo. All day, Ecuadorians drive around with stuffed dolls tied to their cars. They’ve got stuffed dolls sitting outside their houses and businesses. Stuff dolls are pretty much everywhere. Those dolls represent the Old Year, hence the name Viejo (Old).

At midnight, the Viejos will be beaten and kicked to get rid of all the bad stuff from the previous year, then burned. It’s a pretty fun tradition and one I keep thinking I might adopt up here in the USA.

There are several other very cool traditions that are part of the Ecuadorian New Year as well. I leave you with this video I created of the event. It’s not a perfect explanation of it all, but will probably do better than I could manage with words.

*** This post is brought to you in collaboration with HostelBookers.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Why travel with young kids? After all, they won’t remember it.

reading“I never bother to read to my kids because they won’t remember it.”

“Why would I bother to play with blocks with my child? He won’t remember it when he’s older.”

“I certainly wouldn’t bother taking little Joey to the supermarket. Why would I? He won’t remember it anyway.”

I don’t think anybody would actually say those things, and yet I hear this all the time:

“Why travel with your children? They won’t remember it.”

Why bother? Only about a million reasons. Or maybe 85 billion is a better answer. (That’s how many brain cells your child has.)

sphinx

Why do we do anything with a small baby? Why do we rock him and cuddle him? Why do we change his diapers and put clean clothes on him?

We do all that so that he will grow up knowing he’s loved and cared for. Will he remember the hundreds of times we changed his diaper? If your child is anything like my sons, the answer is no. And yet we do it anyway – because we know how important it is.

It’s important that our child feel secure and loved when he’s one year old. That feeling of security will affect what risks he’s willing to take when he’s two. And after taking those risks at two years of age, he’ll feel confident to tackle new challenges at three.

There is no question that a feeling of being loved and taken care of allows children to reach higher, to attempt new things, and to trust in themselves.

Even if they don’t remember it.

ethiopia

We take our children shopping with us when they are toddlers so they aren’t nightmares when they’re older.

We play with our children to help them develop coordination and spatial awareness.

We read to them so they develop a love of story that will be with them forever.

Our children don’t remember doing those things with us, but the benefits last a lifetime.

And the benefits of travel as a young child will last a lifetime as well.

What children do and see and learn when they are two impacts how they perceive what they do, see, and learn when they are three. And that will impact what happens when they are 4. Although they might not remember it when they are 15 or 20, the impact is there anyway.

My sons went to Kenya when they were two years old and they were able to feed giraffes from a platform there. They LOVED it!

When they were three, we traveled to Thailand. “Can we feed giraffes?” Daryl asked. Although we couldn’t find giraffes to feed, he was thrilled to feed elephants and an orangutan – a desire directly linked to the giraffes he had fed earlier.

elephant

Daryl’s experiences feeding animals when he was three contributed to his comfort around animals when he was four. He loved being around sheep and cows and any other animal he could find.

riding a cowBy the time my sons were six, they no longer remembered feeding giraffes from the platform, but we knew that experience drove the way they thought and acted when they were three. And that affected what happened when they were four.

If we can give our children unique experiences with various cultures, foods, languages, and religions, they will grow up accepting that as normal. The fear that so permeates American society will be tempered by personal experiences. And that can’t be anything but a good thing.

All of those varied experiences that kids have perform together in their brain to create a mystical dance that will be unique to that individual person. We will never know exactly what impact any individual experience has on our children, but we CAN know that it will have an impact.

leigh and lilaLeigh Shulman, founder of Cloudhead, an art & technology NGO dedicated to educating and inspiring change through collaboration, tells this story about her daughter Lila: My daughter Lila was two years old when my husband Noah and I made the choice to leave our home and life in Brooklyn and explore the world. We traveled non-stop for three years. I didn’t make the choice to travel because I wanted to create lasting memories Lila will hold onto for a lifetime. That’s a Disney tagline.

We traveled, because it made the most sense for our family taking all family members into account.

What did Lila get from travel? She met new people, tried new foods, saw animals, landmarks, and places most kids only read about or see on television. The world became her classroom, and that forms the core of who she is today.

Will she remember it? At first, she remembered every single detail. Many things, I didn’t remember until she reminded me. Now, some things are a blur, but I see the impact travel has made on her as a person. She’s more open to people, open to differences in food, place and culture. Mostly, though, she’s extremely adaptable and a natural traveler. We just got back from 3 weeks traveling and volunteering in Bolivia, just me and Lila. I was so impressed by her. She is so independent, confident and mature.

 

melani roeweMelani Besler Roewe, a traveler, teacher, author, composer, philosopher, wanderer, artist, musician, wife, mother, dreamer, goalsetter and goal achiever put it this way:

Travel is beneficial in so many ways, but especially for children. It opens their eyes and minds to the wonderful diversity of cultures, flora, and fauna on the planet.

I was reared on military bases around the world. Dad also had his pilot’s license, and on weekends would rent a twin-engine from the local Aero Club and we would island-hop or visit other destinations depending upon our starting point. Whenever he was received transfer orders, the family would travel “the long way ’round” to get there in order to take advantage of seeing as many different locales as possible.

The folks would also invite over for dinner a family from dad’s squadron who had recently returned from wherever we were being transferred. They would bring their photo slides or 8/16mm home movies and tell stories about life in the destination and we would become not only informed, but so excited we couldn’t wait to get there!

Growing up, I never knew that prejudice existed. My friends and classmates were children of ethnically diverse blended marriages. Some were native residents of the locations. It was not unusual to know someone who was Greek-Mexican, Polynesian-AfricanAmerican, Puerto Rican, Samoan, German-Spanish, etc. It made no difference to any of us from where our bloodlines derived. We didn’t even know to wonder about it!

I encountered prejudice and bigotry in its fullness only when returning to the United States upon my dad’s retirement from the military when I was 16. For the first time in my life, I met with forced bussing, schools only recently integrated, and strong views on which were the “right” or “wrong” sides of town. Incredible, sad, and frightening.

Eventually, I became a teacher, and I can definitely say that exposure to travel influenced my career choice. I left the classroom after 20 years to begin a travel career designing custom vacations for individuals and groups.

 

Billie Frank, a freelance travel, food and features writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico, and blogger at Santa Fe Travelers said:  Our son, now 38, remembers an experience he had when he was four. We were on Cape Bretton in Nova Scotia and we took a walk in the woods. My husband told him if he sat there and didn’t make a sound, he might be able to see a wild animal. He sat there silently and got rewarded. A HUGE snowshoe hare hopped by about 5 feet of so from where we sat. He called it the “woods trick,” and to this day, remembers it fondly.

 

Freelance writer, cultural anthropologist and instructional designer Justine Ickes, who specializes in international education, travel and cultural exploration tells this story of how her travels got started:  Long before I ever set foot abroad, I was already a traveler of the mind, thanks to my grandpa’s View-Master.If you grew up in the 60s, you too probably had one of those red plastic stereoscopes, plus the cardboard disks of 3D photos.viewmasterGrandpa had a large collection of reels with titles like “Tulip Time in Holland” and “Africa – Cairo to Capetown”.

On sticky insufferably hot summer days, we’d blast the air-conditioning and marvel at the sights.The forests of giant sequoias in California. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. “The Seven Wonders of the World”.

And the names?! Kathmandu. Samarkand. Barcelona.Each was so evocative – magical, even. I was only a toddler but I was hooked.

Years later, when I was living in Madrid and traveling the world with the Peace Corps, I realized what those mind travels taught me – The familiar in the unknown. The power of imagination. The beauty in wandering.Sadly, Kodak discontinued the iconic red View-Master a few years back, opting instead for newer pop culture-inspired models like Dora the Explorer or Nascar.

But that hasn’t dampened my memories of my stereoscopic travels with Grandpa. Or my wanderlust for sites and cultures unseen.

 

Another friend, Lisa Lux, explains the importance of traveling while young like this:  I came from a very large family with very limited income. Regardless, every summer my mother would pack up the family van and hit the road, while my father stayed home on the mountain for a month. My mother had an extremely adventuresome nature, my father was a homebody. They found a way to respect each other’s’ differences and satisfy their needs; my mother’s wanderlust/ my father’s need for quiet and reflection.In order to fund the ‘adventure’, my mother used all sorts of ways to get to where she wanted to take us, we would help a local church with landscaping then get the run of the church that night, or camp in yards of friends, or volunteer and make new friends to have dinner with. And, the list goes on.

Here is what stayed with me: an unconventional nature, my wanderlust that never seems to be satisfied, and resourcefulness; I never let lack of funds stand in my way when I want to do something. I’m not sure I’d have those qualities if it weren’t for all the traveling I became addicted to as a child.

 

Freelance writer Theodora Sutcliffe has been traveling the world with her son, Zac, since he was a few months old, and living nomadically since he was nine. – All childhood experiences shape the people we become, not only those we can consciously remember. No one would ever say, ‘Why cook that meal for that child? They’ll never remember it as an adult.’ So, why use that same argument against travel? Young children experience travel differently from older ones, and babies won’t remember it at all. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

 

Annie AndreAnnie Andre, another world-traveling mama, is convinced her travels as a youngster have had a dramatic effect on her adult life: I was born in northern Thailand in a city called Udon Thani. (My father was French Canadian and my mother was Thai). I spent the first five years of my life in Asia until we moved to San Jose California where I learned English and began to integrate into American life.

I can’t prove it and I know it sounds impossible because I was so young when I lived in Asia but I think being exposed from an early age to multiple cultures shaped me and opened my mind in ways that it could not have been opened had my parents raised me in a protective bubble say just the US or Canada.

By the time I was 10, I noticed that I was different than other kids. I had a wider set of interests than my American and Canadian counterparts. I wanted to learn Chinese, Japanese and I dreamed of having a job that would allow me to interact with different people from different cultures. Food wise, I loved eating spicy Kim chee and Bok Choy just as much as Nutella or roast beef. Contemporary music was fun to listen to but I also enjoyed Chinese pop music. I felt more at home when we went away for the summer to Taiwan or even to Quebec to see my Aunt and cousins. Like I said, I can’t prove it but I think once your mind is stretched and challenged to different ways of doing, being and living, you forever have that need to keep stretching your mind.

Other bloggers are writing about this same topic as well! Check out these posts about how much kids learn from travel:

Catherine et les fées: Travel Memories

Living Outside of the Box: But will our kids remember?

Break Out of Bushwick: Why travel isn’t wasted on kids

Flashpacker Family: Is traveling with young kids worth it?

Edventure Project: Why travel is not wasted on the very young

Living Differently: The gift of travel

Portable Professionals: Why I don’t care if my child remembers our travels

Barts go Adventuring: Will kids remember travel? Is it worth it?

Where’s Sharon: Why travel when your kids are too young to remember it?

Raising Miro on the Road of Life: Do you doubt that travel has value?

Adventure Bee: Traveling with young kids who “don’t remember”

TravellersPoint: Selective Memory – What will they remember?

We Travel Countries: Why travel with they won’t remember it? Experience vs Memory

Simon Says: The world is my playground

Bohemian Travelers: Is Traveling With Young Kids Worth It?

The Expat Experiment: Why Travel When Mak Won’t Remember?

 

 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Why travel ISN’T wasted on kids

A while ago a reader pointed me in the direction of an article on MSN Travel about how travel is wasted on kids. I didn’t even have to read the article to know I seriously disagreed with the author.

The author, Bibi Lynch, said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, parents, but travel isn’t benefitting your kids in any way. Do you think you’re broadening their horizons? Well, yes, you would be — IF THEY COULD REMEMBER THESE TRIPS!”

in vietnam age 2What planet is this woman walking on? Has she ever been a parent? Surely, she knows nothing – absolutely nothing – about child development.

Seriously Bibi – travel benefits kids in ways we’ve never imagined and in ways we will never know. We can come up with some conjectures and all that but, truth be told, we will never truly know just how far-reaching the changes can be.

I can think of many reasons why one would believe travel isn’t good for kids. I could understand the belief that kids need to sleep in their own bed at night or that predictable food is critical to their growth. Some may feel that routine is critical to their development or that exposing them to different environments can compromise their health.

All of those beliefs would be perfect justification for keeping your children at home, but the idea that travel is worthless for kids because they won’t remember it is ludicrous. Flat out absurd.

babies held by ethiopian maidBibi maintains that parents should leave their kids at home because, as she put it, “travel is wasted on kids.” She feels small children won’t remember their adventures so parents should leave the kids with grandparents while they head out traveling. I think that is ludicrous.

“What exactly do you think your children will pick up from these travels? Malaria aside,” she continues. “A cultured international feel? A few key phrases in many languages?”

All that and much, much more. Travel is good for kids of all ages – yes, even babies. Here’s why:

Travel changes children’s brain structure

Environment has the power to enhance or minimize an infant’s potential

If one were accept Bibi’s reasoning for not traveling with children, there would be no reason to provide toys or walks in the park for their children. Hugs, smiles, and playtime would all be forgone because, after all, the child wouldn’t remember it. In fact, parents wouldn’t talk to their children either because the child won’t remember. Bedtime stories? Nope. The kid won’t remember so why bother?

The reason we, as parents, do all those things is to help our children develop both physically and mentally. Kids learn to speak by hearing others speak to them. They learn coordination skills by climbing on furniture and rock piles. All those skills are building blocks that will, in turn, be used for more complex skills later in life.

When children learn, the actual physical structure of their brain changes as they develop connections between brain cells. Those physical connections – called dendrites – grow in response to stimulating, challenging surroundings. Put a child in her playpen and few dendrites grow; take her to the park and she’ll grow more. Getting kids in new, exciting environments fosters the growth of those connections in the brain which lays the foundation for their entire life. Travel can provide that challenging, stimulating environment

Travel helps develop tolerance and acceptance

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain

blessed by ethiopian priestChildren learn to accept what they grow up with. If they grow up with people of many colors and languages cooing over them, they learn to accept people of all races. If they grow up eating a wide variety of foods, they learn to accept all those different tastes. Getting kids into circumstances where they experience those differences will help your children develop acceptance of them.

When children (and adults) know and love people from other races and religions, they are more likely to be tolerant of those races or religions as a whole. If my children – blond, English-speaking Christians – have good experiences with black, curly-haired Muslims, they are more likely to be tolerant.  When the media touts the evils of that entire cultural group, they will be better able to see through it.

While they may not remember being held and cuddled and sung to by that beautiful Ethiopian woman when they were small, babies’ attitudes and beliefs are being shaped as they grow. Those experiences, at six or eight months, lead to acceptance at age 1. Acceptance at age 1 means the fear is lessened and they are more accepting at age 2. And finally, as adults, they see lovely a person rather than an evil terrorist when they see a person of a foreign race.

Travel provides lessons in flexibility and adaptability

 Children are defined by what they take for granted

thailand age 3It’s easy for parents to take the easy road. Our children demand mac & cheese for dinner and we’re tired and don’t want a battle – so we give it to them. We have a ton of work to do so we park our kids in front of the TV rather than taking them to the park. We tend to do what is easiest, rather than always focusing on what is best for our children. It’s way too easy for us, as parents, to allow our children to get set in their routine and expect the world to revolve around their wants and needs.

While traveling, however, things rarely go according to what our children want. Nap time gets messed up because that happens to be when the flight is leaving, food is a bit late, it’s too cold or it’s too hot. While traveling, children have no choice but to adapt and accept it – so they learn how to do that.

Travel models chasing dreams

You are limited only by your own imagination

thailandIt seems that every parent I know says they want their children to chase their dreams. We tell our children with words that pursuing your passion and following your dreams is a good thing, but many don’t model that.

In one of my education courses at university, my instructor said, “There are three best ways of teaching: modeling, modeling, and modeling.” If we want our children to live their dreams, shouldn’t we, as parents, be modeling that idea? Can we realistically expect our children to chase THEIR dreams if we don’t chase OURS?

Travel gives our children options

All the world is your oyster

with trropical birds in baliWhen children travel at a young age, they learn that the world is their playground. Bibi has a point that toddlers won’t know the difference between Idaho and Thailand, but they will know the words. They’ll know that they had a great time playing with that group of children in northern Vietnam, although they have no way of knowing that Vietnam is on the other side of our planet. To them, any place is accessible for an afternoon play date. Growing up knowing those countries are options takes the fear out of them when you’re older.

If parents take it to the next step and provide a map as a play toy, toddlers will be able to point to various countries on the map, even though they don’t truly understand what they are pointing at. As those children grow, their comprehension and understanding of the maps and world geography expands.

I think my son, Daryl, said it best. When we crossed into Costa Rica as we cycled from Alaska to Argentina I turned to him and said, “Congratulations sweetie! You just crossed into your eighth country.”

burmaDaryl turned to me and said, in all his 11-year-old wisdom, “What difference does it make, Mom? A border is nothing more than a line on a map. It doesn’t change anything.”

When children travel they are learning that when you strip away all the wrappers – when you look beyond the language they speak, the color of their skin, the god they worship, or the currency they spend – that beneath it all, we are more alike than we are different.

If only people of all ages could understand that, this world would be a better place.

*******

There are plenty of bloggers out there that disagree with Bibi. Here are few:

10 Reasons to Travel when Your Kids are Little

Traveling Helps your Child’s Education

Learning about Conservation Through Travel

Why We Love Traveling With Our Daughter

Traveling is the Best Therapy for a Child with a Disability

What a 9-year-old has learned as an expat

Traveling teaches kids to be citizens of the world

10 Misconceptions about Traveling with Kids

Why Travel with Kids is Important

 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

The longest journey really does start with a single step

As it turns out, all those clichés you’ve heard all your life really are true. Jessica Bowers, who blogs at Suitcases and Sippycups, discovered that one day in London when… Wait! I’ll let her tell the story:

jessica and baby exploring England

Jessica and baby exploring England

With a baby sleeping in the Ergo on my back and a pit in the middle of my stomach, I paced along the sidewalk outside my hotel in Winchester, England.  It was the third day of our 14 day trip to England and it was the first time I had been outside the hotel since our arrival.  My husband was working at a nearby office complex, so he had been coming and going, but I had remained stubbornly inside the walls of the slightly shabby hotel.

I had reasoned with myself that I was just giving the baby plenty of time to adjust to the jet lag, but that was a lie, and even I knew it.  I was hiding out.  Afraid.

It’s not like I had been forced to take a trip to England. In fact I had practically begged to go along on the business trip, as I declared the obvious unfairness of Gary getting to have all the fun while I stayed at home alone.  As a fine arts major, I had studied with delight the architecture, the art and the drama that England had to offer, and I was practically giddy at the thought of seeing things in person.  I had carefully planned an itinerary that left me breathless: Stonehenge, Westminster Abby, the Globe Theatre.  Although the plans in my head were grand, the reality left me paralyzed.

I was very young, and extremely naïve.  I was a brand new mom, still adjusting to the life shaking experience of becoming a parent.  Not only was it my first trip with my young son, it was my first overseas trip as well, and I was completely unprepared for the culture shock.  While all of that makes pretty good excuses, the simple truth boiled down to the fact that I was scared

Scared of the unknown.  Scared to try something out of my comfort zone.

There comes a point, though, when giving up your dreams is scarier than facing your fears. That happened for me with the dawn of third day in England. Gary rose for another day of work, and I rose determined to do something other than hide out in the hotel.

I white knuckled my way through calling a taxi from the hotel lobby, and took the quick ride to the center of town only to discover that I only had American money in my wallet. The taxi driver waited patiently while I faked my way through changing money for the very first time, and then asked for a ride to Winchester Cathedral. Instead of climbing back into the cab, the driver began giving directions for walking to the cathedral.

Wait a minute!  The idea of wandering my way through a foreign city seemed frightening enough to send me right back to the safety of the hotel.  I must have gulped audibly because the driver gave me an encouraging nod and pointed in the direction of the cathedral.  With resolve, I took the first step across the city square towards the cathedral and never looked back.

In that moment, I became a living picture of every inspirational cliché imaginable.

That step did begin a journey of a thousand miles.  The only thing to fear was fear itself.   Success was the sum of small efforts.

The simple tasks of calling a taxi, changing money, and navigating foreign streets set in motion a string of success that took hold in my soul and spread like wildfire.  That day, I stopped letting fear have control and let my dreams take the reins instead.

Follow Jessica and her family as they travel at Suitcases and Sippycups

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

The making of an adventure mom: A look back at 28 years of marching to a different beat

The story of how I came to be straddled on my bike looking south at the longest road in the world

As romantic as it sounds to fly to the northern edge of the world with children and plans to cycle as far south as is possible, it didn’t happen quite that easily.

There were a whole lot of years where I learned hard lessons about how to do that and, more importantly, how NOT to do that.

I was at the tender age of sixteen when I faced my first potentially life-threatening situation in the wilderness and had to dig deep to find the courage and wherewithal to get not only me, but three of my siblings out of the mountains safely. As my older sister and I carefully talked through all possibilities and options and our younger brother and sister blindly trusted in our capabilities, I fended off panic and cautiously put one foot in front of the other until somehow, miraculously, we arrived back home.

As I look back upon it now, with many years to see how the pieces have fallen into place, I realize that that experience, that near disaster, laid the groundwork for many of my future adventures.  If I had survived that one, surely I could safely navigate others.

During college, I took advantage of weekends to climb around on Mount Rainier or explore the rugged coastline of Washington state. When I transferred to a university in Colorado, my adventurous spirit took me into the Colorado Rockies and canoeing down the Platte River in a blizzard.

Each time something went right OR wrong, I added another piece to the puzzle; another tidbit of knowledge and wisdom that I could draw on at some point farther down the road.

International travel became my passion in 1984 when I left behind the life I had known and starting working in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During the next few years I learned that Honduran people weren’t all that different from me. They all had the same basic needs I did, and had their own dreams and aspirations.

It sounds funny to me now, but back then I truly believed that “other” people were somehow different from me in many fundamental ways.

When I left the Peace Corps, they handed me a bunch of money designed to help me get my feet on the ground when I got back to the USA. I took the money and spent seven months backpacking around South America instead.

Penniless, I arrived in my home country and set about looking for a job on an Indian reservation – my experiences in South America had piqued my interest in Native Americans. A week later I headed to Arizona to start a new job teaching on the Navajo reservation.

I learned then that things work out. Many people had told me the ‘responsible’ thing to do was go back to the USA right away and not waste that money. In the end, I made the right decision for me.

nancy in indiaFrom that point on, my life was filled with various adventures, each one teaching me its own lessons and taking me one step closer to Prudhoe Bay. I spent a summer biking from Norfolk, Virginia to New Orleans; another summer visiting my brother who worked in a refugee camp in Malawi. John and I took off in 1990 to spend a year cycling around Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

It was 1993 when John and I took off for Egypt to spend the next twelve years living the expat life in Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, and Malaysia. During those years we figured out how to navigate foreign countries (in more ways than just the driving sense!) and gained a deep seated respect for foreign cultures.

We dealt with our share of medical emergencies, which showed us that life doesn’t end the moment we leave our own country. I injured my back and broke my hand in Egypt; John’s heart went into arrhythmia in Ethiopia and he had to be evacuated out to Israel. Daryl broke his arm AND had pneumonia in Malaysia. I came down with pneumonia in Argentina. We found medical care to be both great and affordable in most places of the world.

festival at buddhist monastery in sikkim indiaOur sons were born during our fifth year abroad and we turned into an expat family. Hauling our kids all around the globe became a part of our life and we adapted quickly to the changes. It wasn’t long before we discovered that backpacking with young kids was even more fun; more rewarding than travel on our own.

On a beautiful spring day in March 2006 my husband came home from work and suggested quitting our jobs and heading out with our children for a year-long bike tour.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We spent the boys’ third grade year exploring the USA and Mexico from the vantage point of our bicycle seats, then went on to spend the boys 5th, 6th, and 7th grade years cycling from Alaska to Argentina.

In each step of my journey, each phase of my life, I’ve learned various lessons that helped me push on to the next chapter.

 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

How I changed motherhood

Once upon a time I thought my adventuring days were over the moment Mr. Sperm met Ms. Egg. How wrong I was…

Adventure is a funny thing. The dictionary defines the word as “a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome,”certainly not something one would do with kids. Yes – with kids.

But then, I’ve never been a dictionary sort a’ gal.

I remember that day back in 2006 when my husband came home and announced that he wanted to take off with the boys to cycle the world. Cycle the world? As in – pedal a two-wheeled contraption in far flung places around the globe? With kids?

And I remember my response to the man. “Are you outta your mind? Have you gone mad? We are parents, dear husband. As in – we’ve got two little human beings in our care. Parents don’t just take off and ride bicycles around the world. With their children.

Or do they?

The more he talked about heading out for the adventure of a lifetime, the more I started thinking about it… Maybe he wasn’t mad after all. Maybe I was the crazy one to think that I needed to do what society expected of me. Maybe doing the “typical” parent thing wasn’t the best thing going for me or my kids? Maybe we should head out to see the world on our own terms. You know… like, grab life by the horns and hold on for the ride?

It wasn’t long before I knew I would be crazy not to do it. The way I figured it, I only have one chance at this thing called life. I have one opportunity to live life to the fullest. If I don’t take advantage of these fleeting moments I’ve been given, I’ll lose the chance. My sons will grow and mature and develop into young men with lives of their own. They won’t want to travel with ol’ ma and pa.

And now – years later – my sons have celebrated a birthday or two on the road. As a family, we’ve cycled 27,000 miles through fifteen countries. We’ve spent something like 1400 nights sleeping next to our bicycles in just as many unique locations. We’ve pedaled over 15,000 foot passes, through barren deserts, and in tropical rain forests. My family and I drank mate in Argentina, scuba dived in Honduras, partied during Carnival in Ecuador, and were chased by a bear in Canada. We stayed with an indigenous family in Bolivia and at a migrant workers’ camp in Mexico. We pedaled past penguins, guanaco, iguanas, big horn sheep, and bison.

We’ve lived life on our own terms. We’ve made our own path through life and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that parenthood doesn’t have to mean the end of adventure. These days with our children have been one of the highlights of both my life and my husband’s. And it’s been the childhood dreams are made of for our sons.

I know the day will come when I’ll be old and gray and sitting in my rocker looking back on these days of adventure with my family. I’ll reflect upon the memories we’ve made and the unique experiences we’ve shared. And I’ll be forever grateful to my husband for coming up with such a cock-a-nanny idea as cycling the world. With children.

And I’ll also know that we’ve shown the world a thing or two. Adventure doesn’t have to end the moment Mr. Egg meets Ms. Sperm.

This post was originally written for and appeared on The Yummy Mummy Club.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Free E-Book – Bicycle Touring with Children: A Guide to Getting Started

Bicycle Touring with Children: A Guide to Getting StartedBicycle Touring with Children: A Guide to Getting Started is now ready to go. You can get it free by signing up for our newsletter. See that little widget over on the right of this page – yup, that’s the one. Simply enter your email in the box and the ebook will be sent right to your inbox.

So what’s in this book, you ask? I’m glad you asked! The book is chock full of all kinds of tips and tidbits of wisdom we’ve learned in our four years of traveling on bikes with our children. You’ll learn about:

Chapter 1: Can I Tour with my Children?
Chapter 2: Why Go Now?
Chapter 3: Choose the Right Bike(s)
Chapter 4:  Packing and Preparations
Chapter 5: Tips for Touring with Kids
Chapter 6:  Where to Sleep at Night
Chapter 7: What to Eat
Chapter 8: Benefits of Touring for Children
Chapter 9: Special Considerations for an Extended Tour

Get your book today!


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Check out our extensive resource section! We’ve got tips and advice on a wide range of topics from bicycling with children to finances for long term travel to roadschooling and more.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Education = Learning = School?

ed•u•ca•tion [ej-oo-key-shuh n]  –noun

  • the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

learn•ing [lur-ning]   –noun

  • knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.

It’s funny how we associate these two words with school.  A brick building broken into classrooms filled with desks and chairs and blackboards.  School = education = learning Synonyms all three.

And yet – are they?  What is education?  What’s true learning?

I’ve talked quite a bit about our sons’ education in this blog – how we’ve allowed Mother Nature to provide most of the lessons; how we’ve trusted our sons to learn about the world around them.  About how education is so much more than school.

I’ve been asked over and over again about “holes” in my sons’ education. Will they know everything they’re “supposed” to know?  How are we ensuring their education is up to “standards”?

My question is:  What are the standards?  How are they defined? And then I can answer my own question:  They are pretty much random.

As a 21-year veteran of classroom teaching, I’ve served on my share of curriculum committees. I’ve sat there for hour after hour hammering out a curriculum – a list of standards that kids will learn. There is no denying the importance of math and algebra teachers. I’ve also seen just how random that list is.  If I’ve learned one thing from my adventures in and out of the classroom, it’s that schools don’t have all the answers.

Don’t get me wrong – the idea behind a curriculum is fine.  They try to ensure that each child learns the same things as another – regardless of which teacher he/she has.  I suppose there is some value in knowing that all children entering fourth grade in a particular school will know the phases of the moon or the parts of a flower.  It makes it easier for the fourth grade teacher for all of her students to have the same base.

But really – does it matter if a kid learns about the phases of the moon in third grade or seventh?  Is there something magic about being ten years old that makes it easier/more effective/more real/more whatever to learn about the history of your state at that age?  Does it really matter when a kid learns something? And is Idaho history really one of those must-knows?

We recently landed in Puerto San Julian along the Atlantic coast of Argentina for a few days.  The area was rich with history so we took advantage of our time there to learn about the history of our world.  We visited a life-sized replica of Magellan’s ship and learned about his voyage and how they wintered in San Julian because the weather was too severe to travel.  OK, then – we can check that one off the curriculum.  Yes, that is on the curriculum.

replica of Magellan's ship

But San Julian also happened to be the staging ground for the Argentine military during the Falklands War in 1982.  For the Argentine people, the war is recent and very meaningful.  Emotions, even though 30 years have passed, are still raw and jagged. The pain of defeat is still evident.  Extraordinarily evident.

To make the lesson come even more alive, we happened to be in San Julian with a British cycling friend – so we heard the story from both points of view.  In short, we were living history for a few days.

Some would argue that learning about the Falklands War is nothing more than useless trivia – after all, it’s not in the curriculum.  It’s not “supposed” to be taught.

I beg to differ.

My sons saw history up close and personal while we were world schooling in San Julian.  They saw an actual warplane with pictures of the six British ships it sank painted on its side.  They heard the stories from both sides.  They heard about a ruthless, egomaniacal dictator and an obstinate, pigheaded prime minister.  They saw the folly and the wisdom on both sides of the argument. They understand why Argentina invaded and why Britain fought back.  Who’s right?  The jury is still out.

fighter plane from Falklands War

But the lessons here go so much deeper.  Just as there were many, many reasons for the Falklands War, so were there many reasons for any other war in history. The American Revolutionary War was, in many regards, similar to the Falklands.  The Civil War?  Certainly some parallels.  WWI?  WWII?  The Vietnam War?

Once the idea of the “causes” of war became clear, it was only a short step to considering the causes of other wars. And they all come down to two sides; two stories.

So I ask you – is there a “hole” in my sons’ comprehension of history?  Or is a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of world politics sufficient? What is education anyway?

For the record, I think my sons have a much greater understanding of the world’s wars than most seventh graders you’ll talk to.  Even though they’ve never studied them.

Here are some other posts about how and what our sons have learned on the road:
What we learned in three years on the road
Life lessons from a bike trip
How can travel help kids learn?
Travel can help foster creativity in children
Effects of travel on children’s education
Travel is the best education children can have
Roadschooling

This is a great post by Theodora at Travels With a Nine Year Old about what her son learned on the road: Our World School End of the Year Report

Read the boys’ essays written on the road about whatever we were learning about at the time.

Check out our extensive resource section! We’ve got tips and advice on a wide range of topics from bicycling with children to finances for long term travel to roadschooling and more.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Life lessons from a bike trip

We learn something new everyday – or so goes the old saying.  Years ago, when I was going about my normal, ordinary life as mother, wife, and teacher, I’m not sure I truly believed that.  Sure, every once in a while something popped up and I looked at it and said, “I learned something new today!”  But every day?  Nah.

Things are different as I’m touring the world on my bicycle.  Now, each morning I wake up and think, “I wonder what I’ll learn today.  I wonder what new situations we’ll find ourselves in before we lay our heads down tonight.”  I can say with all honesty that I learn something new every single day.

Now that we are nearly to our goal of Ushuaia, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my sons have learned on this trip from Alaska to Argentina.  Yes, they’ve learned a lot of ‘school stuff’ – history, geography, cultures, languages.  But the real value of our journey goes beyond that knowledge.

Cuzco

The real value of our trip is all the ‘other stuff’ they’ve learned since we set sail from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska over two years ago.  It’s the other stuff they have learned that will carry them through life and help them climb over obstacles and figure out how to get through tough times.

Perseverance:  You’ve heard the saying – when the going gets tough, the tough get goingMy sons have lived it.  Most days on our journey are easy – the sun is shining, winds are favorable, and roads are good.  But then we have our days when things are not quite so nice – we battle headwinds, get soaked by cold rain, push our heavy bikes through mud or deep sand, or climb hills that never end.

That’s when my sons shine.  Those are the days when they jump in with every strength they have to overcome the obstacles in their path.  They are determined to reach their goal and are willing to push through tough days, knowing better times lay ahead.

pushing through sand

One day in northern Peru I walked the streets of Trujillo with my boys and complained about everything.  It seemed like Peru, itself, was conspiring against us – bad hotels, bad food, bad headwinds, bad, bad, bad.  I was miserable and was about to throw in the towel.

“Mom,” Daryl said.  “It won’t do any good to complain about it – complaining won’t change anything.  All we can do is put one foot in front of the other and get out of this area into a better place.”

I wish I had his wisdom.

Teamwork:  I’ve heard it said that being able to work as part of a team is one of the most valuable skills a person can have for today’s workplace.  If that’s true, Davy and Daryl will shine – they’ve learned how to be part of a team.

My sons have figured out there are times when they just need to do it to get all four of us to our goal.  The day we entered Guatemala comes to mind as a good example of teamwork – we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t all pitch in with everything we had.

Daryl in Guatemala

That particular day we faced a 23-km stretch of dirt road.  It was one of those roads lined with fine dust, and every time a truck came by it spewed massive clouds of dust into the air.  We pushed on through the clouds, bouncing and jiggling over the rough surface.

Three kilometers from pavement, we hit the hill.  A steep climb through terrible road conditions.  I climbed off my bike to walk.  Shortly thereafter, Davy climbed off his.  And then John realized there was no way he could pedal up either.  We laboriously pushed our heavily-laden bikes up the hill, but it soon became apparent John and Daryl wouldn’t make it up with the tandem.

“Davy!” John called out.  “I need you over here!”  Davy is the stronger of the two boys and was needed on the heavy tandem.  Daryl ran over to take Davy’s bike so his brother could help Daddy.

John and Davy worked together to get the tandem up the hill, while Daryl and I struggled with the two singles.  It didn’t take long to realize we wouldn’t make it up either.  Daryl put Davy’s bike down in the dust and helped me push my bike fifty yards before we stopped, gasping for breath.  While Daryl held my bike in place, I walked back down to Davy’s and brought it up.

We played leapfrog with the bikes, slowly working our way up the climb.  It was interesting to see the boys use whatever strength they had and to pitch in where they were needed.  We didn’t hear a single word about “my” bike or “your” bike – if they were needed to get someone else’s bike up, that’s where they went.

That’s what teamwork is all about – jumping in to help the team reach their goal.  It’s not about doing my part only – whatever is needed for the team is what we’ll do.  Davy and Daryl have learned the value of working as a team and know that it’s only working together that we will reach the end of the earth.

the boys take my bike

Take Baby Steps: Any big goal won’t be accomplished in one giant leap – it’ll take a whole series of baby steps.  When you put enough of those baby steps together, you’ve done something big.  The key is to keep your eye on the goal and take baby steps to get there.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going; to lose sight of the forest for the trees.  It’s easy to get bogged down and give up before reaching your destination.  If you remember it’s all about baby steps, you’ll make it through.

Davy and Daryl have learned to set small goals – some days it’s just making it through the mud and muck of today and getting back on solid pavement; other times it’s braving a cold rain in order to reach a warm dry house, and sometimes it’s reaching a city 500 miles away.  But each one of those baby steps brings us one step closer to our goal.

Lima - a long ways away!

Deal with detours when they happen:  Too many people ‘what-if’ themselves out of reaching for their dreams.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  If you focus on the what-ifs, you’ll never go anywhere.

Detours will happen as you reach for any big goal.  As you take those baby steps, there will be times when you come face-to-face with some diversion you hadn’t planned.  You have two choices – try to forge ahead with your original plan, or go with the flow.  It’s usually better to go with the flow.

Know before you start that detours will happen, and accept that you’ll deal with them when they arise.  You can’t plan out every eventuality – don’t even try.  When it happens, use your knowledge and experience to come up with the best solution you know of and move ahead.

My sons have learned that lesson well, and just take each day as it comes.  If there’s a problem, we’ll deal with it.  If not, we move on.  It’s as simple as that.

Alberta, Canada

Someone once told me there are four basic steps to doing anything big:

1.    Decide what you want to do
2.    Come up with a plan to get there
3.    Start walking
4.    Go back to the drawing board

I think that’s exactly right.  Figure out what you want to accomplish and consider the steps you’ll need to make it happen.  Then go – and know you’ll change your plan many, many times before you get there.

Davy and Daryl have gained a wisdom I can only dream of through their years traveling the world on their bikes.  They’ve faced difficult situations and have figured out how to overcome them.  They’ve learned how to plan and implement big projects.  They’ve learned to work together for the good of the team.  They’ve learned they can do anything if they decide it’s what they want to do.

I have no doubt that wisdom and knowledge will serve them well in the future.

Davy and DAryl

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Family travel: A life changing event

“You’re crazy,” one of my high school students told me one day before we left on this journey.  “I call you my crazy teacher.”

“Why?”  I asked.

“I can’t believe you’re going to ride your bike from Alaska to Argentina.  That’s just crazy.  That’s something people talk about doing – but they never actually do it.”

I guess it is true that a lot of people talk about taking an extended journey like ours, but not all that many actually walk the talk.  I really wish more people would do it – I wish more people would head out to see the world with children in tow.  There’s just so much to learn out there.

I think I’m one of the lucky ones – my parents took me to Mexico when I was sixteen.  That journey changed my life – quite literally.

I remember walking through the Mexican streets in wide-eyed wonder – it was so… different.  It had never dawned on me that anyone lived differently that I did in Boise, Idaho.

I watched a flame thrower as he took a big swig of kerosene, then blew it out while lighting it on fire.  I also watched as he gagged taking that swig.  “Oh my Lord,” I remember thinking.  “This man does this day after day after day.  He stands on a street corner, fills his mouth with kerosene, and spits it out.  And he gags.  Again and again and again.”

I’m quite certain that flame thrower had no idea what kind of impact he had on my life.  I’m sure he spent many years gagging on kerosene before dying an early death.

And me?  I returned home to my safe and secure little house in Idaho – where everyone lived the same as me.  As sixteen-year-olds tend to do, I turned on the TV as soon as we entered our house and plopped myself down to watch about all that stuff that goes on in the world.  A few minutes later a Peace Corps commercial came on, and I made a life changing decision then and there that I would enter the Peace Corps as soon as I was able.  And I did – eight years later.

The rest, as they say, is history.  I spent over two years in Honduras in the Peace Corps, then came back to the US to teach on the Navajo reservation for a while.  After spending a year biking the Indian subcontinent, I moved to Albuquerque for two years – and hated it.  I convinced John to move overseas with me and we spent time in Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, and Malaysia before moving back to the US twelve years later.

I think about all the years I’ve spent wandering the globe and marvel at the fact that it all started with a family journey to Mexico.

I talked with Mom a few years ago, and told her about how that trip to Mexico changed me – she had no idea.  When my parents made the decision to take us to Mexico, I’m sure they never considered it would be such a life-changing event.

I guess that’s why I want other families to travel – I want all kids to have the magnificent experiences I’ve had.  And it all starts with a family vacation.


Fort Davis
 
 
Fort Davis
 
Fort Davis
 
 
Fort Davis

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Regrets about long-term family travel?

I was browsing the Lonely Planet forum the other day and stumbled upon an interesting question:  “Do you have any regrets about taking an extended family vacation?”  The poster was considering heading out with her family for a year or more and was wondering if any of us would make a different decision now that we know what we know.  I think that’s a great question to ask.

Overall, I would say my answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”  However, I will never say that extended family travel is all rainbows, gumdrops, and puppy dog tails.  Yes, there are many, many advantages of our lifestyle, but there are some downsides to it as well.  It’s up to each individual family to decide if the pros outweigh the cons for them.

The fantastic parts of family travel have been written about extensively:

    • See the world and learn to be global citizens   As wonderful as books are, they are no substitute for actually meeting and getting to know the world’s peoples.
    • Spend time together as a family   Once you’re on the road and your life is stripped of all the demands of living at home, you’ll have a lot more time to be together and to truly listen to your children.
    • Learn more effectively   Your brain is more stimulated due to being in new environments and facing new challenges, so is in “learn mode” all the time.

with stone sheep in British Columbia

But there are downsides to a lifestyle like ours that most people gloss over:

  • Learning curve burnout   There are times when we’re simply tired of learning and don’t want to learn any more.  When we arrived into La Paz, Bolivia we had been in such a steep learning curve we simply didn’t want to do anything.  We spent five weeks there and never even made it to Tiahuanaco, the famous ruins from some ancient lost civilization, just outside the city.
  • Where’s home?   Even though our sons have traveled since they were only six weeks old, it has always been important for them to have a “home”.  For them, Boise is “home” and we make an effort to remain connected there.  We are all perfectly comfortable traveling around – as long as we know we can go home at any time.
  • Leaving friends    It’s hard to put the time and energy into making new friends when you know you’ll leave again soon.  Kids are all different in this regard, but we’ve found it’s gotten to be more of an issue in the past year or so.  We aren’t sure if it is age-related or location-related or both or something altogether different.
  • Travel fatigue   More and more, we find ourselves staying in a village an extra day or two (or three or four) simply because we won’t want to deal with the hassle of packing up and then finding another place to stay.  This isn’t a problem when traveling long-term as we are – we certainly have the time to stay.  But if you are on a tight timeline, it could become a major issue

For every choice we make in life, we opt out of something else. Sometimes those decisions are easy; sometimes they are anything but.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each of those choices.  In the end, we have to make a decision. We have to choose for one and against another. That’s just the way it is.

with sea lions at Galapagos

As John grew up in New England, his family spent their summer holidays at Grandma’s cottage on the Long Island Sound every year.  Their life at the cottage was nothing short of magical – John and his sisters’ eyes light up at the very mention of Leete’s Island and nobody could mistake their enthusiasm for the area.  Each summer they returned to their favorite place in the whole wide world and caught crabs, went clamming, jumped off rocks, and swam to their heart’s content.  It was a fabulous experience for the entire family.

My family, however, did things differently.  Every summer my parents loaded us five kids into the family station wagon and took off for parts unknown.  One summer we ended up in Minnesota visiting grandparents and cousins, another summer we camped in the mountains of Idaho.  When I was nine, we headed south and did the Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm thing.  I loved the idea of exploring different parts of my country every year and couldn’t wait to head out in the station wagon once summer came.

And yet, there is a part of me that wishes I had the experiences John had – the comfortable routine of going to the same place every summer and the learning that comes from doing the same things differently as you grow older.  John feels the same way about my experiences – although he loved going to the cottage every year, in some ways he wishes he could have traveled around the country and seen more variety.

Our parents made choices.  My parents opted for diversity; John’s parents chose familiar magic.  There is no right and wrong, only different.

Nazca Lines

Will our children regret our decision to travel someday?  In some ways – absolutely.  Our boys haven’t had the chance to play on soccer teams and be part of the swim team.  They haven’t had the opportunity to sit behind a desk all day and daydream about going out and exploring the world.  Recess on the playground… camping with the Boy Scouts… church on Sunday…   There are a lot of things our sons are missing out on.

But if we had chosen a life in Boise rather than our life on two wheels, they would have missed out on a lot of things too.  They wouldn’t have climbed Mayan pyramids and explored Incan ruins.  They would never have snorkeled with sea lions and scuba dived with turtles.  Watching bison on the side of the road… camping under the Southern Cross… visiting the Gold Museum… chancing upon carnival… seeing volcanoes glowing red in the black of night… meeting people from every walk of life…  Davy and Daryl have done and learned a lot during their travels.

Do I regret my decision to travel with my children?  No.  Looking at the whole picture, there is no doubt we made the right decision for us and our children.

climbing pyramid at Palenque

Here’s another article about some of the down sides of long term travel: 12 reasons why you should never travel long term

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Travel is the best education kids can have

“Don’t worry about the kids learning,” a teacher friend of mine told me one day.  “Just provide a stimulating environment and they’ll learn.  Their brains are like sponges.”

panama canal

There are many different facets of learning that happen while visiting a place like the Panama Canal

That day so many years ago I was preparing to teach first grade for the first time.  Although I had taught many years prior to that, my experiences had been with older kids.  “I can teach kids to read better,” I had fretted to my friend.  “But I don’t know how to teach them to read in the first place!”

Her words comforted me little – I was still convinced there was some magic method for getting kids to read.

And yet, as the school year unfolded and one student after the other started reading, I started wondering if her words were true.  We sang songs (and the words were written on charts); we practiced poems (with the words right before us).  We read stories.  All the time words hung out in front of my little ones’ eyes.  They started reading magically.

Out of all I learned that year, the most important was that kids learn.  Their brains are designed to piece together the pieces of the puzzle and make sense of the world around them.  They aren’t entering into the picture with all kinds of preconceived notions and rigid thinking that we adults have – their brains are little sponges specially created for learning.  Put them in a stimulating environment and they will learn.

cycling in Alaska near the pipeline

We followed the Alaska pipeline for 400 miles. Our children learned a lot about how and why the oil was transported across Alaska in the pipeline.

Travel is the most stimulating environment around.

My sons are now twelve years old, but their brains are still soaking up everything around them.  They are learning as if by magic as they travel the world on their bicycles.  They learned about the arctic grasses swaying gently in the wind up in the tundra; they learned how the Alaska pipeline was specially designed to radiate heat.  They learned why the Alaska Highway was built and about the battle between Native Americans and government forces at Big Hole.  As we made our way into Central America, they learned about coral reefs and volcanoes.  In South America about mysterious ancient peoples.

davy climbing temple at lamanai

Climbing Mayan pyramids makes history come alive

It seems like magic, and yet they learn.  Just by being in an area, it’s almost as though the collective knowledge of the people goes into my sons’ brains by osmosis.  I don’t understand – and yet I’m thrilled.

I remember the day when I realized exactly what was happening – that they were learning even though appeared to be playing around.  That day we were in the Galapagos Islands and I decided to take advantage of that fact to help my boys learn Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.  I’ve taught middle school science enough years to know that, for some reason, this theory is difficult for kids to learn.  In order to truly understand it, you have to connect so many dots – genetics, environment, change over time – and that’s hard for most kids.

galapagos marine iguanas

The Galapagos Islands were a great place to learn about Darwin’s Theories of Evolution – that’s where he came up with them in the first place!

So that day I rounded my sons up, made them turn off the movie they were watching, and corralled them into our cabin.  It was school time.

“Today we’re going to learn about Darwin’s theories of evolution,” I told my sons once we were properly situated on our beds and ready for school.  “Can you tell me who made the Galapagos Islands famous?”

“Charles Darwin!” they cried out.

“Exactly,” I replied.  “And do you know why?”

“Because this is where he saw all the unique animals and came up with his ideas about evolution.”

“You’re good!  What ideas are you talking about?”

“Natural selection, Mom.  The survival of the fittest and all that.  The animals that are best suited to live in an area are the ones who manage to pass down their genes so, over time, the whole species changes.”

I was blown away.  The whole time our guide had been explaining it, all I saw was the boys running around the islands oohing and aahing over the cute little sea lions.  And yet they had learned after all.  Osmosis.

“Lesson’s over!” I told them.  “Go back to your movie.”

Travel really is the best education.  As we travel the world, our brains are constantly challenged with new sights and sounds and smells.  We encounter things we’ve never seen before and our brains try to piece it all together to make sense of it – and create those little connections between brain cells that make our thinking so much more effective.

Wendy Lee Walsh wrote about making sure she keeps travel in her ever-tightening budget because of how much she has seen her kids learn through travel.  I wish more people would do that – understanding our world is more important now than ever.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

How to make a decision to take a trip?

I got an email from a friend this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it all day – even with all the craziness and scheduling nightmare craziness of the first day of a new semester.  Ken wrote:

You’ve probably heard this before, but while the trip itself is fascinating, it’s also the decision to do the trip that blows a lot of people’s minds, or creates the feeling of “Wow, I wish I could do that — make that decision.”

We’re all so tied to the pillars of our everyday life — mortgage, school calendars, adult/child activities — that we have trouble imagining even the possibility of untethering ourselves from the routine and preparing for a Great Adventure.

So throughout the day, as I’ve dealt with a few kids in the right classes, and a whole lot of kids in the wrong classes, I’ve been thinking about that idea.  How does one make that decision?  What is it that finally spurs us on to jump over the edge and just do it?

Tim and Cindie Travis, a couple of long-term bike tourists,  say the hardest part of their entire journey was pulling out of their driveway.  Although I agree that that’s a tough step, I think the hardest part is making the decision to go.  As Ken said – how do we drag ourselves away from all the trappings of modern society and go?

It’s a tough question to answer because there are so many answers.  For a journey of this magnitude, there will never be one, single, definitive answer.  I think almost every parent in the US dreams of dropping out of society to travel with their children.  Most of them never do it.

For some of us, the dream becomes important enough, at some point, that we are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.  And yes, there will always be sacrifices in living your dream.  For some, there is one overriding event that propels them into action – it may be the death of a parent or some other life-altering event.  For some of us, it is just a series of small, almost inconsequential events that somehow fit together to encourage and empower us to do it.  That’s how it was for us.

Our decision came, in all honesty, before our last journey – this time it’s just a continuation.  Back in the spring of 2006 we were tired of spending more time with other people’s kids than with our own.  My mother had a kidney removed due to cancer, and John’s dad died.  The tsunami happened while we were living in Malaysia.  A few incidents occurred which made us realize we weren’t getting younger, and neither were our children.  If we didn’t take advantage of now, we never would.  So we did.

triple bike with saguaros

Yes – we agonized over the decision.  There were all the what if’s that swam around in our minds – what if we get in an accident?  What if the kids hate it?  What if everyone thinks we’ve gone over the deep end?  Those are all perfectly valid thoughts and I suspect every person embarking on a journey of any sort will mull over them.  But when children are involved, they become even more important.  Can we, as parents, rightfully yank our kids out of school and plop them on a bike – for a year?  What kind of parents are we to even think of doing such a thing?  I mean – parents just don’t do that!  Or do they?

Ultimately, we had to come to grips with the whole pros/cons aspect of the decision.  Yes – there were cons.  A whole list of them.  But there were also a whole lot of pros.  And for us, the pros outweighed the cons.  I say, for us, because I realize that each family has their own unique circumstances to factor in and each family will make completely different lists of pros and cons.  But for our family, the journey was the right thing.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel