As a third grade teacher and life-long traveler, I believe that most skills in life can be taught to young children, including the art of travel. While you can’t “make” a traveler, there are qualities that can be instilled and experiences that can be had that shape kids to be good travelers for life.
I know there are many people like me who have a passion for traveling. I often wonder where this desire came from. Looking back at my youth, I realize that I owe so much to my parents, who raised me to be an independent traveler without explicitly knowing it.
Here are some of my childhood experiences that molded me, as well as my thoughts on how to teach your own children the skills required to become good travelers.
Encourage Enjoying the Journey
My first memories of traveling with my family were the snow skiing trips we would take every winter break. We would spend one day driving over 13 hours to Red River, New Mexico, and one day driving back. I can remember packing the car the night before, waking up at 4:00 a.m., and hitting the open road. Even when I was young, I always looked forward to the long drive; it gave me time to read, watch movies, listen to music, and play games with my brother. I still feel this way, whether it be hours in the car or on a plane. I love the long stretches of time that travel gives you.
Enjoying the scenery and listening to my “Songs About Wine” playlist while on a road trip through Argentina’s wine regions.
Before going on a trip, talk to your little ones about what activities they want to do during their special “travel time.” Make a playlist of their favorite songs, let them choose new books they’ve been dying to read or new movies they’ve been wanting to watch, and search Pinterest for some fun travel games you can play in the car, plane, or airport as a family. By making travel time a fun and special time, your kids will be dying to go on the next trip, not just for the destination, but for the journey itself.
Encourage Awareness of Money
Every summer, my mom would go to a week-long conference by herself. When I was 11, her conference was in San Diego, and she told me that I could go with her if I could save the money for my own plane ticket. I worked for my mom two hours ever day after school; I negotiated my hourly wage and even recorded my time on a time card. It was serious business. She paid me every two weeks, which gave me the choice to spend my money or save it for the ticket. I chose to save every penny. When I had enough money, we bought our tickets together. I loved going on that trip with her; I had worked so hard for it.
Two years later when my mom’s conference was in New York City, she upped the ante on me. To go to NYC, I had to buy my plane ticket and pay for half the hotel cost. I worked for my mom after school and sold candy suckers for a year to go on that trip. My mom and I also collected coins all year long. Right before our trip, we dumped all the coins into a CoinStar machine for cash. We used that money for a really nice dinner at Tavern on the Green.
Each summer trip that we went on together, I was expected to help with the cost more and more. Through these special mother-daughter trips, my mom taught how much money traveling requires, how to work hard to earn the money, and how to save that money in order to travel. Even in college, instead of buying new clothes and shoes all the time like some of my friends, I was always saving for my next trip, even if I didn’t have one planned yet.
Loving every minute in New York City.
I’m not suggesting that you make your kids work to death for every family vacation. There are many different ways to get your kids involved in helping with vacation costs. One way is to plan a special activity during the vacation. Discuss how much the activity costs, and set age-dependent money-raising goals for each member of the family. Have your kids complete chores to earn money, and encourage them to meet their goals. Then, everyone can contribute to the special activity during the vacation. Extra money can be used to buy souvenirs of their choice.
Encourage Trip Planning
In addition to paying for my part of our special mother-daughter trips, I was also expected to help make plans. I would help my mom choose flights, hotels, and activities to do. By the time I was 13 and headed to New York, I had gained her trust and planned the entire trip myself, her credit card in hand. I made the hotel and airplane reservations, booked tickets to three Broadway shows, bought tickets for the Double Decker Bus Tour, and even booked a night cruise for the 4th of July to see the fireworks. My mom approved each item before I made the purchases, but I was in charge of all the planning, a job that I took very seriously. Guide book in hand, I even created a detailed itinerary of things to do and places to eat.
My plan for visiting wineries in Napa Valley, California.
Start as my mom did by planning a trip as a family. Organization, responsibility, and a lot of reading are all skills that are utilized while planning a trip. Teach you kids how to search for the best deals on flights and hotels. Buy a guidebook or search the internet for interesting things to do and good places to eat; read about these things with your kids and ask for their input. Once on the trip, your kids will be excited to visit the attractions and restaurants they selected. On the next trip, give them more responsibility by allowing them to plan a whole day. Planning a trip is a life skill that is rarely taught, but is such a valuable tool to know how to do well.
Encourage Openness to People
Part of the joy of traveling is meeting and interacting with people and cultures you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. My dad could go on vacation, do nothing but visit with the people there, and be perfectly happy. And I mean everyone–waiters, store clerks, tour guides, and the family sitting at the next table. As a kid, I sometimes grew impatient with my dad’s inclination to talk to everyone we met, but over the years, I’ve really started to appreciate his openness to other people. He’s a genuinely friendly person, interested in other people’s lives. As a solo traveler, these qualities are necessary.
When I was 10, my dad encouraged me to talk to another little girl at the pool at our hotel in Mexico. We became best friends that day; she gave me a little marble toucan statue before she left with her family. That experience was one I wouldn’t have had without my dad’s example. Now, that’s how I meet friends while traveling.
Making friends through face painting on the street in Guatemala.
How often are we in such a rush to see the next attraction, that we miss out on forming relationships with others? The ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger is another of those life skills that kids aren’t often taught how to do. Start by showing them by example that having conversations with strangers can be rewarding. Teach them how to ask good questions and how to really listen to what someone else is saying. Then encourage your kids to not be afraid to start conversations with others. While it’s still not always easy, practicing these skills from a young age helps develop conversational skills that will be used throughout their lifetime.
Encourage Curiosity About the World
Besides by parents, there are two other people who are responsible for my early interest in traveling the world: my 1st grade teacher and my grandpa. I remember Mrs. Newbolt like I was in her class yesterday. She was a middle-aged, energetic woman who loved to travel. Her stories about visiting the Great Wall of China and the Amazon Rainforest inspired my first “Places I Want to Visit” list, which has never ceased growing. My grandpa had traveled the world while serving in the U. S. Air Force. He and my grandmother visited countries in Europe and Asia, and they had even lived in Okinawa for several years. He had seen more of the world than anyone I knew, and I loved talking to him about the faraway places he had been. He always encouraged my love for travel, and even helped me buy my first international flight.
As a teacher, I saw firsthand how curious kids are about the world, and loved being “that teacher” who always talked about her travels. I always kept a travel area in my classroom, full of postcards, travel guides, children’s books in foreign languages, maps, and a globe. It was exciting to me how much my students loved learning about the world. I hope that by sharing my love of traveling, I’ve inspired my students like my teachers inspired me.
The travel area in my 3rd grade classroom during our research unit on countries in Asia.
Teachers, parents, and family members who love traveling should not underestimate the influence you have. Passion is contagious; share your travel experiences, pictures, and mementoes from your trips with little ones. You’re opening their mind and curiosities to the many wonders of the world.
Encourage Seeking and Seizing Opportunities
The best advice that was ever given to my mom was from my Great-Aunt Freddie. She told her that the best thing she could do as a parent was to open up opportunities for me to travel. My mom took this to heart. Through our special summer trips, the two of us saw much of the United States. I learned to save money, so that when opportunities to travel came my way, I could say “yes.” “Yes” has become my travel philosophy, and I’ve fallen in love with countries I otherwise wouldn’t have visited because of it. For example, when I was in college, I was really focused on traveling around Asia, but the opportunity to study abroad in Italy presented itself. I said “yes,” a choice I’ve always been so thankful for, as I met my best friend Lauren and my husband Arie because of Italy.
The view of Castiglion Fiorentino in Tuscany, my home while in Italy.
I’m not saying you should give your kids everything they want; traveling can be expensive and that would quickly leave you broke and leave your children spoiled. However, after your kids have learned how to work toward their goals of raising and saving money, when opportunities come in high school and college to travel, they’ll be financially ready and be open and eager to say “yes”.
I’ll never forget the lunch when my parents met Arie’s parents for the first time. The two sets of parents were getting along perfectly, gabbing about how they had raised us to be such independent adults and how proud they were of us. Then, Arie’s dad asked us what our plans were after getting married. Unable to shy from the question, Arie and I told them that we were planning on moving to Argentina for a year. Suddenly, us being so independent wasn’t making them so happy. However, since the initial shock, our parents have been very supportive of our decision to live abroad (though they’re always a little anxious for us to be home).
Enjoying a nice day walking around Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
If your child grows up to be an independent traveler, excited to explore the world, the best thing you can do is to support them, encourage them, enjoy listening about their experiences, and try to join them in their travels sometime.
You’ll find that the child you taught how to do so much, will soon have things to teach you too.
About the Author
I love traveling. At the relatively young age of 25, I’ve been blessed to have experienced so much of the world. I’ve spent months in Thailand, China, Italy, and Guatemala. I’ve spent weeks in South Korea, Myanmar, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico. I’m currently living, working, and traveling in Argentina. And I’m not done yet. For all that I’ve seen and experienced, there is so much more that I want to explore. A special thanks to my parents for always being so understanding and encouraging.