Experiences that were formative for me
Think back to the time early in your life that sparked your bug for traveling. Was there a specific trip or adventure that you took that had a meaningful experience? This is the heart behind family travel. It is to give our kids the opportunities for profound, formative experiences while they are young. Something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Three amazing family travel blogs tell their stories of early childhood experiences that shaped them. Now that they are parents themselves, they also share adventures they took with their children, and recount the formative adventures that were established in their own children.
“There’s no better teacher than experience itself” – Surendra Kumar
Embracing different cultures
By Sarah Wilson at The Wandering Rumpus
When I was in middle school, I first read The Diary of Anne Frank and became obsessed with Anne Frank’s story, her voice and the events of World War II. My dad traveled all over the world for work. One summer, soon after I read the book, my family went with him on a work trip and then spent several weeks traveling around Europe. The trip was chaotic and magical, exhausting and invigorating – traveling through Europe as a family of 6 was not so commonplace nearly thirty years ago!
I remember my dad taking us to Amsterdam so that I could visit the Anne Frank House and Secret Annex. I still remember the smell, the sound of the floorboards, the stairwell hidden behind the bookcase and the haunting feeling of walking where Anne had walked – learning more of her story and her legacy. We also visited Dachau concentration camp in Germany during that trip. That experience taught me the importance of travel as a real life classroom – the emotion and significance of travel as a way to open your mind and heart. My dad continued to encourage and inspire me to travel and learn about other cultures, religions, stories and struggles – whether across the ocean or across my backyard. I grew a deep passion for travel and books and the ways in which the two can teach and be a catalyst for change.
As an adult, with three girls of my own, I like to encourage that same philosophy of travel, books and opening your mind and heart to other people and places. My girls are all avid readers and love to learn about other cultures and cities. One instance during our travels that stands out with my young girls is traveling to Paris several years ago when they were very young (they are all avid Madeline fans). On the trip, we visited a new park or playground every day. Again, it was a chaotic and magical trip with our family of 5, plus my mom.
But, no matter where we went, my girls would always find other kids – most of whom didn’t speak the same language, all different ages and nationalities – and they would play, run and laugh for hours. They communicated through some common words, but mostly through play and friendship. Watching my girls connect with other kids of other cultures reminded me, again, that travel offers so much more than simply “seeing” a new place. Travel can open your mind and your heart; it can stir emotions, make connections and teach humanity in a most beautiful way.
To follow more of Sarah’s family adventures, check them out on Instagram
I was lucky enough to be raised by parents with a big appetite for discovering the world. They themselves lived the first couple years of their marriage in Ankara, Turkey. That experience, along with their dual French and American backgrounds shaped them and thus how they raised us.
I grew up in New York and spent all my summers in the French Cognac region with my father’s extended family. From France, my parents usually took advantage of the geographic location to discover other countries. These family trips undoubtedly fall into my fondest childhood memories and shaped who I am today.
Perhaps the most formative travel experience was the day trip we took from Tarifa, Spain to Tangiers, Morocco in 1997. I was 13 then and it was my first visit to the beautiful country of Spain. My mother had picked out a lovely hotel called Hurricane Hotel just outside the wind surfing mecca of Tarifa at the Southern most tip of Europe. Tarifa in itself stands out as one of my favorite places to travel to (we have since returned many times as a family). But undoubtedly what marked me on that trip back in 1997 was the day trip we took to Tangiers, as we took a boat across the Gibraltar Straight to Africa. I remember being so excited about going onto a new continent. Even from Tarifa, I’d be amazed just to see the Moroccan mountains, which appear on clear days.
It was the first time I was leaving the cushy Western world I’d grown up in for a country completely unlike anything I’d known. I was fascinated by the street vendors who were themselves fascinated with us, begging us to buy their jewels, artwork, and trinkets. I remember my brother and I being fascinated by these vendors and trying to negotiate with them, something we had never experienced.
From then on, I knew that beyond what I had known being native to both France and America, there was a whole world out there that led their lives in a vastly distinct manner. I knew I wanted to discover the world and learn as much as I could about other cultures. This formative experience led to the heart and mission behind my co-founding the website and community Bebe Voyage for parents who travel with small children.
My husband and I have taken our two children, who are currently growing up in Chicago, to France to get to know their French family and culture. My children, as I was, are fortunate enough to be raised in a family that espouses two cultures. Whenever we can, we introduce other cultures to them through our friends and local excursions. But when we travel to France, we not only show them another country and culture but we also give them the opportunity for quality time with their great grandparents.
My kids are fortunate enough to know six great grandparents living in France. So much has happened to this world in the last 90 years, I believe my children are incredibly lucky to have direct contact with their past. So in a way, I feel I have given my children (only 4 and 2 years old) the experience of not only reconnecting with their French roots and culture, but also to travel across time by spending invaluable time with their great-grandparents and visiting the country their ancestors lived in.
Although my family never really took trips when I was a kid, travel has never been foreign to me. My dad was a merchant marine and, although gone a lot, he would always send me postcards from every place he visited: Turkey, Israel, Panama, Singapore. The world was out there, waiting to be seen. My first experiences of travel in Europe as a young adult taught me a valuable lesson about people. It sounds so silly to say this, but there are people out there! REAL people who live their lives every day. They buy their groceries, go to work, brush their teeth, ride public transportation, and send their kids to school. Traveling gave people humanity. Seeing other people live their lives, knowing they would continue living their lives long after I left, expanded the world in my eyes.
But perhaps my most formative travel moment that truly stuck with me was during a port call in Chennai, India while I was on deployment with the Navy in 2012. We pulled in for a few short days, my squadron mates and I not looking for much more than a temporary reprieve from ship life. As I walked through the large warehouse building at the port, I noticed a group of five women and young girls sitting in a stairwell. Not knowing their story or situation, my mind began to make it up. Were they waiting for someone? Were they there by their own choice? Where will they sleep tonight? Do they go to school?
I often still think about those women. I wonder where they are and what their lives are like if, God willing, they’re still alive. While my privilege in life will never permit me to see the world through their eyes, the best I can do is acknowledge those in the world around me, my fellow inhabitants of Earth, and do whatever is in my power to help where I can.
The world is vast. It’s insanely beautiful, wild, but also messy sometimes. I’m a parent now; my children are 1 and 4. My greatest responsibility is to teach them about the world around them, to show them the beauty and educate them about the mess. To empower them to BE a positive force, a global citizen, and to believe they have the power to change the world.
My oldest was one and a half when we moved to Armenia for my husband’s job. Since he was so young, we have focused on normalizing uncommon experiences and relationships in order to cultivate a wider perspective early on. When asked about this time in his life, he says that he remembers that the people there don’t have as much as we do and that he misses his Armenian friend Artur. We have since moved to Colombia, where he’s exploring this new culture, language, and people. He’s curious about the world, he’s interested in geography and has requested to visit China and Austria. He’s developing his sense of citizenship every time we travel to a new place. He sees the people, how they live, how they’re different, but more importantly, how they’re the same.
To me, once you really realize the people of the world outside your own familiar sphere, that’s when you begin to change the world. We are all in this together and we must have tolerance and empathy not only with our neighbor but with our fellow humans we’ve never met.
One goal for sending our teenager abroad was to get him out of the world he’s used to.
Taking her 1 year old backpacking out into the woods was a wonderfully profound experience.
Living in Guatemala at 10 yrs old broadened my worldview and rooted a deep compassion.
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