Oftentimes during school visits, our travelers’ experience with educating grandchildren pays off for the local students.
While most travelers use our online Travel Forum to share advice about our trips and destinations, they’ll occasionally discuss travel in general. We found this discussion about travel and younger generations to be particularly insightful. If you’re not familiar with our forums, learn more about this active online community. And read the full forum discussion here. (We’ve edited these posts for style.)
By Travel Forum users “Porkchop55,” an 11-time traveler, and “Gaynell,” a 17-time traveler
Porkchop55’s Conversation Starter:
I have read that only about 50% or Americans have passports, which is much lower than any other developed country: for example Australia is at about 80%. Have Americans become too isolated and our world view has not just become America first but America only? You can see this just by comparing the news on CNN to that on the BBC. There is much more world news on the BBC. If you can believe those YouTube on-the-street videos, where they ask people to point out North Korea on a world map and most of them pick Australia, our education system is also failing to provide knowledge of the world.
Our traveling the world and returning home with t-shirts, pictures, and stories of our travels to share may be enough to broaden our grandchildren’s world view, but about five years ago I told my granddaughters that when they were older I would take them to Europe. This spring I am making good on the promise by meeting my daughter and granddaughters in France after a Grand Circle River Cruise, where we will spend their spring break exploring Paris. I have told them this is part of their education and their summer homework assignment was to read the Rick Steves guidebook, learn about France, and decide what they want to do while in Paris. They are excited to go and volunteered to learn some French.
Would the thousands of dollars I’m spending for this trip have been better invested in their college fund or will exposing them to other cultures and the world beyond the U.S. borders pay dividends far greater than more money for college?
How are you sharing your love for travel with the next generations?
If it's important to you that those grandchildren have a sense of the wider world, you have to act on your beliefs. Here are some ideas:
Before my husband and I take a trip, we always talk about it to our grandchildren. We look on a map together to see where we are going, talking about the geography of the country—rivers, mountains, seas, deserts, etc. We ask them, "What do you think we will see there?", and speculate on what the food, clothes, etc. will be like. I often order a children's book about the area, one with lots of pictures, and have it sent to them.
The first thing I try to do in each country is buy postcards and stamps. I write them immediately, printing for those who don't yet read cursive, and mail them. Even the two-year-olds have enjoyed this, and word is that they walk around carrying the cards, showing them to everyone.
For older children, I often order a story book about a child in the country we are going to, or find one at the used book store. Sometimes I am able to find a biography—Nelson Mandela, Madeleine Albright, etc.—that correlates with a particular country we are seeing.
We always bring home a souvenir for each child. We try to make it something made in and representative of the country/countries we are seeing, and something the children will use and enjoy. When I buy the souvenir, we sometimes snap a picture of the person who sold it to us, or the artisan who made it, to give to the child. This works some places, in others, not so much. Sometimes you just have to settle for a t-shirt.
We often bring home a typical edible "treat" from countries. Kids love to sample anything interesting, from reindeer jerky to hot sauce. (They thought the rose-flavored candy from Turkey tasted like soap!) We don't buy many souvenirs for our big children and their spouses anymore, but the whole family enjoys tasting whatever we bring home from our trips.
Sometimes we can find a CD of music, and make a copy for each of our families of children.
When we get home, and over our jet lag, we make a point of showing the kids pictures of the places we have been. We tell them age-appropriate stories about the children, people, animals, and birds that we encountered, and talk about the sights. We say, "Someday, when you are older, you will get to go to Paris to see Eiffel Tower!" or "Someday, I hope you get to ride an elephant in Thailand like Grandpa and I did! It was thrilling!" Hopefully, our enthusiasm is contagious.
Get them a subscription to the children's National Geographic magazines, so they can read about other countries.
Last, we try to do some follow up later on. One year, I let them check out the Heifer project booklet, and to choose a country and a project to donate some money to. If there's a world disaster, such as a tidal wave or an earthquake, we might make a point of donating with them to help people in its location. If I see an interesting article in National Geographic or another magazine about a place we've been, I often send or give it to an older child.
Yes, this is a lot of work, but fun work. And it is worth it, to raise generations of educated adults who can read a map, find the countries of the world, empathize with people from all cultures, and realize how global our society is now. That sense of history doesn't just happen; it has to be taught. Some of our adult children travel a lot, others stay at home for reasons of health, money, or just desire. But all of them have a good sense of how much world is out there to explore. Hopefully, with our efforts, our grandchildren will, too.
I'm willing to bet, Porkchop, that you won't regret your decision to take your grandchildren to Paris!
Read more conversations—or start one of your own—at O.A.T.’s online Travel Forum.