At the end of September this year, the Family Travel Association is hosting its first annual Summit at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana. Over the course of two full days, an assembly of industry executives and family travel experts will expand upon topics essential to a rounded understanding of the challenges we face today with family travel and the efforts we can make as an industry moving forward. In anticipation of that, we will count down the 12 weeks leading up to the Summit by spotlighting 12 core family travel topics to the public. Each week, we will publish an introductory essay written by an authority on the topic, which will open it up for public discussion. Following the Summit, we will initiate a 12-month process of digging much deeper into each of these topics, one per month. By the time we gather for the next Family Travel Association Summit in September 2016, we expect to have a much more powerful grasp of what’s at play in family travel.
TOPIC 11: Don’t Be Afraid of Letting Travel Change Your Family
Eyes shining, pure joy on her face, our daughter scanned the waters. She eagerly tracked the light-green shapes as they moved closer to the boat, called to me when the whales were preparing to surface, and reminded me often to put down my camera and just enjoy the moment. We were a week into our epic Canadian road trip from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and watching the family of humpbacks cavorting in the North Atlantic’s chilly waters was incredible. It reminded me how travel can change a family.
In our daily lives, we settle into our roles – spouses, parents, job – and accept our lives’ rhythms. They’re safe, comfortable, and easy. Before you know it, though, the kids are grown and you’re ready for retirement. Where did the time go?
That’s one reason why I love traveling, especially with my family: it expands our worldview, global knowledge and experience, and offers unlimited learning opportunities. Whether it’s a monthlong road trip or a visit to a beach, near or far, it is a change of pace and view that teaches us to live in the present – a rare gift in today’s ultraconnected world. It is a willingness to explore and learn things firsthand that reveals an awareness of the differences (and similarities!) in everyday life around the world to my family. Probably yours, too.
Less than half an hour after returning from our road trip, my daughter moped into the room, sighed, and said, “I’m glad to be home, but I really miss traveling. When can we go again?” I have to be honest – it was all I could do not to jump for joy. My introverted daughter who loves travel but loves home more was ready to leave again? This is the power of travel and how it can change you. It brings so many benefits to a family (and to each person within that family) that, to me, it is as vital as breathing.
Travel Changes Family Dynamics for the Better
Travel forges very strong family bonds. Your shared experiences create an insider language, jokes, meaningful memories and cherished tales (to be told for years to come) that bring you closer together in more ways than you can imagine. For us, it included whale-watching in St. John’s, getting soaked on a whirlpool jet boat tour in Niagara, seeing fireworks synchronized to music in downtown Toronto on the last night of the Pan American Games, gasping in delight and awe at the Cirque Flip Fabrique in Quebec City, going on a haunted hike in Fredericton, and trying poutine. It was also searching for other yummy food, laughing at silly graffiti, and long hours of driving and singing.
Travel likewise redefines roles in the family. As your kids grow older, they take on more responsibility for planning adventures and making on-trip decisions. It’s fascinating to watch them grow, learn, and create new ways of being part of the family. Your daughter might drive more on a road trip, allowing one parent to play games in the back seat with younger siblings. Your son might take responsibility for sweeping a hotel room to ascertain that nothing was left behind. Your twins might choose to become grocery store explorers, discovering special and interesting new treats for family enjoyment.
Travel allows these role breakouts because everything is new and fluid. You’re in a different place, trying new things and expanding boundaries (all while staying safe). It’s an extraordinary growth experience, one for the entire family together, as well as each individual.
Travel Impacts a Family’s Place in the World
Travel culturally changes a family. As it is all about new experiences and seeing different ways of living, travel is the best form of education. Moreover, it’s a great way to create intercultural citizens – people who understand difference, why it’s important, and why knowing about difference (and accepting it) is critical for world peace. The old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes is true; once you’ve seen how other people live, the world becomes smaller. We are all neighbors, co-workers, and citizens of the world. Travel displays this in glorious color, and can work toward reducing ethnocentrism.
Family travel also shows kids, firsthand, which priorities are important – that experiences matter and should be valued more than acquiring things, that helping others can enrich travel, and that the world is always much grander than one’s immediate concerns.
Travel changes a family; it widens your world and opens your eyes. Sometimes it reaffirms what is important to you, while other times it instructs about what is critical to others. But always in the interest of helping you to be an agent of beneficial change. One thing is certain: it brings you closer to other family members and creates intense shared experiences that will always be treasured.
How has travel changed your family? Has it been more about how individual family members grew to accept themselves as part of a family in ways they hadn’t before, or more about how your family grew to accept itself as part of a global culture… or a little of both? The Family Travel Association is determined to develop a better understanding of what happens and, if possible, why.
Please share your feelings in the comments below or, for more interaction, on the Outbounding discussion board prepared specifically for us. And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more articles about core family travel topics.
Jessie Voigts has a PhD in International Education and has published six books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. She is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world through which she pursues her passion for family travel, study abroad and international education. She founded and directs the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program, teaching teens all around the world.