A Family Travel Association member’s son is now the youngest American to ever visit all seven continents.
Travel expert Lesley Carter of Bucket List Publications has been traveling her entire life, visiting nearly 100 countries at this point. While on the road, she does everything she can, from base jumping to dog sledding to caving and beyond—and her family (husband Cord and daughter Athena) often joins in. That now includes her youngest child, Max Smith, who has visited all seven continents before turning 3 years old.
Max has already crossed more off his bucket list than most people on Earth, skiing in Colorado, swimming in Dubai, sailing in Galway Bay and snorkeling at a private island—just to get the list started. We talked with Carter just one day before she arrived in Antarctica about what this incredibly journey looks like, how it all came together and why she finds travel valuable even at such a young age.
Where did this idea to take Max around the world come from?
I traveled my whole life. My first solo trip was at eight years old when I flew from Nova Scotia to Ontario to visit relatives. So when I had kids, I wanted to share that passion with them. My oldest child, Athena, is ten years old. She’s been to 60 countries with me and it was, and still is, such a pleasure to travel with her.
When I got pregnant with Max, I was so used to traveling with a child that I considered setting a world travel record. After a lot of research, I discovered that the youngest child in the world to visit all of the states in the US was three months old. My plan became to break that record. I planned a road trip that visited every continental state. Every day was planned for two months of travel.
It took a world-wide pandemic to stop us. As the travel restrictions started to lift, I again set my sights on traveling the world, but on a bigger scale than before. I wanted to make Max the youngest American to visit all seven continents. The idea of it seemed so doable so I ran with it. The only big road block was Antarctica. I didn’t know of a way to get a two year old to Antarctica. It took a lot of research, again, but I discovered that Celebrity Cruises allows toddlers on the ship. That was the missing piece of the puzzle. I booked the cruise and tomorrow we’ll land on the final continent.
What value do you see in family travel at a young age?
The early years are among the most formative in a person’s life. Travel provides priceless learning opportunities and character-shaping possibilities that will last a lifetime.
My daughter, for example, learned to ski at four years old. Those skills have improved every season since that first lesson, even though she doesn’t remember it. She also started swimming at just a few months old. Now, she is a confident swimmer with excellent safety skills in the pool and the ocean.
Traveling with young children allows them to be more adaptable to changing situations and be more flexible in their habits. Whether it’s sleeping in an unfamiliar crib, trying new food, or experiencing a new environment, there is endless learning to be done when you step outside the comfort zone of home. Riding a camel, sledding in snow, skiing, and interacting with animals are all new experiences that my kids have loved trying.
And how do you see those experiences impacting them?
Travel can expand a kid’s world, making them more empathetic toward cultural differences. It allows them to connect with people of all ages, nationalities, and walks of life. During this trip to Antarctica, Max made a special connection with an elderly couple in their 80s. The husband, Bill, laughed and chatted with Max for almost an hour during a catamaran tour of the Beagle Channel. It brought both of them, and me, so much joy to spend time together.
Traveling with young children, even as young as six months old, can also help them with linguistic development. We know that in terms of language, babies perceive sounds differently from adults. As they get older, they lose the ability to distinguish many of the other speech sounds. If we surround them with speech sounds from all around the world at a young age, it helps later in life with their language.
And my favorite reason, travel strengthens family bonds. Families share a whole range of experiences together when travelling. And it’s these experiences that enhance family bonds. Travel provides the perfect opportunity for you as a family to collect memories, not things.
What have you learned about traveling with little ones on this journey?
Traveling with children can be difficult, but it is so rewarding. Sometimes you just need to accept that you’re going to be the person with the screaming child, and that’s okay. Manage the situation to the best of your abilities and prepare for as many possible outcomes as you can. The more prepared you are for your child’s typical behaviors, the happier everyone will be.
Do you have a particular story from this journey you’d like to share?
Max can be shy. He was born during the pandemic and during the first year of his life, he was very isolated. It usually takes him awhile to warm up to people. On a catamaran tour in Ushuaia, though, we met this elderly couple that sat across from us. Max instantly took to the man, Bill. He wanted to sit next to him and he pulled his blanket over his head to start playing peek-a-boo. Bill laughed and played along. It was like they became best friends, laughing and playing little games together. It was a beautiful bonding experience with people we would never have met without traveling.
What advice would you give other parents about family travel, especially the ones who might have a more typical day job?
Travel as much as you can and experience as many cultures and environments as you can. Even if it’s to a new town on the weekend or a new city during school breaks, get out there and explore. The world is full of endless possibilities and traveling with kids is the best way to see the world through your eyes and the eyes of your children.
Overall, travelling the world has never been easier, and the more unrealistic you are with your dreams and goals, the more you’re able to achieve.
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