By: Shannon Ralph
My wife and I are planning a European trip. We are not now, nor have we ever been, seasoned world travelers. We do not have current passports. We do not possess a single frequent flyer mile between us. Our foreign country experience to date has been limited to Canadian border towns and sprawling resorts in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Cancun. The closest we’ve come to a European excursion is watching “The Amazing Race” while eating Olive Garden leftovers on our couch. We’ve travelled a bit more within the U.S, but money and time and work and children have always conspired to keep us stateside.
This is about to change.
My family came to America from Scotland many, many years ago. I can trace my direct ancestry back to several kings of Scotland, including the beloved Robert the Bruce (a fact I immensely enjoy rubbing in the face of my decidedly plebeian wife with her German peasant stock ancestry). I have yearned for quite a while to visit Scotland to see firsthand where and how my ancestors lived and worked and fought and died. Thanks to “Outlander” (anyone else infatuated with 18th century fashion?), Disney’s “Brave” (I’ve seen it more times than I care to admit), and photos of Gerard Butler in a kilt (I love me a man in a kilt), I have romanticized the Scottish Highlands to the point that I have no choice now but to travel there. And soon.
We also intend to incorporate England into our travels because, you know…Harry Potter.
Our travel dates are not set as of yet, but we are deep in the throes of strategizing and saving for our trip. London, Oxford, Edinburgh, Oban, Inverness, the Isle of Skye. These are all places I will soon add to my limited list of traveled destinations—a list I fully intend to expand in the coming years.
When I tell people about our trip planning, many are surprised to learn that we plan to take our three children with us—to Scotland and England and anywhere else our future travels will lead us.
Wouldn’t you have more fun if you left the kids at home? But how are you going to enjoy the nightlife in London and Edinburgh if your kids are there? Wouldn’t the Scottish countryside be SO romantic without your children? Aren’t the kids going to slow you down?
Perhaps some of these are true but, as far as I can see, the advantages of traveling with our children far outweigh any inconvenience they may pose. Below are 14 reasons that I am over-the-moon excited to travel with my children.
- To share with them the rewards of hard work. Totally lacking in a trust fund, and with no multi-million dollar inheritance in sight, we are saving for this trip as a family. It is a wonderful life lesson for my children to see our family cutting back, making sacrifices (I am still mourning my $5 lattes), and working hard to achieve a goal that is important to us. They deserve to enjoy the spoils of all our work as much as I do.
- To unplug and truly connect. As I am sure many of you can relate, our family life tends to revolve around our handheld electronics. We talk, we text, we play, we work, we read, and we learn on our devices. Though certainly convenient, technology can breed an insidious sort of disconnectedness. Travel provides an opportunity to reconnect over a shared experience that has nothing to do with technology. It provides a much needed break from the digital world.
- To make spectacular memories together. Like anyone, I want my children to have fond memories of their childhood. I want nothing more than for them to remember these days as brimming with fun, laughter, and adventure. What better way to make memories than traveling the world with your children?
- To learn about their heritage. Though I am proud to be an American, I have a huge desire to learn about my heritage. To know where I came from. How my Scottish ancestors lived. I believe we have an immense amount to learn from the victories and defeats of the people who came before us. I want my children to have a firm understanding of where they came from, so they are better prepared for the amazing places they are headed.
- To show them just how big the world is. It’s easy as Americans to mistakenly think of ourselves as the center of the universe. I want my children to understand just how big and varied and amazing the world is outside of our safe little Midwestern enclave.
- To see the world with curiosity, wonder, and imagination. There is a reason children are enthralled with Hogwarts and Narnia and Tattooine. These fictional places instill a sense of wonder because they are so very different from our children’s everyday experiences. But we don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to capture our children’s imaginations. The real world can create this sense of wonder, too. Travel offers the opportunity to visit real places that are outside of our children’s norm. Outside of the realm of their everyday experiences. By visiting these places, we can foster the curiosity and wonder that is such a crucial part of childhood.
- To create opportunities for bravery. New experiences can be anxiety-provoking, particularly for children. By facing their fear of the unknown—be it a Scottish mountain range or a plate of English bangers and mash—our children will discover how truly brave they can be.
- To instill adaptability. Vacations never go completely as planned. Flights are delayed. Museums are closed for renovations. That Thai street food that seemed like a good idea at the time ends in abdominal warfare. A successful adult adapts to change and unexpected roadblocks without her head exploding. I want my children to grow up to be adults with fully intact heads.
- To teach compassion and empathy. Compared to many places in the world, my kids are living an extremely privileged existence. This is something that our children do not always readily recognize, as they may seldom come face-to-face with poverty and injustice. Through travel, I hope to expose my children to the ways in which other cultures live, including people who are much less fortunate than we are. I believe that seeing how other people live—particularly people who do not have all of the advantages we enjoy—will help teach my children compassion and the importance of working to help those less fortunate.
- To embrace diversity. Growing up in small-town Kentucky in the 1970s and 1980s and attending 12 years of Catholic school, my friends were primarily white and Catholic—just like me. As a matter of fact, I never had a single friend who was non-white or non-Catholic until I went away to college. Though my childhood was a happy one, it definitely was sorely lacking in diversity. I want to raise my children differently. I want to expose them to as many cultures and as many different people as possible. It is only through getting to know people who are different from us that we can truly appreciate the amazing diversity of our world.
- To teach them that other cultures are not as different or as scary as they may seem. When we fear people who are different from us, it becomes easier to demonize them. We’ve seen this happen time and again. African Americans. Jews. LGBT people. Muslims. And now immigrants. Travel is a great opportunity to allow our children to see other cultures as people—just like them. If we can raise a generation who sees our similarities first and our differences second, we can create a better world.
- To develop and explore new interests. Perhaps my oldest son will discover a lifelong love of spelunking in Smoo Cave in the Scottish Highlands. Or maybe my daughter will decide to become a gardener after wandering through London’s Kew Gardens. Maybe my youngest will be inspired to sail after spending time on Scotland’s coast. We never know what activities will catch out children’s fancy and stoke their imaginations. By exposing them to as many places and as many activities as possible, they have a better chance of discovering and developing their true passions.
- To travel slower. Children often force us to slow down. Yes, this can be frustrating when you are…oh, I don’t know…trying desperately to get out the front door because you are already late for your oldest son’s choir performance and your adorable youngest son realizes at that exact moment that maybe he should probably pee before he leaves the house since he’s been holding it for the last hour and a half because he couldn’t find a good pausing point in his Mario & Luigi Paper Jam video game. Slow children can be exhausting at times. But slow traveling can enrich your experience, and is, in fact, a grassroots movement within the travel industry. Slow travel is a mindset—one particularly suited for traveling with children. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, and ended up exhausted and in need of a vacation to recover from your vacation, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture. Sounds absolutely divine, if you ask me!
- To make literature come alive. Can there possibly be anything more exhilarating than visiting the places you have read about in books? I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series—set in Scotland. And I love both Sherlock Holmes and Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy—both set in England. I cannot wait to visit the sites associated with my favorite books, and I want to share this excitement with my children. My kids are HUGE Harry Potter fans. We are all looking forward to visiting the various sites in and around England and Scotland where the events in the Harry Potter books and movies took place. I can’t wait to cross the Millenium Bridge and stand on Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station and visit Oxford’s Bodleian Library with my kiddos—I can’t wait for these places to come alive for all of us!