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A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
–Oliver Wendell Holmes

Although traveling with children can be a lesson in patience, it is profoundly rewarding. While teaching my daughter important life lessons, it allows me to experience the world’s wonder through a child’s eyes.  Moreover, travel teaches us humility.   That in the world’s grand scheme, we’re actually quite small and that in twenty years, no one will care what kind of house we live in or what kind of car we drive.

Flexibility – Travel teaches children that other countries do not operate on their timetable, that all of us have to adapt to crowded trains, traffic accidents, and late planes. In Mexico, as we struggled with a flat tire, we had to switch to Spanish and deal with the insurance agent, the tow truck driver and a representative from our credit card company. Talk about demonstrating your interaction skills to your kids!!!  My daughter learned that courtesy with a smile works in any language.

Cultural Sensitivity – Children can gain new perspectives visiting other countries, developing empathy for others’ situations and appreciation for their own lives. In Belfast, we discussed the Northern Ireland Conflict with our host who described his family’s experiences and learned that tens of thousands were maimed and wounded in crossfire.  Suddenly, walking to school without flying bullets seemed like a miracle.

Food –  Different cuisines are some of the best aspects of traveling.  My daughter fell in love with tropical fruit juices in Playa del Carmen, sweet scones in London, cous cous from Tunisia, buttermilk biscuits and apple cobbler from the South, sweets from Germany, and the hundreds of cheeses from France.  With each entrée, there is a story, a history that we can teach our children.  For example, afternoon tea in England was introduced by the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840.  Hours away from her fashionably late dinner, she would become hungry at 4:00pm and asked for tea with bread and butter. Soon the Duchess began asking her friends to join her.  In France, Le Goûter (late afternoon snack) provides children a sweet snack after school, usually home made cakes or a slices of baguette with Nutella. Both traditions provide just enough sustenance to hold everyone until dinner. By discussing the differences in traditions both here and Europe, my daughter decided that afternoon snacks were important for everyone’s tummy!

Peeking Into the Lives of Others – As an exchange student, my daughter was thrust into another culture with different norms, foods and expectations.  She took a 45 minutes journey in the dark to  her host’s high school.  In December, night fell by 4p.m. with bitter cold temperatures.  But she adapted.  Her language skills improved immensely as she discovered the subtlety in German. As an only child, she was delighted to be surrounded with 3 girls and a huge dog. Learning that her host family loved camping, she shared her own stories about the mountains in Wyoming.  She fell in love with the Berlin art galleries and Christmas markets. She gained perspective on how Europeans view America and learned valuable lessons that cannot be found in school such as independence and responsibility. 

Tolerance – Mark Twain once wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”  He was so right. As we travel, we step out of our comfort zones and learn about the challenges others face in different countries. Many times their problems make our own seem insignificant.

All of these experiences taught my daughter that regardless of language and culture, people are basically the same.  They have the same dreams, the same hopes for their children as we do.  And like us, they can be either good or bad. By exposing her to the world, she became more knowledgable, more compassionate and more tolerant.

What more could a mom want?