My two sons and I set a world record. We are the first family in history to have traveled to all seven continents in one year, specifically to do humanitarian work. My passion now includes speaking to children and adults, alike, on the subject of travel and "volun-tourism." Here's a list of twelve good reasons to hit the road with your kids.
1. Global Education - Don't fool yourself, our educational system in the states has some issues. What better way to teach your child than by experience. My sons took in a lot more in a year abroad than they could have possibly learned sitting at a desk. But don't get me wrong, after twelve months of home schooling I have a new found respect for teachers and educators.
2. Bonding - My kids can never say I didn't spend enough time with them. After a year of sharing communal space in dorms, huts, yurts, cinder block structures and hostels, bonding has a whole new meaning. Getting to know your kids away from the day-to-day doldrums of normal life has its major benefits. I discovered that in addition to loving my children, I actually like them as well.
3. Adventure - Young people need to be taught the concept of adventure. Kids don't even ride bikes anymore, let alone go on wild, madcap adventures. To be successful in life, one needs to fall in love with adventure. In the heart of every boy and girl lies an explorer. Our job as parents is to stoke that flame.
4. Teaching the Concept of Getting Off the Treadmill - Be the first parent on your block to show your kids by example that you can risk putting the career and 401k on hold to live a little. We have become a culture of fear-basing, asset collecting, retirement preparers. Parents so often say to me, "I can't do what you did." And I say, you just don't want to teach that lesson strongly enough.
5. Teaching Compassion - While on a global trek, you can't help but come across those less fortunate. Some of the best lessons we learned were experiencing those who we perceived as "needy" actually enjoying their lives more fully than most of the people we know. Consider including volunteer work as part of your travels. It's how you meet real people in real cultures. And it's a sure-fire way to come home feeling good about yourself.
6. Cultural Differences - Teach your kids that people throughout the world have a different take on things. They view life differently; they interact differently, have fun differently, worship and dance differently. It teaches us all to expand our thinking, to consider our options and choices, and to view the world with more acceptance.
7. The Food - All I can say is I've been to a lot of Thai restaurants, but until I ate the food in Thailand, I had no clue. There are the curries in India, the beef in Argentina, the ugali of Rwanda, and the mystery meats of China. You might even be so daring as to try Guinea Pig in Peru, a huge delicacy! So much so that in all the Last Supper painting in the cathedrals in Cuzco, the little household pet is featured on the plate before Jesus. True story!
8. The Music - Music is a spirit in the air wherever you go. It flavors our experience and lifts our soul. Laying in bed listening to the Islamic Call to Prayer at 5am over the loudspeakers from the street in the south of Thailand brought me to tears. Another of my favorite memories is driving through the Australian Outback listening to a CD from The Dolls, a local Aussie band... singing along at the top of our lungs to "The Lord's on the Line" and "Pash me on the Dance Floor."
9. The Animals / The Wildlife - Okay, so we got lucky... We were invited to safari in the Masai Mara, we lived with rescue elephants in Chiang Mai, played with penguins in Antarctica, bonded with Howler Monkeys in the mountains of northern Argentina, and even played with a Joey in Australia. Some of the greatest life lessons can be taught by creatures great and small.
10. Making Friends - We are the culture that coined the phrase, "Reach Out and Touch Someone." With the expansion of the worldwide web and global communications, this concept has never been easier or more important. It's good to have friends in high and far away places. I'm proud to boast that the boys and I have friends all over the world.
11. History - You can't compare the experience of Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, Red Square, The Forbidden City, or The Great Wall of China with a textbook. You just can't. To hold my eldest son's hand as he sobbed through the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali, Rwanda, is truly living history. And standing before the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx with my two sons at my side was a visual, spiritual and visceral experience I shall take to the grave.
12. In 100 Years We're All Gonna Be Dead! - I don't think I need to explain this one. Goes without saying. Get out and see it all!
And for the naysayers: I am not a man of great means. In fact, I live pretty simply. But I have a passion to show my sons the world and try to make a difference. And somehow through all my fear, doubts and limited belief in myself, I've managed to do just that. If there is a will, there most certainly is a way!
J.D. Lewis is the founder of The Twelve In Twelve Foundation , and the creator of Twelve Good Deeds, a global educational initiative that introduces students to the world-at-large, global relief work and the simple joys of giving.