20 hours on a plane with a toddler. To most people this probably sounds like a nightmare -- worse than even a root canal for many, I suspect. I get that, and must admit that in spite of great experiences traveling with my young daughter prior to this trip, even I was a bit worried about taking the whole family to Asia this past Thanksgiving since I had to be there for work. There's a big difference between 8 hours and 20 hours, I thought to myself. But I needn't have worried. Toddlers can make great global travelers. Not all of them, perhaps, but most - if you help them. So, for those of you who have given up the travel bug because you now have young children, I say think again. It takes some planning for sure -- the best flight times to allow for sleep, the proper video and game gear to promote happy sitting for long periods of time, the right snacks to ensure that poor airplane food doesn't cause a blood sugar melt down and lots of running races between flights -- all these things make a difference. But with some planning it can be done and it's great for your kids and for your family. The whole idea is to make the flights part of the adventure - the way they probably were for you when you first started flying. If you do this, your kids will normally follow suit and think its fun as well. In fact, if you're like me and don't really like flying yourself, having your kids along can actually help because they totally distract you since you have to focus on them and therefore can't focus on the fact that you're trapped in your seat for hours on end.
Fun global travel is indeed possible with toddlers. But the real point for us is that by taking our kids along we are helping them grow up to be true global citizens. This is important in our house, not only because it's the way my husband and I live our lives so it makes it easier for us but also because we feel so strongly that building kids who are adaptable, who view different as "interesting" not "bad" and who know that "good people" come from every country and every walk of life are some of the most important things we can teach them as parents. We think this is important for our kids and for the future of America and the world. It's as important to us as ensuring they eat well, get lots of exercise and learn to play nicely with others.
Despite the fact that our daughter may be too young to have real memories of this trip, the photos will remind her what an amazing time she had hand feeding kangaroos, swimming with dolphins, worshipping the golden Buddha and slurping Chinese noodles at the hawker stalls. And all the warm memories she has about people and places as far away as Asia will help ensure that she grows up "advocating" for engagement and understanding in the world, whatever she decides to do in life.
In fact, even if you don't have opportunities to actually take your family overseas, there is still a lot you can do to help ensure your kids become global citizens. For example, most of us live near a public library. These have lots of multi-cultural books and movies for kids nowadays. Many towns, cities and local universities also have groups or clubs focused on foreign cultures - for example we used to go to the Scandinavian House when we lived in New York. Or, if you really want to make a lifelong difference, I think teaching your child a second language is one of the most amazing multi-cultural gifts you can give them. And none of these things require even getting on a plane!
At the end of the day, my view is simple: whether we like it or not, the future is global. So, I am choosing to do my best to be sure my children are ready for that world - and to make the learning as fun and engaging as possible along the way.