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by Keith Bellows

Related: traveling with children, exposing children to culture, learning by visiting countries, world as classroom, learning from life experiences,

Our children will one day inherit the world—and global travel helps them know it, experience it, and understand it. Here, an excerpt from Keith Bellows's 100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life explains why the world is the best classroom for children and how they can learn from their cultural experiences.

girl in parisI’m convinced that any parent willing to give the gift of travel offers the gift that keeps on giving. Children who learn to travel will travel to learn. And they will do it all their lives.

A 2006 National Geographic/Roper poll of young Americans drew a stark, sad picture of our children’s cultural literacy: Only 37 percent could find Iraq on the globe, 20 percent thought Sudan is in Asia (it’s the largest country in Africa), and half couldn’t find New York on a map.

It’s clear: The passport is the new diploma. National Geographic’s editor emeritus Gil Grosvenor nailed it: “Two weeks in another country is worth a degree in geography.” Learning happens between the poles, not just between the ears. The world is the greatest classroom we have.

Our kids are our future. And helping them understand and navigate an increasingly globalized world is as important as making sure they know how to drive a car.

I grew up believing that education is all about the proverbial three Rs. We should now make it four Rs: reading, ’riting, ’rithmatic, and roaming.


Roaming Close to Home

I want you to consider how and why you should travel with kids—not just about where. It’s not just the place you visit but how you experience it that matters. Try to see places through a child’s eyes.

Now, you might think, as some of my friends have suggested:

“Well, these places are so far away.”

Or: “It will cost me too much to visit.”


You don’t have to get on a plane to discover the foreign. If you can’t afford to go to China, then visit your nearest Chinatown. Look to your own backyard for ethnic restaurants, intriguing celebrations, little shops that sell authentic goods from afar, street life that expresses the unique rhythms and traditions of another culture.

I’m not a travel snob. Last spring our family flew to Florida to pay homage to the holy grail of Disney. We stayed at Wild Kingdom and ogled the giraffes that loped outside our bedroom window. We visited the parks. Had our pictures taken with a gaggle of princesses. Did the Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story rides. The children were ecstatic, the parents reduced to rubble. Such a travel experience is a rite of passage—and it is terrific.

But the world is more than that. I never went to a theme park until I was an adult. The world was my theme park. And that’s what I wish for my kids—and yours. I want them to discover the real, not just the faux, and to find it here, not just abroad. I want them to thrill to all the planet has to offer. And see as much of it firsthand and soon.

Tim Cahill, a writer and friend, said it best: “The world is inexhaustible, so it leaves that gate to wonder open.” It’s all about wonder. That’s what we owe our kids. In fact, it’s what we owe ourselves.


100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life by Keith Bellows
This article was reprinted with permission
of the National Geographic Society from
the book 100 Places That Can Change Your
Child’s Life by Keith Bellows.
Copyright ©2012 Keith Bellows.


Also see:

Tips for Traveling with a Child with Special Needs

What to Know Before You Fly To Exotic Locales

Tips for Stress-Free Travel


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