Want your kids to learn? Travel with them!

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Call us selfish, but my husband and I weren’t ready to stop travelling just because we had started a family. What we’ve discovered along the way is that travelling is a fantastic learning experience. Want your kids to learn? Travel with them!

Maybe part of us wanted to stay young and irresponsible, and sure, the mortgage could have been paid off a whole lot sooner.

Had we not spent so much time over the past 16 years gallivanting around the world, our bank account might have been much healthier. But what we’ve come to realise lately is we’ve given our kids values that are increasingly more difficult to teach in the fast-paced, crazy, ‘it’s all about me’ world of today.

Our kids, now aged 16 and 13, have been fortunate enough to travel to over 35 countries, predominantly developing nations throughout Asia and the Middle East.

With backpacks on and our desire to really engage with the locals, the children have seen a simplicity in lifestyle far removed from their usual home comforts.

At times they came face-to- face with poverty, sickness and corruption; but this was almost always offset by unbelievable human resilience, care and kindness.

Want your kids to learn compassion, empathy and trust? Travel with them!

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As our kids grow older we’re seeing the things they encountered when they were younger contributing to their personalities. Those experiences have literally and figuratively widened their view of the world.

In our opinion (though we are almost certainly biased!) these experiences have given them a great foundation for being compassionate, empathetic and basically, nicer human beings.

And we’re not the only ones who feel travelling with kids can be beneficial to their development.

Engaging with another culture helps kids recognize that their own egocentric way of looking at the world is not the only way of being in the world,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School.

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Galinsky, who has conducted extensive research on the benefits of travel on the brain’s neural pathways, says studies show international travel also increases cognitive flexibility, which is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas.

“This act of perspective-taking is a critical ingredient in compassion and empathy,” he claims.

In addition to compassion and empathy, cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own.

We found that when people had experiences travelling to other countries it increased what’s called generalised trust, or their general faith in humanity.

“When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognise that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust,” says Galinsky.

Not that just visiting a country and staring at the locals is going to be like waving a magic wand over your kids and, hey-presto, a golden future for them is guaranteed.

You have to teach them to engage with the local culture they’re travelling in, to see both the good and bad about each culture, so they can start forming opinions about how they want to be in this world. And help keep life in perspective for them when you get back to the ‘normality’ of home.

The mortgage may well still be there when you get back from your travels. But helping your kids navigate the world might just help set the bearings on their moral compass, making all of you a whole lot richer in life.

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Fiona Rouse

Fiona Rouse has visited more than 30 countries with her family, including a trip to Samoa when her newborn was jut 5 months old. She's now Director of Adventure Together, a self-guided tour booking service for families who want to travel a little further off the beaten track.

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