Melanie Gow reveals how travel can teach your children tolerance, compassion and empathy and, in the process, make the world a better place
There was a day last week when I realised I have been traveling since before the Internet, even before Yugoslavia broke down, while the Kibbutz was still a movement and, in fact, I have been traveling independently since England last experienced 45 days without rain in July and August.
The passion was born the day my parents piled the luggage in the back of the car, slipped me in on top of it all and drove for eight hours to Lake Turkana, a jade green desert lake with a volcano in the middle of it. Populated by Nile crocodiles and scorpions, and blasted by strong, hot winds, it sits in the badlands on the largest rift in the Earth’s crust; and there the cradle of humankind was laid out before me.
I didn’t know it was called travel or adventure; I just grew a wide-eyed eagerness for an ever-expanding horizon.
After a lifetime of travel, when I had children I knew one thing and that was I wasn’t going to exchange the backpack for a pushchair. Not because I didn’t want to give up my passion, but because I passionately wanted to give my children everything travel had given me; and more, I wanted to do it mindfully.
For some families it’s about a lifestyle, giving up everything to go nomad, for others it’s about a cautious curiosity for more than a villa with a pool, for me it’s about a legacy.
I wanted them to be global citizens; to learn tolerance, compassion, empathy; to develop resilience and persistence; and I wanted them to experience a transcendent wonder in this world of ours. But most of all I believe travel has an intrinsic ability to build wise, resourceful, centered and fully-engaged people.
When they turned to me and asked me to walk them for 33 days over a mountain and across a country for 800km, and they were aged only 16 and 12, I think they proved it.
I’m not saying it was easy, but it’s not meant to be; travel is that heady balance between euphoria for the new and the fear of the unknown.
But, in a world that is exactly that balance for our children, the skills and capabilities developed by travel are precisely what our children need; to navigate their way in a world we will not recognize by the time we need them to pay for our nursing homes.
Yes, a good education, nutrition, and well-fitted shoes are important, but I defy anyone not to appreciate that travel gives our children an extra something indefinable. Experience is as boundless as the rotation of the planet, and will be what elevates them above the fray in their elegant rise to the very best of themselves.
We are so sure we are giving them the best opportunities to be successful, but travel equips them for life; for the time when it will break their hearts, for when they fall short, for when their dreams splutter and fail to ignite; it will give them the perspective they will need for the big wake up calls of disease, divorce and death, along with teaching you not to sweat the small stuff.
We will only get what we’ve always got if we keep doing what we’ve always done. We need to empower our children with a sense of their own true worth, integrity, knowledge and courage to lead, and more experience to make good decisions, to find different solutions for themselves and our world.
If we want to grow the leaders and dreamers of the future we have to give them resources, to build resources we have to give them experiences, to give them experience we have to put them in situations outside of their comfort zones.
Travel equips them to be successful by a radically wider definition than we usually measure achievement by. It's about growing as a human being, a craftsman, and a thinker. It's about basing feelings of success on your own efforts and who you are at your core.
The simple challenge of living in this world can dull that clear-eyed eagerness for dreams. The struggle and the pain can teach us to be afraid to fight for ours.
Then we tell ourselves we were childish, and how we are sensible to ask for so little of life. We write our excuses, and tell ourselves we are wise and rational to defer our dreams to “one day” instead; and we ignore the gnawing ache in our hearts, and shrink to fit a box of our own making.
But, the one thing we want for our children is for them to be happy, so we cannot want the same for them. We know that those who fight for their dreams have an enviable gleam in the eyes and a fire in the pit of their stomachs, we know those who are fully-engaged in The Grand Quest for their dreams have a delight, a sheer delight in their hearts.
Travel teaches you that you will never go anywhere unless you put one foot in front of the other. You can’t get away with just talking about what you want, and where you want to be, you have to get up and make it happen. Travel teaches our children to hold onto a destination now matter where the path leading to it takes them; and they know that stepping off it won’t work.
The example is set by actions, not by sermons, so we must take our children out there, as early as possible, and as often as possible. We also happen to live in a part of the world that offers us that opportunity; it is rude not to make the most of it.
So I see it this way, and I take up my passion and walk out into the fray in a radical act of inspiring people to walk the talk – because nothing will be the same again.
Melanie Gow is a writer, speaker and photographic artist who believes life is a brief shot at something incredible. Her book, Walking With Angels, is the inspirational story of walking the Camino de Santiago with her sons, aged 12 and 16, and is available on Amazon. For more details about Melanie and her book, visit her website, myofficetoday.co.uk.
Main image: Silhouette of children playing with ball (Shutterstock.com)