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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Transformative Travel with Kids - Q&A with Judith Fein

I recently started reading the book Life is a Trip: The Transformational Magic of Travel. It's written by one of my travel colleagues, Judith Fein, a book of wonderful essays showing what she learned on 14 different journeys. It appeals to me because at its heart, travel has the ability to transform your life and show you a new world - literally and figuratively.

Now that I have kids, traveling with them doesn't have that same magic. Sure, it's fun to see things through their eyes. But I'm often so focused on making sure we don't lose our luggage, and making sure we have a snack handy that they'll eat, that I miss what's going on around me. It's harder to be present and open to new experiences when my kids are whining that they're tired and bored.

So Judith answered some questions for me on how to make experiential travel possible with kids in tow.

Q:  How can you think about transformational travel when you are worrying about finding bathrooms for the kids and wondering if the hotel has a pool?

A:  Let me take a deep breath before I answer this. Long before you became a parent, you were a whole person with needs, dreams and desires. Even though you may be frazzled and pulled in twenty directions, that person has not disappeared. And that person still needs to be nurtured. One of the ways you can do this is by sharing with your children what is important to you. I am not talking about table manners or saying "please" and "thank you" (which of course are important), but about how you navigate life and what feeds your soul. Your children are wonderful sponges for stories about other countries and cultures.

You can prepare them for a trip by telling or reading them stories about the destination you are going to. You can tell them stories or teach them something about new foods, new people, new ways of seeing the world. I have done this with kids as young as four. It really works. My book is a series of l4 stories. I take you with me to exotic locations where you meet people from other cultures and learn innovative ways of looking at life issues from them. It would be an honor it you adapted any of these stories to tell them to your kids.

Q:  How do I prepare my kids for the inevitable trials and tribulations of travel?

A:  By telling them that travel is full of surprises. Some good and some bad. By teaching them that they can be flexible. Showing them by example. The guide doesn't show up? Model for your kids that instead of flying off the handle, you can deal with it. You can make a plan B. You can have a code phrase when something goes wrong, like "What would Lady Gaga do?" Okay, I'm kidding. But it can be something like: "Take a deep breath and find a solution." Or, simpler, "Go to Plan B."

Anything to add humor and levity to what could be perceived as stressful situations.

Q:  What if my kids don't want to meet new people or are afraid of them?

A:  You are the guide to multiculturalism for your children. If you say, "look at the fabulous hat Ahmed is wearing. Would you like a hat like that?" you create interest in your kids. If you say to a child, "ask Carl to tell you about how he eats bugs," and the kids go "yech" and Carl tells your kids how he eats beetles and the like, the kids will be intrigued by the yech factor. It's a place to start. And Carl will love the attention.

Or, if your kids are older, or their interests run deeper, say, "Ask Alice to tell you about her ancestors, the Acadians." If Alice is a good storyteller, your kids will learn history, compassion and why travel is important to broaden one's perspective.

Q:  Is it better to try to leave the kids at home?

A:  That depends on you. If you and your mate need time out, need to discuss something other than runny noses and bedtime, then maybe it would be great for you both to have a getway and really open up your world. If you think the kids will enjoy a trip, then plan a memorable trip where your kids are excited about the unknown, the unexpected. Turn it into a game. If you ask me, I would try to have a vacation for you, and another one for your kids. But that may be impossible.

Q:  How do I look beyond my kids' immediate needs when traveling?

A:  To me, learning self-discipline is one of the most important things for a child, or for any human. A child can learn that there are things more gripping, engrossing and important than his immediate needs. You are the teacher. If you engage your children, they will, if you are lucky, leap over their needs-of-the-moment (except, of course, bathrooms).

Q:  If someone comes from another country and takes her kids back there every year, isn't that the kind of cultural immersion you advocate?

A:  It depends upon what happens when you take the kids back to your country. If you commit to exposing the kids to the culture, exploring, learning about other ways of thinking, speaking, being, then yes, that is cultural immersion travel. If the kids just go to another country and behave exactly as they do at home, then no, it's not transformative. It's merely a transplantation.

Q:  Why is cultural immersion important?

A:  Because, ultimately, it brings peace. If you know about other people, meet them, if your kids play together, you don't want to go to war with them. You build bonds, not bombs.

Q:  And how can travel with kids be transformative?

A:  If you and your kids come back with different information and different ways of looking at the world, it is transformative. If you just go on rides, swim in pools, and eat, then it's a sweet kind of tourism, but it's not transformative.

Q:  Why should parents read your book?

A:  Because I speak to their hearts and souls, which are alive and well, even if they have 10 kids, and are so busy attending to their families that they have neglected their hearts and souls. And of course, a lot of it is entertaining, I hope.

You can get the book Life is a Trip at Judith's website, from the publisher, or buy Life is a Trip at Amazon.It's paperback, so it's more affordable at $14.95.

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