1. Remind them they’re ambassadors for the USA
For better or worse (especially in this political climate) citizens of the world have formed opinions of US citizens. Some perceptions are positive (think sun-kissed movie-star people driving convertibles with surf boards hanging out the back), and some are less endearing (think big booming fanny pack wearing American telling a restaurant owner how quaint and ‘totally cute’ their restaurant is, whilst on the cell phone loudly ordering his assistant to get the tires on the Tesla fixed)
Our message to our children is simple when we travel. They are ambassadors for the United States. They must behave in a way that makes our country proud, dispel negative rumors about bratty US children, and be polite, respectful and extra courteous.
Avoid discussing politics. I know I know it’s super hard right now with our current government, but political views are so subjective. (we’ve all had Thanksgiving dinner take a political turn and all of a sudden cousin Mark has stormed home!) We visit communist countries, third world countries and places where women can barely vote, and suggest they not share personal thoughts with people we meet on our travels.
2. Travel to developing countries
Do not limit travel to the same destination each year, and travel to places outside of your comfort zone. Refuse to live in fear of terrorist attacks, illness or being eaten by crocodiles, because once you venture outside of your norm you feel more confident and connected to the world as human beings. Balancing reasonable safety concerns and calculated risk-taking, teaches critical reasoning skills and inspires children to be curious about the world, not afraid of it.
3. Introduce philanthropy at an early age
Encourage random acts of kindness and generosity. You can’t help everyone, but help someone. We give each child ‘donation money’ in local currency, and they get to choose where to share it. There was the time Sebastian played soccer with a kid in India who didn’t have shoes, and he put 500 rupees in the kids hand. I watched the kid first look shocked, and run in shock to his mom who gave Sebastian the biggest big hug. Or the time Julian really loved a waiter in Nepal, learned he had a 3yr old son, and as the waiter proudly showed us pictures, we saw their humble home. As we were leaving, Julian gave the waiter extra money from his own wallet to buy his son a toy from his ‘American friend’ (my heart seriously grew two sizes).
4. Combine vacation with humanitarian work
It was luck my children were born into a wealthy western country. All children and people matter, regardless of where they live. Research humanitarian opportunities in the area you plan to visit, and schedule time to make it happen. These children are in need of educational tools and other material items, but most of all they are in need of care, smiles, friendship and compassion.
5. Celebrate global curiosity, diversity
When traveling with children, they experience customs, culture, religion and foods first hand. Hold family meetings to discuss places they’d love to visit. Conversation and curiosity breaks down fear and cultural barriers. As they visit more places, they will become more curious and comfortable, and hopefully find themselves trekking the globe on their own one day!
6. Travel as often as possible
You can’t stop time and people seem busier than ever these days. There’s a constant list taking our time and money… clothes, cars, fancy dinners, bathroom remodel, car insurance, club soccer dues… the list is endless. Prioritize travel over everything else (except perhaps the mortgage, insurance, toilet paper, milk… ok not everything but you get my point). Put travel as a priority and actively think about every purchase. Actively thinking about your priorities will encourage you to reduce your monthly expenses and save more for your next trip!