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5 Ways a Trip Can Transform Your Kid’s Life

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Its no big surprise that travel can be mind-blowing, energizing, and even downright transformative. But bringing kids to new places can have an especially big impact–whether its opening their eyes to the vastness of the world or inspiring new passions. Few people know the power of exploring the world better than those who do it for a living and share their adventures with the rest of us. Thats why we asked writers from travel giant Lonely Planet Kids to take us along on some of the most memorable trips theyve been on with their families. And while you may not be able to replicate these vacations with your family–a plane ride to Fiji probably isnt in the cards for most of us–know that the exact destination isnt what matters most. Any trip big or small has the potential to shape your kids, whether its on the other side of the world or in the next state. Its all about looking for the special moments that kids will remember for years to come.

1. They See How Other People Live

Fiji Patrick KinsellaCourtesy of Patrick Kinsella

A visit to a local school with his two young daughters in tow made Patrick Kinsellas Fiji vacation so much more than a beach trip.

Ivy, my eldest daughter, and Po, her newfound BFF (best Fijian friend), have much in common. Theyre both 7, each has a younger sister, and when the teacher begins reading, both sit spellbound, saucer-eyed, with fingers in mouths worrying wobbly teeth.

In truth, however, theyre from different worlds. When those infant teeth finally come free, Ivy will trade pearly whites for dollars that magically appear beneath her pillow, and shes shocked to learn the Tooth Fairy doesnt fly as far as Fiji. Po isnt overly concerned—its as if she already knows that the lottery of life has thrown bigger worries her way, such as access to clean water and health care. And more fool the fairy; for all their other problems, the island childrens smiles reveal brilliant teeth, unscarred by battles with a sugar-saturated diet.

With Ivy, her younger sister, Alice, and my wife, Im exploring a seldom seen side of Drawaqa Island in Fijis Yasawa archipelago, a far-flung splattering of 20 volcanic islands in the South Pacific.

Fiji is a famously gorgeous destination, and weve been enjoying a typical tropical vacation—snorkeling and building sand castles. Today, though, were far from the resort, visiting a primary school and mother-and-baby clinic with Vinaka Fiji, a volunteer organization seeking to improve sanitation, health services, nutrition, education, and amenities in 27 deprived Yasawa villages.

We arrive by boat, passing local women (moms, perhaps, of the children were about to meet) hunting octopuses in the shallows. The kids tumble past us, giggling, some having walked miles along forest trails. Unlike at our school back home, everyone seems super happy to be here. Ivy observes how neat the pupils look, before noting, somewhat jealously, that most are shoeless.

The teacher introduces us, but blessed with the unforced confidence of children, Ivy and Alice have already made friends.

While they play, other kids shoot quick-fire questions at us. One little guy is puzzled by the size of our family. Wheres everyone else? Here, most children have four or five siblings.

Its an eye- and mind-opening experience, especially for Ivy, who has never before considered that someone her age might not have a TV, let alone lack electricity. For now, she loves the idea, especially when school finishes and the class spills onto the beach. The girls run squealing into the lagoon, clamber onto floating logs, chase new buddies across the sand, and share fruit dished out by white-haired grandparents overseeing the scene.

For many months afterward, Ivy talks about Po, imagining her Fijian friends life. The after-school beach party burns bright in her memory, but she clings to her creature comforts with renewed appreciation, and wonders whether she ought to share some of her Tooth Fairy money with those less lucky.

2. New Cultures Come Alive

Pyramid Ruins of Monte AlbanPyramid Ruins of Monte AlbanNfoto/Shutterstock.com

A family homestay in Mexico has a lasting impact for Celeste Brash and her children.

We have an early-morning class tomorrow, but here we are, four kids and three adults on a treasure hunt near our homestay in Oaxaca at 9 p.m. Were looking for scorpions weve been told live in the crumbling adobe brick walls. None of us wants to get too close to the creepy critters, but we do get excited when we find big ones.

Grande escorpión!” exclaims Gregory, who at 10 has become my 6-year-old sons idol.

Si, muy grande!” replies my son, trying to show off his new Spanish skills.

Y feo también,” says my 9-year-old daughter.

We came to Oaxaca to take a two-week Spanishimmersion class, and the four kids in the under-12 age group became fast friends. I had expected wed learn some language and experience a new country, but I had no idea wed have this much fun. My kids were inspired to speak Spanish by their peers and were taken deeper into it by the hands-on arts-and-crafts lessons, dance classes, and vibrant culture around us. Hearing their new language skills come out in small yet confident bursts was like seeing them ride a bike for the first time or graduate from kindergarten. It was a milestone.

As my kids grew up (they are now 18 and 21 years old), the love of the Mexican culture and language stuck with them. While two weeks in Oaxaca certainly didnt make them fluent, it did encourage them to excel at Spanish in school. Still in touch with their Mexican classmates, they discovered how people can live far apart but still have so much to share. Ultimately, their Spanish studies took on new meaning, as they could see the value of it by connecting it with a place and a time in their lives. Learning a language was never questioned. They aced Spanish, and now think of themselves as the type of people who easily learn languages—because they are. Their connection to a family in Mexico, and early exposure to the language, gave them the confidence they needed to see that a subject in school can be so much more than just that.

3. Kids Confidence Grows

Croatia Abigail BlasiCroatia Abigail BlasiCourtesy of Abigail Blasi

Abigail Blasi watched her boys blossom as they tried new activities on an adventure vacation.

Last summer, my sons and I reinvented ourselves as adventurers. Taking a trip well outside my comfort zone (holidays for me tend to involve lying down on beaches), I took my two sons, ages 11 and 9, on an adventure vacation to Croatia. Once part of the former Yugoslavia, this corner of Europe is notably pristine.

Last summer, my sons and I reinvented ourselves as adventurers. Taking a trip well outside my comfort zone (holidays for me tend to involve lying down on beaches), I took my two sons, ages 11 and 9, on an adventure vacation to Croatia. Once part of the former Yugoslavia, this corner of Europe is notably pristine.

So far, so good, but I for one was feeling a little anxious about how the activities would go down. My younger son, Jack, usually throws himself into any activity, while my eldest, Gabriel, would probably rather clean his room than do an organized sport. However, hes always loved swimming, which helped sell this particular trip.

First, we were going to raft down a beautiful river gorge. We stood nervously on the bank, in our wet suits, and Gabriel was one of the first to leap in, surfing out into the water on his life jacket. We all whooped at the thrill of going over the rocky slopes in the boats, which was followed by a slow meander along the river. Off to a great start, Gabriel went canyoneering–clambering in and out of the rocky gorge–without a murmur. Hed previously suffered from vertigo, but apparently this had vanished, his confidence bolstered by the other kids.

As my younger sons vertigo prevailed, he and I gave this activity a pass, and had a lovely day out in the historic town of Split together. On our return, he seamlessly went back to being part of the group of boys as they roamed around, enjoying the sense of freedom that inner-city kids so rarely get.

Both boys came back from the trip a little different. My youngest is much more confident in meeting new people, playing to the crowd, and showing off just how funny he is. My eldest went from unsure kayaker to coasting down a waterfall, and is now always up for a challenge. He used to have a fear of heights, which seemed to evaporate somewhere on a Croatian cliff face. Both had to overcome initial worry before the activities, each had new stories as part of their armor, and they cant wait until we can go on a holiday like this again. Im hoping itll be soon: Its amazing how much you can grow in a couple of weeks.

4. They Find Their Passion

Galápagos Islands Cathy BrownGalápagos Islands Cathy BrownCourtesy of Cathy Brown

Visiting the Galápagos Islands helped Cathy Browns son discover a new love of learning.

Nearly 1,500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, my 13-year-old son jumped into the water. A warm ocean to snorkel in was his basic vacation requirement when we decided to go on a trip just the two of us. But even here in the Galápagos, it was an unexpected surprise when on our very first day we were swimming with playful sea lions, massive sea turtles, tiny penguins, and harmless white-tipped reef sharks.

I am a single mom of three teenagers. While we often travel as a family, Ive also made it a priority to take each of my children on a special solo adventure without their siblings so that each can enjoy a trip based on their interests. I could have guessed that walking alongside the giant tortoises in an ancient forest would hold his attention. What I hadnt expected is how much this trip would inspire my son to learn about both history and wildlife.

He barely left the guides sides, throwing curious question after curious question at them, rapid-fire. Running his fingers along a boulder where ship captains from Darwins time graffitied their names onto the rock made history feel real to him for the first time in his life. By the end of the trip, he could name every type of bird native to each island we went to, could tell me exactly how and when the islands were formed by a chain of volcanoes, and could explain Darwins theory of evolution with more clarity than any science teacher I ever had in school.

I recognize that not every family has the time off of work or the financial means to take off to the Galápagos. But there are many simple ways you can show your children that education is all around, not just found within school walls. If they are interested in art, research the closest cave paintings to your home and take a road trip together to see them. If they love to help cook, search out exotic foreign food restaurants nearby and try new foods together, asking the chefs for some recipes so your family can re-create a meal together.

My time with my son in Galápagos was about so much more than sunshine and photographing interesting animals. What I treasure most from the trip was getting to see him so curious about the world around him. This trip has sparked a deep interest in science and biology that seems to be sticking around a year later, and for that I am grateful. It has strengthened my belief that travel is more than just “vacation”—its a valid and powerful form of education that can engage children in ways that textbooks often cannot.

5. They Can Connect With Family History

Israel Ethan GelberIsrael Ethan GelberCourtesy of Ethan Gelber

A multigenerational trip to Israel made the Old World new again for Ethan Gelber and his kids.

Precious and few are the key life moments when our past catches up with our present and sets the stage for the future. For my family, one such moment was a trip to Israel inspired by the long-ago actions of a grandfather I never knew.

In 2011, my mother was contacted, quite out of the blue, by the Israeli Ministry of Justice about a plot of land near the Sea of Galilee, purchased nearly 100 years earlier by her father. As he had died when my mother was little, this legacy was a gift from beyond the grave, especially for my mom. And for reasons the rest of the family now holds dear.

After two years of legal wrangling, my mother succeeded in establishing herself as my grandfathers heir. And when a deed was delivered to her, so too was a powerful yearning to sink her feet into the earth and brush the branches of “her” olive trees and date palms. Ten family members, including her four grandchildren, ages 3 to 13, agreed to join her on that pilgrimage.

In the beginning, the emotional backstory was largely lost on the youngest, who, as kids, were more excited about the pool and Ping-Pong table at our shared rental cabin. But inspired by this special place, we discussed together our familys more recent lore and the deeply, sometimes tearfully, emotional significance of the curious bequeathal that had brought on this trip to Israel. And then the gift of undistracted holiday time did what would not have been possible at home: I marveled how, over yummy hummus family meals, on outings to nearby sights, and while watching my artist father as he sketched, my kids cozied up with the self-labeled “oldies” to be regaled by stories.

Little did we know how important this would be. Only nine months later, my mother unexpectedly passed away. Nothing can ease the pain of losing a parent or grandparent, but we found a measure of peace by the connections cemented through travel.

Importantly, the travel experience also confirmed that a country isnt always only a place of friction and strife reported in the news. Instead, it can be intensely personal. In this case, to us all, but particularly my sons, Israel continues to be spoken of as the site of “our family land” and the vivid, pivotal, living memories of a lost and very loving “gramz.”

Get to Know Lonely Planet Kids

Its never too early to become an explorer! Thats why Lonely Planet Kids, our partner on this story, wants to help kids explore the world around them every day. And that means everything from helping them learn about a new city through their City Trails book series to reimagining the meaning of a staycation with the Backyard Explorer activity book. We especially love their books that feature exotic animals, like the new title The Animal Book, where kids can get up close and personal with a Galápagos tortoise and more than 100 of his friends. Pick up one of their books, or visit them online at lonelyplanet.com/kids.

Win a Trip to the Galápagos!

Get ready to make like Charles Darwin and head to the Galápagos Islands! One lucky family will win an eight-day trip for four to the famed islands with tour group Intrepid Travel–where their expert guides will take you snorkeling with sea lions, help you spot blue-footed boobies, and more. This chance, brought to you by our friends at Lonely Planet Kids, is not one youll want to miss. The prize package is valued at more than $15,000, including a $6,000 airfare voucher plus extras like a FamilyFun subscription, Lonely Planets Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands travel guide, and Lonely Planet Kids The Animal Book. To enter, head online to lptravel.to/galapagos by November 30.

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