Today is my firstborn daughter’s 25th birthday, and my three kids are on three continents – and not for the first time. The eldest has lived in eight different countries for periods ranging from a few weeks to many years, and she has lived in five of those countries without us.
Parenting a traveler can be both thrilling and uncomfortable. It will inspire you and force you to trust and let go. Do you suspect that you might be raising a traveler? Read on!
It started with books. The seeds of wanderlust may be sown long before your future traveler can strike out on her own. In our case, it started with stories. We read about all sorts of people (and creatures) in all kinds of places. That lit a spark.
Get out of the house. You don’t have to be international jet setters to expand your horizons. Sometimes you need to just get out of the house and explore in your own backyard. Try an ethnic restaurant or visit a cultural festival. If you feel like staying home, try some international recipes, watch movies or celebrate a holiday from another culture. The world is everything around you and travel can start close to home.
Move beyond your limits. As your young traveler grows, she will push limits and seek out opportunities. Guide and protect if appropriate, but don’t let your own fear limit your child’s exploration. When she calls you to tell you she just won an exchange trip to France – at age 14 – cheer! And when she goes to college more than 1000 miles away or studies abroad, smile, encourage – and get a Skype account. Resist the urge to resist, stand up to your fear and learn to let go. You may even grow in the process.
Invest in good luggage. When you see that there’s no holding your traveler back, show your support and invest in some decent bags. Test the zippers and handles, and look for spinners that can withstand cobblestones or gravel roads. You know this is no short-term phase and it’s more than a bag. It’s home.
Don’t know much about geography. Quick – do you know what U.A.E. stands for? Can you spot The Netherlands on a map? If you don’t want to feel completely ignorant and inadequate in comparison to your offspring, it’s time to brush up on your geography. If you don’t, you’ll often find yourself “educated.” Maps make lovely décor, National Geographics go for a quarter at the library sale and travel websites abound. When your traveler is off to exotic places, you may find yourself paying more attention to current events. Learn, be aware – it’s never too late.
Keep calm and let it be. When kids venture out into the world, they will face challenges. Things will go wrong. Kids will make mistakes. Things won’t be like they are at home. That’s the point! Now is the time to develop your listening skills and be supportive. It may be tough when the political climate is unstable and she reassures you that she’s avoiding the protests and teargas. Raising a traveler can be exhilarating. I never said it would be easy.
Goethe said, “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.” When you are parenting a traveler, you’ll both be at your best when you trust the roots are strong and let them fly.