“The best education I have ever received was through travel” – Lisa Ling
I was never one to love reading about something; I would much rather experience it. When I became a parent, there was something that ignited my passion for teaching someone else everything I could. My daughter is now 19 years old and I still love trying to make her think that “Mom knows everything”. That was much easier to convince her of when she was younger, but I still find that travel is one way I can continue to foster her love of learning and show her new things in life.
We chose the Montessori path for education and quickly learned how valuable hands-on learning was…and that kids want desperately to be active participants in the world around them. What better way to provide that outside of the classroom, than through travel? I remember listening to her talk about what she was learning at school and thinking of a destination where she could experience it first-hand. While there are too many lessons to address in a blog, I thought I would share a few trips where some great memories were made and great reinforcement of school lessons occurred. Hopefully it might spark some fun ideas for your travels with your own children as well.
Our most recent travels stick out most vividly, as we embraced the high school curriculum dedicated to World History. (Trust me, we did not stick solely to visiting countries with relative learning opportunities all of the time, but it sure made some of our trips a great learning experience for all of us. ) In World History, chapters on World War II provide a plethora of options for related experiential travel. We chose to start in London, focusing on iconic sites like the Churchill War Rooms, gathering the perspective of the Allied troops as they prepared for the surprise siege on the French beaches. The war rooms were left intact, protected by plexiglass. You can see jackets left on chairs, phones off the hook and a universal realization that this place is truly frozen in time. The RAF Museum and the Imperial War Museum there are also must-sees for WWII history. We took the Eurostar train through the Chunnel (under the English Channel) to France from Lomdon. Of special note: it had fairly decent wifi, so the teenager was thrilled. Once in France, we of course took advantage of Paris, Versailles and Normandy. A day trip to Normandy continued our experiential World War II learning, visiting actual German bunkers on the beach, local museums housing endless salvaged items from the invasion, and then an emotional visit to the American Cemetery and Memorial. More than ever, a guide ( or in this case.. storyteller) is key to maximizing the learning at these sites. It also provides the flip side perspective of the D-Day story from the viewpoint of the Germans. Normandy is a full day trip, but well worth it. And Paris, like London, offers days of exceptional touring which I will outline in a separate blog soon.
High school curriculum also introduced Latin and the history of the Roman Empire. We actually have been able to find sites and tours relative to Roman history almost everywhere in Europe! In Spain, visit Toledo to learn why ham is so popular…believe it or not… as the Roman Catholics invaded the Iberian Peninsula, they wanted a way to discern who was Catholic vs who was from the Jewish or Muslim culture, who first inhabited the Peninsula… and ham just happens to play a part in that. In England, visiting the Roman Baths at Bath or Hadrian’s Wall in Carlisle displays the Romans’ reach across Europe. And of course…Italy. Enough said, right? So, Italy has a myriad of sites and experiences for adults to take in, but how do you engage a teenager in really understanding it’s breadth of history and beauty? I think we may have found the answer(s): We let our daughter bring a friend, and decided to cover Italy via cruise ship and private car/driver. By day, the kids were strapped to us for 10-12 hours of hard-core touring with a private guide and car to get us to as many museums, monuments and restaurants as possible. By night, the cruise ship was theirs to do as they liked. … well, with reason, of course. We actually did a full Mediterranean cruise, with Italy as the main focus. It was 12 days of absolute bliss and endless memories., and wound up being a fair tradeoff of time for the kids. In Italy, ports of call allowed us to make full day trips to cities like Pompeii, where a private guide toured us down the ancient streets, stopping every few minutes with stories and pointing out important features of the ruins. The ruins at Herculaneum also are in good condition and worth considering. While in the area, you can climb Mt. Vesuvius, whose eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, freezing their existence in time. You can also take a quick trip down the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento or Positano to take in some breathtaking scenery. Up the coast, we made our way to Rome, where we somehow succeeded in covering The Vatican, The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, and the Sistine Chapel all in one day! “Thank you” fast-passes and a brilliant driver! If you are up for planning way in advance, you can grab VIP tickets for a small group breakfast and tour at The Vatican, or a behind the scenes tour at the Colosseum, including a tour of the arena floor. Upward again, we made our way to Pisa and Florence, where we honestly could have made a stop just long enough o get the iconic photo of the tower at Pisa and move on without feeling we were depriving ourselves of other sightseeing. In Florence, we were able to really kick back and enjoy the scenery, food and wine, which was nice after pounding the pavement for days. We again got the fast passes to see Michelangelo’s “David”, then the Uffizi, and Duomo, followed by leisurely walking the Ponte Vecchio with a delicious gelato in hand. It was a whirlwind tour, but a great “entry-level” exposure to Italy and some great Roman history for teens with a short attention span. Italy is now in the top 2 of places my daughter wants to do a study-abroad program, as she wants to see and know more!
As today’s children and teens learn more and more about philanthropy and conservation, we found Kenya to be an incredibly hands-on destination to experience just how impactful one person’s contributions to the world can be. We actually made a not-so-nearby detour en route to Kenya, stopping for a few days in Dubai… a city of opulence and plenty. If there was ever a city to showcase wealth, this is the one. The Burj Al Arab is the pinnacle of opulence ( we referred to it as “the sailboat hotel” most of the time), while the Burj Khalifa provides simply breathtaking views of Dubai, and the Souks are some of the best in the world. And who would not want to go snow skiing *inside* of a shopping mall?! While we tried to take in all of the incredible sights and services within the city, we did make a visit to a Bedouin tribe in the dunes, where camels were the mode of transportation, and eating, dancing and socializing all took place in simplistic tents under the desert sun. It was a great juxtaposition so close together. We left Dubai for Nairobi, with a week-long safari in front of us. On safari, there were so many opportunities to learn about conservation of both wildlife and nature’s precious gifts. Visiting Jane Goodall’s Chimp Sanctuary, feeding rhinos at Ol Pejeta’s Rhino Conservancy or spotting hippos at Hippo Hide, along with a visit to the Masaai Mara’s various tribal villages all provide a stark contrast to the grandeur of Dubai, yet a peacefulness and a lens into the splendor of nature like no other. Each stop on safari provided educational narratives that enlightened the minds of all visitors. I would definitely categorize this trip as life-changing. Prior to our trip, all of my colleagues who had traveled to Africa before warned me that I would cry when departing. Kenya I like to think I am pretty tough, but by gosh, if they were not spot on! My daughter and I looked at each other as our prop plane left the tarmac , bursting into tears without even understanding what triggered it. A must for your Bucket List!
When in Middle School, my daughter took a Civics class, at one point studying the Emancipation Proclamation in detail. On Fall Break that year, we made a special trip to New Orleans to visit the Antebellum plantations, including Oak Alley and Laura Plantation. We were greeted by tour guides in period attire, who walked us through the journey of several Creole Families, both free and enslaved, and their incredible stories living in the 1800’s American South. A range of emotions accompanies these tours, as this era was filled with much suffering, but the guides provided poignant perspectives into how this time in history shaped the world we live in today. While in NOLA, take in all that the French Quarter has to offer, including the fascinating history of the Spanish and French architecture there, and of course grab a beignet from Café du Monde. Also, don’t forget to add a segway tour of Tremé ( the birthplace of Jazz), and a tour of St Louis Cemetery No. 1, where you will learn where the term “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole” comes from.
From the ages of 10 to 14, our kiddo took part in both the readings of Shakespeare, and also theatre performances of several Shakespearean classics. We wanted our first trans-Atlantic trips with her to be relatively easy to maneuver, so we chose destinations such as Scotland and England., where there was no language barrier and she could take part in reading the maps, train schedules, and asking for information. London happens to house a gem of a stop for Shakespeare fans: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Take a guided tour where you will learn about the typical actors in a Shakespeare play, the written works themselves, as well as the theatre-goers who once packed into a pit of spectators who bathed no more than once annually, whilst imbibing heavily and actively commentated on the production. Yuck! You can also catch a live performance most days, but lucky for you, these guests have showered! London has days worth of exploring to do, both inner-city and via countryside. In addition to the typical London touristy spots, consider day visits to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, the town of Bath to see the Roman baths, and even catch a soccer match at Chelsea’s stadium or concert at Wembley Stadium!
And finally, the obvious trip… kids start taking foreign language classes fairly young these days, so we capitalized on that early on. As a student of the Spanish language initially, we found trips to the beaches in Mexico both relaxing and a great place for her to try out her new knowledge. The locals are very engaging with both children and adults who make efforts to speak Spanish, so it was a great reinforcement of how knowledge of a foreign language brings people closer. Have your kiddo practice ordering food , introducing themselves, and asking questions in advance of the trip, so that they are more comfortable once you arrive at your destination.
On my quest to teach my child to be both a lifetime learner and absorb the world around her, I, too, have found that I learn something new every time I travel. In a time and place where embracing history’s lessons and the beautiful cultures around us has become more important than ever, I am committed to keep learning and opening my mind. My endeavors have been successful and I can proudly say that my (now adult) child shares this commitment, as well.
Planning these vacations can be overwhelming and draining, so I encourage you to reach out to our team of seasoned travel agents to explore great destinations for your family. They can build robust itineraries to maximize your time on vacation , while allowing you to breathe in the scenery and culture around you.
Happy Travels! ~ Mary Anne Lucas