Intangible Things Kids Learn From Travel

One of the biggest questions I get in regards to the nomadic lifestyle with our children is, "how do you handle education?"  It has gotten me thinking lately of all the different things we learn while on the road, but especially the things that are so valuable for children.

Officially we unschool our boys, something we feel very strongly about and decided on after quite a journey in the education arena.  Mostly we guide our boys, help them seek out what interests them, provide the tools, and let them make their own path.

Saying "thank you" in 6 languages and using basic math to convert currencies are just some of the unique lessons learned while traveling.  Pretty basic stuff, I know.  But the lessons go a lot deeper -- even for unschoolers.

In fact, as parents we are learning just as much as our kids are on this journey.  That, I think, is the biggest appeal to most nomadic homeschooling families or for anyone seeking the advantages of studying overseas.  Once we adopted the "learning through experience" mindset, each family member has embraced it.

Here's a list, although not complete by any means, of things kids learn while traveling:

Problem solving
When you spend at  least 1 day a week trying to get from point A to point B, in a foreign language, in a country you have never stepped foot in before, problem solving is something you pick up quick.  In our 11 months as nomads we have dealt with everything from being lost to being hussled.  Throwing up in an overnight van ride, to confusion with the newest currency exchanges.

Our boys have amazed me time and again with their ability to figure out a way to do something.  At times when I am about to melt, it is typically one of them that comes up with the idea to save us all.

When we were in Costa Rica all 3 boys learned quite a bit of Spanish, our oldest becoming practically fluent. As we travel more extensively they pick up bits and pieces every place we go.  Some say this hard wires their brains in such a way that language will most likely always be easier for them.  I buy that.

And they have a knack of picking up the tone the best.  I can get vocabulary down but the accent, no way!  They pick up the correct tone without even knowing it.  We can now say "Thank you" in six languages and can just about order food in all of them as well.

Geography, history, culture
I guess this one was bound to happen, but our 3 kids have a better knowledge of geography then I did even after high school.  There is something about actually being out in the world that helps to really put the differences and similarities of a culture into perspective.  They have become true global citizens, gathering knowledge of where we are on the planet and what makes a culture unique every place new we go.

Soaking up history in Granada, Nicaragua
This, to me, is one of the most important things a person carries with them.  It gives you perspective and a kindness that will return to you over and over.  Empathy is a gift that can be cultivated where ever you are. When you travel and see the world through other's eyes, often times others that are struggling beyond your previous conception, it really accelerates your ability to empathize.  Compassion for others is a trait most easily gained through seeing firsthand the suffering and joy of people who are at first glance different than you.

Courage to try new things
Before this trip my middle son was averse to trying anything new, he didn't even want to go anywhere that there was going to be a lot of people.  Now he always at least tries new food and spends nearly everyday in an environment that he previously would have preferred to avoid.  This has opened the world to him in ways we never could have conceived.

The kids have learned that trying new things helps us discover the things we love. They have eaten bugs, learned to surf, explored questionable caves, driven motor scooters on the highway, fished like the locals, and so on.  Some things they enjoy and others not so much. But they now have gained the courage to try new things, which escapes a good many adults.

Let the little things go
Letting go of the little things is so important to enjoying life. And they're all little things, as the book says.  Take any five people and coop them up together in planes, trains, automobiles and hotel rooms without a break in eleven months, and tensions can get high at times.  But those close quarters also demand that grudges dissolve before they boil over.

The kids are also really learning to let go of possessiveness. Since we only carry around what we can fit in our backpacks, we don't have all the things we are used to that make life easier.  So sharing is just accepted as necessary.  Plus, everyday we see how happy others are with so very little and any of our complaints subside.

I believe adaptability is one of the most important intangible lessons that nomads learn. As the world enters a time of rapid change through technology and awareness, the ability to quickly adapt is essential.  It's a characteristic that any university or corporation would value greatly in a potential alum/employee.

When you travel around to a new country, city or town often, you simply have to learn to adapt to new environments.  Adapting to a new location, language, currency, foods, and cultures presents unique challenges that we face on a weekly basis.  The boys have a new "home" often, and they've gotten progressively better at assimilating quickly.

The virtue of the gods, right?  Can you even teach kids patience these days?  Yes, try 11 months of travel. We wait for just about everything; transportation, taking turns using the bathroom in the hotel room, meals that are cooked one at a time when we're really hungry, etc.  And forgot about how many times we get lost and have to backtrack.  Our patience muscle gets a work out every day.

We have all slowly gained the ability to keep time in perspective and wait for things contently -- which is quite a feat for Americans who are used to being fast-food brats.  Admittedly, our five-year-old is still struggling in the patience department, but his occasional tantrums actually require more patience from the rest of us.

Socialization is always one of the biggest concerns when homeschooling.  Add in travel and moving around so much, and one could get even more concerned about meaningful socialization.  Yet, we find that travel pushes us outside of our comfort zone and into the arms of the friendly locals we have met all over the world, not to mention other travelers who are just as intrigued about us as we are of them.  Being out and about on a bus or train, talking to the drivers or travelers about where to go, where to eat, or what to do, removes the fear of engaging new people in conversation.

Although we naturally miss good friends and family, we've met so many terrific people on the road that we'd never have met without this adventure.  

C approaching a stranger for a chat!
When you live a stationary life, it's easy to surround yourself with people just like you. Like everyone else, we had a core group of friends who we spent most of our time with when we had a home base leaving little time for meeting new people and getting new perspectives.

Many countries have incredible religious and cultural diversity living in harmony.  By viewing tolerance in these countries, the kids experience how people can live together with opposing viewpoints. Traveling also forces us to see the similarities in people that, at first glance, are far different from us. Everyone around the world seems to desire a peaceful, happy, and sufficiently prosperous existence for themselves and their families.  Just by recognizing these similarities, it's impossible to think of anyone as less than equal.

Don't get me wrong, not everyday is an obvious learning experience, but the aggregate is beginning to bear fruit.......?

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  1. Spot on Bohemians! We are full time un/home schoolers, it's a real eye opener, taking that deschooling journey and seeing that learning doesn't equate with teaching. I'm a big fan of problem based learning, after all, that's what I'm doing right now with webdesign ( it's a BIG problem!), it works for me, it works for the kids!

  2. Especially traveling is a good experience for kids because they can learn some many things which they will never learn in classroom. And as parents we have to encourage them to learn and show them the good path.

  3. Agreed! We like the term travel schooling because that's exactly what we do!

  4. Yes it’s true that kids learn many things from their travel experience, but most importantly the parents and adults will be able to study about their children. Also it will help to get closer to read their mind as well.

  5. Yes it’s true that kids learn many things from their travel experience, but most importantly the parents and adults will be able to study about their children. Also it will help to get closer to read their mind as well.

  6. You've turned the world into your classroom which is far more valuable than any formal education. The education system is broken and teachers are still teaching like were in the industrial revolution. Allowing your kids to chose their own path will develop them into leaders of tomorrow. I can only imagine that your boys will be more advanced than kids their age. Good job!

    1. Thanks so much! Unfortunately a lot of people do not see it that way. It is so nice to get encouragement:)

  7. We homeschool as well, our kids are very involved with particularly. How do you participate on a sports team when you are traveling s much?

    1. Well the short answer is that we don't! It is one of the things we have sacrificed in order to live this lifestyle. But it doesn;t mean they don;t get any sport! My boys surf, snorkel, play soccer and football with locals and even have learned how to throw a proper boomerang.

  8. A really helpful article - Thank you very much I wish you don't mind me writing about this post on my website I will also link back to this post Thanks

    1. Thanks, yes and feel free to share it with me when you do:)

  9. Thanks for the post! Must be hard at first to not attempt to nudge your child's interest towards that of your own. I am still working towards that goal.

    1. Well its always cohesive decisions Its easy when you research together and see all the amazing things you'll be able to do together:)