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Raising World Travelers, Growing Global Citizens

By Donna L. Cole

Got kids? Don’t let that stop you from international travel. Your kids will be exposed to the world’s cultural and geographic diversity, and you’ll experience foreign lands with new eyes — the eyes of your children.
Surely if you’ve ever visited an art museum with a child, you’ve looked at great masterpieces differently than you ever thought possible. It’s the same idea when visiting other countries. Imagine a child seeing Venice for the first time. There, the fire trucks aren’t trucks at all; they’re boats. Buses, taxis and mail delivery, too — all boats.
Gaining new perspectives. Witnessing how people in distant countries live their lives. Developing an understanding that there is a world beyond American borders. These are just a few of the all-too-often overlooked benefits to traveling abroad with children.
In this article, we won’t tell you how to survive long overseas flights or how to pack for a family of four or how to child-proof a hotel room in Paris. We won’t tell you how to travel internationally with your kids … we’ll tell you why to.

Better Treatment?
“Come back again when you have the bambino.” That’s what our waiter said at a little restaurant in Positano, Italy, the last time my husband and I were there. As it turned out, we had a bambina — Italian for baby girl — but we were curious what he meant? Was he just being nice? Was there something more? Something we didn’t know? Is there some sort of secret travel code about being nicer to people with kids? Perhaps.
"When you travel with children, it opens doors with people all over the world," says Elvira Hammond, a professor of Chinese cultural history at New Mexico State University and an expedition leader for tours of China for Smithsonian and National Geographic.
"Children are beloved," Hammond explains. "We have found the presence of children initiates conversation and contacts that you would never have had."
Smiles come more easily, language barriers melt away. Kids, it seems, speak a universal language — even when they’re not speaking.
“Kids break the ice,” says Hammond.
Annapolis resident, Sarah Hyde, agrees completely. Two years ago, Hyde and her husband, Ernest Tucker, took their kids, Claire and Carl, then ages 11 and 7, to Turkey for a year.
“My husband had lived there for year and a half when he was doing his studies,” explained Hyde. “We had just been wanting to spend a year abroad just for the experience.”
The kids were definitely an integral part of that experience. “It gave a different feel to the country and people. It made it seem just more welcoming than had we been on our own; it makes you realize the commonality of family and children; it makes you realize how much more similar you are, then different.” During their time in Turkey, the family took side trips to places such as Egypt. “It was something I hadn’t thought of before. We would be walking down the street and complete strangers would offer the kids candy.”
Everyone became approachable, welcoming. “My son realized he could get away with almost anything,” recalls Hyde. “He made friends with all the guards at the various places. I remember in Cairo, I can’t remember her name, but there was one of the hotel staff. The kids would refer to her as, ‘the woman who loves us.’”

Learning from the Locals
Let's face it, you wouldn't normally think of flying kites in Tiananmen Square when touring China. But that's exactly what Hammond and the families traveling with her do. Launching kites alongside Chinese families, curious travelers mix and mingle with the locals, learning more about life in China than any guidebook can teach.
“Enrichment comes in many forms and this is one of them,” says author Robin Pascoe, who’s written extensively about traveling abroad with children. Hands-on experience is critical to learning about other cultures. “In many ways, that’s a lot better than sticking them in the $8,000 computer camp.”
Most schools have a foreign language requirement. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most kids will study a foreign language and never hear it used outside of the classroom. For those fortunate enough, there’s no better reason to travel abroad than to experience the language firsthand.
Bette Leshinsky, chair of the foreign language department of the Key School in Annapolis, wish all of her students could travel the globe and put their new language skills to the test.
“All the years of hard work, they can experience the language and see what they studied. All that is incredibly beneficial,” says Leshinsky. “The other aspect for students is to get a global perspective.”
By any definition, Anthony Gray of Annapolis has a well developed global perspective. At just 17, he’s already been to Italy, Peru, England Spain, Italy and Canada. (The latter, he says, doesn’t count.)
Peru was different, Anthony recalls. “The way people lived, the expectations they had of you – they assume everyone white was rich and would give you money if they asked. Everyone there is a lot friendlier and warmer. They’d just come up to you on the street and start talking to you.”
Anthony’s mother, Phyllis Saroff, sent Anthony and his younger brother, Daniel, to Italy on their own to visit an aunt and uncle even before they were teenagers.
“The adventure was definitely worth the risk — and I didn’t see a lot of risk,” Saroff says. “Each time my boys came home, I remember they came out of the gate and they’d look so confident and so self assured.”

Foreign Empathy and Global Citizenship
Global perspective, broadening horizons, cultural awareness. These are phrases that experienced world travelers use with frequency. Vancouver-based writer Robin Pascoe is the author of several family travel books, including Raising Global Nomads (Expatriate Press Limited, 2006). She encourages parents to travel as much as possible.
“When [kids] look at the newspaper and see dateline — blah, blah wherever — they can say, ‘I’ve been there.’” Not only will they know where a place is, she says, they’ll have a better understanding of their place in the world, too. Exposing children to other cultures and teaching them about the lives of other peoples, this is something Pascoe calls a “liberal arts childhood.”
In her book, Pascoe also refers to the idea of “foreign empathy” as a potential lifelong benefit to international travel.
“Kids are so tied up in their own world and their own gadgets,” she explains. “It’s opening the eyes of a child to the world and how fortunate they are where they are.” It’s also about global citizenship, she says. “We are responsible for other people, not just our own culture. We are more fortunate than other people.”

Little Travelers, Big Business
Children, it seems, are valued world travelers. Indeed, the havoc-wreaking set is not only welcomed at fine establishments — hotels, restaurants and the like — they’re sought after and catered to.
Early this year, Marriott announced a joint venture with Nickelodeon to create Nick Hotels by Marriott, featuring Sponge Bob Squarepants and many other Nick characters, in addition to in-hotel water parks. The first property will open in San Diego, followed closely by hotels in various U.S. and international locations.
“We announced a partnership with Nickelodeon to develop a series of totally unique family and kid-friendly hotels with Nickelodeon characters and their knowledge of being appealing to kids, along with our knowledge of running great hotels,” says Roger Connor, vice president of communications for Marriott.”
According Connor, these aren’t existing properties being refurbished; they’re brand new, start-from-scratch construction. “We think resorts and families and kids — they’ve been a match for years … it’s not a new concept in that regard — we feel there’s a need to make the hotel the actual venue and even more accommodating than they have been in the past.”
When large corporations, especially those that aren’t known for reaching out to younger generations, begin to accommodate kids and families, there must be something more to it. Something in the way of profitability.
Connor confirms that there is a strong market for family travel. “This will have strong appeal to the Gen X family,” he says.
Similarly, Beaches, the Caribbean resort chain, features Sesame Street characters at their properties. From story time with Elmo to baking with Cookie Monster, activities occupy the younger ones while Mom and Dad go snorkeling. Loews Hotels boasts the “Lowes Loves Kids” program and provides, among other neat stuff, freshly baked cookies and milk delivered to the room shortly after check-in. The Ritz-Carlton chain, also owned by Marriott, offers the Ritz Kids clubs. Of course, the originator of kid-centric travel, the Walt Disney Company is offering European vacations and cruises, all including Mickey and friends.
Even if dollars are the driving factor in this marketing and catering to the younger set, it seems everyone benefits. Many more hotels offer toys on check-in, book, DVD and video game loaner services, as well as babysitting and kids clubs. Make sure to check before you book.

Donna L. Cole is a freelance writer living in the Annapolis area. She and her husband plan to visit Italy with their bambina in the not-so-distant future.


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