Learning Through Travel – 16 Reasons to Combine Unschooling & Travel
This post is dedicated to parents struggling with making the best educational choices for your child(ren). I urge you to consider long-term travel as valid choice. Here’s our story:
Miro and I have just embarked upon our fifth year of travel, which is mind-blowing in of itself! We have noticed so many benefits to our lifestyle and have compiled this list, in case you and your family are considering doing the same.
Although we employ the principals of unschooling, our blend of natural learning is somewhat unique. We follow our individual interests as all unschoolers do. However, through travel we are exposed to new ideas, concepts and disciplines we never would have discovered we had an interest in, had we not been traveling. Some call it worldschooling, we call it life, as for us, there is no difference between living and learning.
Long-term travel provides so many opportunities to learn, not as readily available if you were living a stationary life. I truly do believe I’m providing the richest, most educational lifestyle possible for my son.
Here are 16 reasons we blend unschooling and traveling to create our unique version of worldschooling:
Natural learning through travel:
1.) Learn a language through complete immersion- There is no doubt that children learn languages much quicker than adults. In fact, I’m jealous how Miro’s become fluent in Spanish through listening, interacting, and play versus any formal study. Experts will urge for language learners to immerse themselves in the language and the culture, but I’d urge children to play with other native speakers. That’s the quickest and most natural way to learn, in my opinion. Long-term, slow, immersive travel grants the opportunity for children to interact, and when a non-speaker plays with a group of children who don’t speak English, all play happens in their native language. This is where I’ve seen first hand Miro absorb vocabulary and syntax effortlessly. There is no doubt in my mind, play is the best and most natural way to learn a language.
2.) Receive a worldly education in context- We explored the art work of Botero in Colombia, Guayasamin in Ecuador, Recinos in Guatemala. We’ve explored countless museums, studying pre-Columbian artifacts in the countries they were discovered in. We’ve traversed over 40 different ruins, spoken with noted researchers and archeologists, and developed our own ideas about history. We’ve learned the art of traditional weaving taught by the famous weavers of Chinchero. We’ve spoken with the victims of war, listened to their stories and empathized with their struggles, as we learned about politics and economics as expressed through the human condition. We’ve put our hands in the soil, planted native plants and explored the historical relationship between humans and plants within the world of ethnobotany. We learned about pirates, trade and colonialism in Panama, stumbled upon legends of zombies and perused our own investigations through local inquiry. We’ve gone on archeological expeditions and explored Inca graveyards, witnessed the unveiling of 500 year old remains. We’ve helped document the anomalies of ancient cultures, held 1000 year old skulls and questioned if they were of human origin. We explored the highlands, the Andes, the beaches and the jungles and witnessed volcanoes and other geological wonders. And that’s just to name a few. There is no doubt, for us, immersive travel equals powerful experiential learning.
Experiential learning and other life skills:
3.) Self-reliance & boredom- As parents, how many times have we heard “Mom, I’m bored”? Before we left on our travels, I believed it was my responsibility to keep my son entertained. Now, that I’ve shifted that belief and allowed my son to discover and define his own time, and I’ve empowered him to make his own decisions regarding his interests (principles of unschooling), curing my son’s boredom has become his responsibility. While traveling there are always new things to stimulate, excite and engage your child. When the external things aren’t available, my son has learned to occupy his time through drawing, reading or writing. But the bottom line is, because self-reliance is part of his responsibility now, my son now takes steps to avoid “boredom”.
4.) Socializing – My son has been to 14 countries so far, and just because he isn’t in a classroom of kids his own age for 8 hours a day, doesn’t mean he’s not being socialized! Travel presents opportunities to connect with people of all ages, all walks of life, all nationalities and all professions. Socializing is a no-brainer when it comes to travel and there isn’t another activity out there that offers such diverse social opportunities.
5.) Learning to see the similarities instead of looking for the differences -At first traveling through different countries and cultures, we tended to see the differences. However through time, Miro and I have learned to see the similarities, which is a definite shift in perspective. Different cultures and customs are simply a way to express our humanity. One example would be, growing up culturally Jewish, Miro and I have zero connection to the numerous Christian / Catholic traditions throughout Latin America. We’ve seen numerous processions, been woken up by fireworks, witnessed singing masses and often felt out of place through the praise of Jesus. But for us, the opportunity to see the overwhelming community connection was the single-most factor that endeared us. Although we do not have the same beliefs, culture, traditions and customs, we do share a collective humanity. (This is another of those lessons that must be experienced in order to fully understand it’s impact, but I think a valuable learning that will guide Miro’s life from here on out.)
6.) Practice tolerance & acceptance – Trust me, we all need to practice this lesson over and over. Through travel, we are granted that magical opportunity to practice tolerance and acceptance on a daily basis. Travel brings out the worst (and the best) in people. Living in close proximity with one another full-time, one has time to practice this lesson, inspired by each other’s quirks. Although Miro and I are a small family, we often have other travelers in and out of our lives. We think we’ve gotten pretty good at tolerance and acceptance but we find we are still challenged when we have people staying with us, like when we had the teen-unschoolers stay with us for five weeks last month. I can imagine the challenges a larger family must face in terms of honoring each others space, needs and preferences. Tolerance and acceptance. An important lesson, indeed.
7.) Practice patience- In conventional non-traveling lifestyles, patience is expected, but rarely practiced as routines, schedules and obligations often times become the norm. However travel is the opposite; the unexpected is expected and without a doubt, travel requires countless opportunities to simply “wait”. Waiting in long lines, check-in, security procedures, and boarding all require patience. So does embarking on 30 hour bus rides, marathon travel and missed connections. The opportunities to experience and practice patience becomes limitless through travel and a valuable life skill.
8.) Contribute to group decisions- As parents, we say “your opinion matters”. But children’s voices are often quieted in conventional life, as routines, schedules and responsibilities take a priority. However, traveling provides the perfect platform to encourage all voices to be heard and to create equity among the group (family) as a unified unit. Practicing group dynamics is one of the most important life lessons, and encouraging your children to speak up and share their needs, desires and interests can be a valuable way to learn it. Through consciously focussing on what is best for the group, every voice must be heard and each person has the opportunity to exercise positive leadership in one circumstance or another. On the flip side, grace and compromise become an important element. You can’t teach this stuff in books, this sort of lesson must be learned. Miro and I continue to practice this lesson over and over and we have gotten better at the compromise part, but in all honesty, it’s not easy, but one of the most precious experiences I’ll always remember with my son.
9.) Becoming adaptable- When you travel, things ultimately do go wrong. There is no avoiding it, things get lost, there are unexpected weather conditions, issues come up surrounding transportation and places are closed when they are supposed to be open. Being able to adapt or make do is an important lesson in flexibility and letting go of expectations. This is one of those lessons you get to practice over and over as a long-term traveler, so learning to laugh is always a better solution than crying. (I know this lesson intimately as I was the one crying during this experience.)
10.) Real-world problem solving, budget + logistics- Through travel, Miro has had the opportunity to make real-world decisions, solve problems in context, plan and budget our lives. You can’t get any more real-world than that, as this is life, even though it’s in the context of travel. I don’t believe children are often empowered or engaged on this level in conventional life and often leave their parents house unprepared and inexperienced. (I know I was.) Miro helps on every level of our trip planning from selecting our next location, researching itinerary online, helping us find rentals and researching places to explore, etc. Additionally, Miro and I look at our money as “ours” and he knows exactly how much we have, when we have it and what our budget is for the month. If Miro wants to plan a particular excursion for us, he can do it, but he considers our overall budget first. Miro is empowered to take what he needs, as he never needs to ask if he can have anything, and I trust his decisions. Revolutionary, huh?
Intrinsic gifts to the parents:
11.) Experience the world through your child’s eyes- Travel offers new sights, sounds, flavors and experiences, but as adults, sometimes we become desensitized to these sensations. Our children allow us to see the world freshly through their eyes and allow us to experience the world through a renewed child-like perspective. I hope to never lose sight this quality inside of me, ever again. (Thank you Miro.)
12.) Trust the process- Many parents are reluctant to trust the natural learning process. I came from an evidential system, where I believed education only happened when I could measure progress. However, travel reveals curiosity and sparks interest where it was not before, which is evidence of natural learning. (It happened within myself too!) Once you witness interests being born in your child that were never there before, listen to his reflections, you realize they’ve processed a new understanding based on the immersive travel experience. For me, my eyes lit up and I realized Miro is learning naturally and the world, indeed has become his classroom.
13.) Learn together- As we know, learning happens naturally. One of the greatest gifts our travel lifestyle has granted us has been being exposed to new things together. What makes these opportunities so different than a formal educational setting where learning is passive, travel is participatory by nature. When a group of two or more are having the same experience, it invites the opportunity to process the experiences through conversation, which reinforces a deeper learning. Formal education removes the family element from the learning process. Travel brings it back.
14.) Collect memories- not things- Collecting things becomes problematic when you are traveling. You literally feel the weight of your possessions, burdened by the responsibility of them, and zapped energy-wise in order to logistically manage them. The question then becomes, “Do I really want that thing?” And of course, the follow up, “Do I REALLY REALLY want that thing?” Buying things requires spending our limited budget on it instead of doing something together. Our preference now is to choose the experience, over the possession. But that transition took time and was not simple either. We had to give up the American Dream first. Miro and I used to be the owner of many things, a 2,000 square foot loft filled with everything imaginable, art work, kitchen gadgets, post-modern furniture, a library of books and so many prized possessions. Miro had every toy he ever wanted. But through travel we’ve traded every one of those possessions for experiences and we’ve truly gained much more in return. Can you just imagine for one moment everything you own fitting into a single backpack or suitcase? We can.
15.) Create a stronger bond between you and your child(ren)- I didn’t want to miss Miro’s childhood. That was one of the motivations for embarking upon this journey together. If we hadn’t, I was afraid I’d miss all of it within a blink of the eye. But what I never imagined was the incredible bond that has happened as a result of our choices. Regardless of what happens in our lives in the future, together, we’ve forged a bond that I can hope all parents will experience with their children. We’ve traveled together, had adventures together, learned together and enjoyed life together. Through travel and unschooling, Miro and I have created a bond based on trust, being present for one another and the joy of life has granted us.
16.) Experience “global citizenship” together- Through our travels, Miro and I have shifted how we perceive our identities. We have learned that humanity is our family and the world as our home. Global citizenship has become our way of thinking, behaving and the belief that we can make a difference in the world. Through our travels, we’ve learned that it is our responsibility to value the earth as precious and unique, and we must act to safeguard it’s life and resources for future generations. We’ve learned that we must honor all of humanity as our family, all with diverse backgrounds and opinions, no better, no worse than our own. We’ve learned to identify with humanity first before we start narrowing our beliefs, passing judgements, viewing one another as somehow separate from oneself. Miro and I have learned that the purpose of life is really about authentically connecting with one another no matter where we are standing or which direction we are heading.
We are so honored to share Learning Through Travel -16 Reasons to Combine Unschooling with Travel = Wordschooling with you. Miro and I both are so thankful for all the emails we receive from you and wanted to express once again how grateful we are for taking this journey along with us.
Please leave us a comment below, especially if you have something to add! We’d also invite you to read our article called 12 Simple Principles for a Happy Life On (or Off) the Road too.