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Five Reasons Travel Trumps the Other Gifts I’ve Given my Children

Bryce Canyon

Here we are on the Great American Family Road Trip 2013, hiking Bryce Canyon together – what a gift!

I’ve always been a fan of “experiential gifts” for family members, when possible – from signing my husband up for singing lessons (a shock to him) which caused a huge transformation in not just his singing but his confidence doing so solo in front of an audience, to a hair-curling seaplane ride with my mother on her 60th birthday (good times!).

As the season of giving is upon us, I’m reminded of how grateful I am for all of the things I am able to give my children besides what comes wrapped in a box with a bow: healthy food, clean water, warm beds, help with homework, music lessons, trips to the library, and ears for listening to all of their stories and concerns rank very high on that list.

While they are still—for the moment—all under 10 years old, I have to say I am impressed by how much they already understand that our travels together have also been a tremendous gift for which we should all be very grateful. As I watch them grow, I am also seeing the value of our travels-so-far compound beyond anything I can imagine putting under the tree this year.

Here are some of the gifts traveling has given us as a family.

The first gift of travel…

Enabling us to give each other more of ourselves than we are usually able to at home, where there are constant distractions of daily busy-nesses, where extra time together is lost to the daily commute, and there are the built-in distractions of TV, computers, telephones, chores, and way too many toys…

The second gift of travel…

Helping us continue to rethink what is “normal” as far as what we are expected to know and understand at each of our ages, what we should be wearing, how much food we need, how far we can travel on our own two feet or paddle in our own canoe, and how we choose to get ourselves around our own hometown.

The third gift of travel…

Forcing us to try new things – even when we don’t want to. It can make you glad not only for the extra packets of Top Ramen you put in the corner of the suitcase but for the strange-looking yogurt, salami, cheese, or vegetable you might never have tried if other options were available. And don’t get me started on strange public toilets—there could be an entire blog post in that.

The fourth gift of travel…

Introducing us to adults who have managed to follow my children’s same young interests through to actual careers, and enabling them to ask how they did so—from dive masters who lead the shark show in the Maui Ocean Center to Wildlife Rescuers, Park Rangers and Paleontologists. My children’s ideas of what they might be “when they grow up” are not only fantastic – they are fueled by examples of the work and success of others who have done it themselves.

The fifth gift of travel…

Teaching us all patience. My children continue to amaze me with the patience they can show on long car rides now—of which there are plenty in any given year—and plane rides, and I firmly believe it’s because we all know what to expect and how to be prepared (as I always say, start ‘em young—before they know any different). It takes a lot of time to cross the United States AND the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes you have to wait 5 hours in an airport—in between flights that take additional time. Sometimes you get stuck behind a watermelon truck, or learn the hard way that a map is a more reliable source for directions than GPS.

I think that final gift, patience, is perhaps the most valuable of all, and the one that is most easily dismissed. After all, few grownups expect any more of children than that they lose patience during travel. Worse yet, adults are excused all the time it seems for having mini-temper tantrums when travel doesn’t go their way. Didn’t anyone teach them?

Life is full of surprises—not all of them pleasant, and not all of them wrapped in little boxes with ribbons and bows. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes gifts wrapped in the disguise of experience, not to mention: opportunity. And oftentimes those are the most valuable, memorable, and meaningful gifts of all.

Here’s wishing you and your family happy holidays and the many gifts that don’t come in boxes this season and throughout 2014. And as always…

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby

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