When we returned from a monthlong trip to China in 2010, people were eager to hear what the boys thought. They all asked some version of the question, “What was your favorite part of the trip.”
Zach’s answer never changed: “I got a wallet.”
Well then, that was worth many thousands of dollars, right?
Last week, I started a series of posts on traveling with children by listing my top ten tips. This week and next, I’ll expand on each tip. I’m kicking it off tonight with:
#4 – Go with a purpose.
#5 – Your kids won’t give a hoot about your purpose.
I know that many people think that travel is its own good, in need of no other rationale. But travel for its own sake, in order notch another country or experience in your belt, doesn’t sound any more fulfilling to me than buying a bigger house or new dress. Despite what you’ve read, traveling will not make your children kinder, more thoughtful, or even more comfortable making their way in the world. In fact, it can make them feel simultaneously entitled to and bored by the abundance of this world.
So why travel?
You may want need a place to rest. You may feel alive and happy while hiking and want to share that with your children. You may be going to share the love of Jesus with people who have never heard of him, and want your children to be a part of that endeavor. We have taken our children with us for all of those reasons, and I’m glad we did.
Once you know the reason you are going, it helps to be explicit about the purpose of the trip and the kind of trip that purpose necessitates. For our current three-month sabbatical in Costa Rica, all three kids know that we are here for Jeff and I to rest from work, to learn more Spanish, and to practice living a Rule of Life (spiritual disciplines intended to help put God and us in our proper places). Knowing why they are here, helps them make sense of what we do and don’t do on the trip. For example: “On your birthday trip to the hotel with Daddy, it makes sense to spend three hours snuggling in bed and watching cartoons. On this trip, you need to do your Spanish homework every day and Daddy needs time alone every day to read.”
We prepare for all of our trips with a series of family meetings, where we talk about the purpose and unique aspects of the trip. We ask for their input into what would make the trip great for them. And we memorize applicable Bible verses. It never fails, though, that at some point I wonder if we ever had those conversations. I find myself desperately saying things like, “Isn’t it amazing that God made so many beautiful places and cultures?”
They give me the obligatory mmmhmmm, but the dead look in their eyes tells me they are far more interested in watching cartoons in Spanish than they are in reflecting on the glory of God as expressed in the rainforest or in loco soccer fans.
That doesn’t mean that the purpose of the trip was thwarted. It just means that kids never play along with our plans quite the way we hope they would. It’s often a longer, more circuitous route. And along the way, they’ll usually tell their friends about their new wallet before they mention seeing the Great Wall or telling people about Jesus.
That’s okay. We go where we feel called to go as parents, and we invite the kids to join us in the best way we know how. What they do with that invitation is ultimately up to them.
And that’s true whether or not you are traveling.