As a teenager, I had the opportunity to participate in a small humanitarian project in Central America and those two weeks altered the course of my life. I came back with more confidence and a clear purpose. The people I met, and the experiences I had, changed the way I viewed myself and how I saw my role in the world. It made me keenly aware of human experiences much different than mine and influenced my future personal and educational goals.

I look back on that experience as a major hinge-point in my life and when I started my own family several years later, I knew that I wanted travel to be a part of our family culture. While we have traveled to a variety of places as a family, I felt that it would be especially valuable for my children to experience their own “coming-of-age” travel experience.

After a lot of research, I was thrilled to find a program called Travel For Youth that provided a safe and transformative experience, similar to the one I had enjoyed. While the location, culture, and projects were different, the experience proved to be everything I had hoped for. My children came back with more confidence to do hard things, a deeper sense of purpose, and a greater desire to give back.

TRAVEL TAUGHT MY CHILDREN TO BE GRATEFUL

Entitlement is tricky. We want the best for our kids, but do we ever stop and ask ourselves if giving our kids the very best is turning them into the very best people?

Our kids are growing up in nice homes, they have access to the latest technology and attend good schools. They may disagree but being a teenager in the United States is pretty cushy. For the most part, things here are fast, abundant, and easy. Clean water, electricity, consistent access to food, and opportunities to attend school are not something they think about. Travel shattered those given expectations for my kids quickly.

They learned that just a plane ride away, teenagers just like them were living in very different circumstances purely because they had been born a few thousand miles in a different direction. Both came home from traveling and volunteering abroad more grateful for what they had. More importantly, they came home with a greater desire to share and give more of what we have to others who have not been as fortunate.

TRAVEL TAUGHT MY CHILDREN TO SEE OTHERS

Travel brought my kids up-close to big humanitarian issues going on in the world today. Instead of these problems being a world away, travel put real names and human faces to the suffering happening around the globe. Human trafficking and refugee work became something important to them because they knew real stories of people they cared about whose lives had been deeply affected. It taught them that they could have a personal part to play in relieving that suffering and making the world a better place, even if they lived thousands of miles away.

TRAVEL TAUGHT MY CHILDREN TO BE BRAVE

In my mind, the best way to build courage is to practice courage. On their trips abroad, nothing was comfortable or familiar to my kids so they had to practice being brave.

New foods, new languages, different customs and cultures. All those things created the perfect environment that required them to push themselves, step outside of their comfort zones, and do new and hard things. They came back with more self-confidence and with a greater desire to try new, and even challenging, things.

TRAVEL TAUGHT MY CHILDREN EMPATHY

Right now it may seem like the world is very divided. The outward expression of divisiveness and lack of understanding for those who look, act, or believe differently seems to be growing.

Travel was absolutely transformative for my kids in teaching them to have empathy for, and to connect with, people of all different kinds of cultures, races, beliefs, and religions. It helped them understand that just because they saw and understood the world differently than another person, they could still treat that human with understanding, dignity, and respect.

As a mother, these experiences and lessons for my children are priceless to me. The changes they experienced and the things they learned are things that I could not teach them in the same way. These are things that cannot be learned in a textbook. It confirmed to me, once again, that travel has a way of teaching powerful lessons unlike anything else.

For more details on Travel For Youth trips, go to travelforyouth.org. Travel For Youth runs safe youth humanitarian and adventure travel trips all over the globe.