A few years ago, I picked up the phone and called my mother. We’d been trying to figure out where to go in Europe after a trip that would take us from Paris all the way up to Copenhagen.
“I think I’ve figured it out,” I told her. “I found a cheap flight to Malta!”
“Sounds like fun!” she said, and then after a short pause, “Where’s Malta?”
Being Americans, both of us were unfortunately ignorant of the small island nation just off the coast of Sicily.
But not to worry.
Visiting a new place, finding a new adventure, was nothing new to us.
You see, my mother was the first person to open my eyes to the world beyond my home country, and as I’ve grown up, we’ve continued to travel together.
The first time I went to Europe with my mother was just after the eighth grade. I went through ten rolls of film, and we must have looked like war refugees in our tan jackets and beat up backpacks.
On returning to my small town Texas school in August, no one believed that I had actually gone overseas or that I had stood in front of some of the places we were discussing in our history and literature classes.
The next summer we went to Brussels and Amsterdam and then made our way down to Switzerland.
Over the next few years, we continued to travel every summer until I’d seen almost every country and major city in Europe.
In college, I met a girl who was a lot like me. The day we met, she invited me to come to Honduras with her at Christmas. I said yes without a second thought or even questioning whether my mother would let me go. My best memory from that trip is riding in the back of a pickup truck through the Honduran countryside.
The next Christmas I went back . . . and my mother came with me!
As an adult, I’ve been a lot of places on my own.
I hope to visit Egypt this summer, and climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is on my bucket list. I’m saving for a trip to Australia and New Zealand. I’ve read a lot about trekking in Bhutan, and I want to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Because of all the travel I did as a child, none of this seems frightening or terribly out of reach.
Yes, for an American, traveling overseas can be expensive. . . But my mother did it on a teacher’s salary.
Yes, it can take time. . . But isn’t it important enough to make the time?
After all, children are like sponges. I absorbed the cultures around me and learned that there was nothing to be scared of in differences.
Different is just different – not dangerous.
I learned that the world is a lot smaller than we often imagine, that there are loving, kind people in every country, that it’s our cultural differences that make us beautiful. I learned to see world events through the eyes of the people affected, I learned to question my own beliefs and prejudices, and I found the inspiration to write in every place we visited.
In fact, many of the students I speak to on book tours have asked me what inspired me to create the cultures and beautiful places in my books. I have only one answer – Traveling.
The lessons of travel are something every parent wants for their child. So, next time you pack your bags for a great adventure, don’t leave the little one behind.
It’s your job to show them the world, and they will thank you for it.