“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
—Mark Twain, 1857
If you never take your children to anywhere but baseball practice you are doing them a great disservice.
The greatest education I ever received was from my father. He put us on trains, planes and automobiles and showed us the great United States of America by the time I was 15. Every once in a while we'd stay at a five star hotel, fly first class, or enjoy a $400.00 meal, but those were few and far between. This is not a matter of how much money you have, it is a matter of doing something.
It wasn't the traveling in style that was important. It was being together, the experiences, and most of all the people. The best travel experiences are not always the convenient ones, but the inconvenient trips.
The greatest thing I learned was how to enjoy and appreciate people from all walks of life and be comfortable with them, and to not make them uncomfortable by being around me.
My father took me to the shacks outside of Atlanta and we prepared meals and sat with the poor African American families for whom they loved and cared. This happened from the time I could talk, so growing up I never remember freaking out in someone's home because roaches were crawling on my shoes.
My father dropped my brother and I off in Harlem once and made us walk 5 city blocks by ourselves to meet him at a deli. When we arrived he said, "See, no one mugged you."
As we traveled we would eat with company owners and presidents and we were taught to look people in the eye, shake hands, ask questions and speak up when we were talking. We sampled everything from Craw-fish Etouffee in New Orleans, Clam Chowder in Boston, and squirrel over the campfire in Gerogia.
He showed us history and made it exciting from Valley Forge to The Freedom Trail to the battle fields of the south, and I swear I could still hear cannonballs as I stood in those honored places.
He had us hike Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, swim the rushing cold rivers of the Smokies, ski the mountains of Colorado, all the while saying, "Isn't God creative".
He put rifles and fishing poles in our hands and said, "If you want to eat, you've got to catch it. "
We sat in bars while he had a Martini and my brother and I had Shirley Temples. We even once placed bets on a chicken drop in a hole in the wall bar in Slidell. My father threw out the chicken and my brother won $100 bucks when it crapped on his square. We sat in churches across the country and learned there were different ways to worship God. We learned God loves people in bars and he even actually loves people in churches too.
I sweat in deserts, froze in snow storms, was drenched while hiking in the rain and learned you could have a great time no matter what the weather.
We went places and did things. The couch was for the occasional Sunday afternoon recovery. Yes, we played on baseball teams, went to Cub Scouts and church functions, and stayed at home some weekends, but travel and adventure was not forsaken.
I hear people say they've never left Texas, never been camping, only been on a plane once, always went to the grandparents house for vacation. What a limited experience and education. What a limited view of God, the world and mankind. Most would say they didn't miss anything, but then they wouldn't know would they.
Go somewhere, somehow.
Scrounge up some gas money and by a cheap tent. Leave work Friday at 6:30 pm, pick up the kids and drive four hours to someplace. Be a little cold, a little wet, a little hot, a little inconvenienced. Eat pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then hike, climb, fish, watch the sunset, and read the historical mile markers. Go to a battle field, a cheap small town museum, a state park, a beach, a friends house, a pond. Just do something.
Your kids will never say when they are 40, "Dad I sure loved just hanging around the house as a kid. Remember that time I was watching TV in my room and you were watching TV in your room?"
They may say however, "Dad, I remember the time we camped on the beach in that old tent you borrowed and there was sand in every crack of my body, but then when the sunset that night it was the first time God became real to me."
Don't go into debt to travel. Do what you can, when you can, but do something. Never put a trip on a credit card with hopes to pay it off later - that will steal the joy eventually. Do what you can.
Don't compare locations with others - go where you can and want and create your own memories.
Find out what your kids are reading about in their history books and take them there. Show them the places of your past - they won't like it now, but they will treasure it when they're old. Ask them to pick a place. Have them try every outdoor activity there is so they can learn which one they like. Visit the history museum, the art museum, and the zoo. Take them to try every kind of restaurant from Thai to Creole and have them try something new. Take them to Mexico and make them order in Spanish. Sit down with a homeless man, give him money and ask him about his life with your kids there. Take your kids to a high brow restaurant once a year and teach them how to work down through their forks, how to choose a good wine, how to behave at the table and how to treat the person that is serving you as important.
Do something. Another weekend of Nintendo DS, Disney Channel, and Deal or No Deal is worthless for their future. They can play soccer, baseball, basketball, and dance the rest of their lives, there is no reason for that to be ALL they do. Chances are 1 in 10,000,000 that will be their career so don't make it their life. They can experience their life with you watching them from the sidelines, or with you experiencing life with them.
Progress as you can. This is not a task left to the "Haves" it is a task to every parent. Click on Google Earth and you'll be amazed what is nearby, and dream about that which is far away.
Kids I meet have few experiences with people different from them and only know geography from what they've seen in a text book. Read it - then live it.
Travel is a much greater investment towards your child'a education than college. So do both.