At two years old my daughter decided she would no longer speak Spanish. This was not only a blow to my ego, but to my culture, to our ancestry. How had a child who’s dominate language was Spanish, up until that moment, decide she no longer needed it any more. I can’t tell you what was in her head, but I imagine she looked around her early education classroom and heard no other kids using a language other than English. She was different and ‘different’ is not something we want to be as children.
In a world that’s seemingly more separate and hostile toward differences, how do we show our children that our differences are something to be celebrated, not hidden away or discarded?
A disclaimer before I continue: As a Hispanic white-passing woman, I know the world is not becoming more separate and hostile. Racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism, and economic disparity have been around a long, long, time. It seams that we are more separate & there is ‘more’ hostility because more people are waking up to that fact. And with that awareness we can do something about it.
My answer to the problem of ‘different’ and ‘separate’ is to travel with my child. This includes traveling within my own city to different communities, but I have seen the most powerful impact when traveling abroad. I want her to experience other cultures and ways of life, not just read about them during “Black History” or “Hispanic Heritage” month. To see, hear, taste, touch a culture foreign from her own is what gets under a child’s skin and becomes part of the lens they use to view the world long after the vacation is over.
Start With Something Familiar, But Not The Same
For our first trip abroad, I chose Costa Rica for many reasons, but firstly because I could speak Spanish & I wanted my child to see that there are countries where Spanish is the dominant, if not the only, language. My recommendation for your first trip is to choose a country where you either speak the language or your native language is also spoken. There are few things more stressful that trying to find a place to stay in the middle of the night, with an exhausted child pulling at your side, and no one understanding a single word coming out of your mouth.
Making Learning A Language Fun
If you travel to a country where English is not the dominant language or not widely spoken, make an effort to learn the language with your kids. There is something very American about showing up in a foreign country and not making an effort to communicate in the language of that country. I will never forget studying in Valencia, during graduate school, when I heard an American undergrad say to the attendant at the Valley of the Fallen, “You don’t speak English?!” before laughing and high-fiveing his buddies. The attendant’s face was a look of disbelief, mine was a look of disgust and shame.
With so many free and fun language apps these days, there’s really no reason not to learn at least the basics- good morning, thank you, please, where’s the toilet, for instance. I use Duolingo, and while learning Italian I can earn points and challenge my friends. My daughter saw me playing one day and asked to play, too, so I found her a kids language learning game called Rockalingua, which she loves to use to practice her Spanish. There’s also Muzzy, which I’ve loved since I was a kid.
Always Keep Passports Up To Date
According to the State Department, 64% of Americans don’t own a valid passport. I know you can see that that’s more than half! It also should be obvious that you can’t leave the country if you don’t have a passport. I always have an updated passport and so does my child (since birth). That’s partially because my ancestors have had to flee two different countries upon the entrance of tyrannical leaders twice before, so I carry that level of paranoia in my veins. But family trauma aside, having a valid passport means you can travel if, say, you see a ‘dream trip’ as your scrolling through Instagram, and what’s that? It’s perfectly in your budget and it just happens to be when the kids are out of school? But, wait, does everyone have a passport? Are they expired? You don’t want to wait for the Department of Homeland Security to decide if you can go on your vacation. Do you? Start here.
Make It An Immersive Experience
The other reason I chose Costa Rica as my child’s first experience abroad was because of Life Project Education, a school, which at the time was in Manuel Antonio, provides holistic educational opportunities to children from around the world. The added bonus was being able to teach yoga to the kids at the school, which offset some of the cost. I signed my daughter up for one day, but she loved it so much that she ended up joining her new friends for the whole week. When traveling abroad, try googling “world school” and then the country of your choice. Most countries have opportunities for children to learn about the culture while being surrounded by peers.
Plug: We have a Family Yoga Vacation coming up in July. You can learn more about “La Vita È Bella at kris10yoga.com/experiences.
Stay Off The Beaten Path
Yes, Paris, Rome, Madrid, and San Juan are all beautiful foreign locations, but have you been transported back in time while watching the sun fall behind a mountain in the ancient Roman town of Brisighella? Popular tourist spots are exactly that- riddled with tourists. If you want your family to really experience the culture of a place, look for the hidden gems. Start by asking you social media circle. Ask on Facebook, Instagram, or tweet “Does anyone know of any small towns or villages near Rome?” Chances are someone will or will at least put you in contact with someone who does. Plus, it’s way cheaper to stay even fifteen minutes outside of a tourist trap.
Explore The Culture Before You Go
Before heading abroad, I love to read novels, and watch novels and documentaries about the country. It’s like getting my vacation started early, and it could be the same for children. It also might help to ease some of the culture-shock they may experience. Look for children’s books & movies that take place in the country you’ll be traveling to with your family. There are also some great online interactive resources like Global Guardian Project and subscription services like Little Passports. I also keep a globe and world map to show my daughter how and exactly where we’ll be arriving.
I never check luggage, ever, even when traveling with kids. I always carry one backpack and one rolling suitcase & so does my daughter. If it’s light enough, most children can carry there own bags. Plus, you have the added comfort of knowing exactly where your bags are, and that they’re not say… in Istanbul when you’re in Madrid. With the advent of airBNB and HomeAway, it’s easy to find a place for your family with a washing machine or at least a nearby laundry facility. In fact, we even had a shared washing machine at a commune in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle!
Find Affordable Flights
Start looking for flights three to one month prior to your departure. My go-to sites are Kayak & JustFly. I always set up alerts with my preferred dates and airports. Remember to check several airports in the area. Landing in the next city and taking a train or car might just save you a couple hundred dollars. Saving money on flights means you can travel more often during the year, and have even more adventures with your family. If you have a favorite airline, consider getting their credit card to earn you flight miles and other discounts, and sign up for frequent flyer membership (it’s free!).
For additional resources on finding cheaper flights, check out AlessandroGiovinazzo.com.
Make Exploring The World A Priority
I decided long before I had a child that travel was a priority for me. Every time I think, ‘I’d like a bigger house’, or ‘expensive shoes’, or ‘cable’, I remind myself, “No, I want to see the world with my family. That is my top priority.” It really puts things into perspective. Look at your life just as it is. What is not as important as traveling with your children- Fancy gym membership? Weekly pedicures? Restaurants? Travel is a privilege, it really is. And I am aware that for some there just is no wiggle room right now. What I am saying, however, is ‘if travel is a top priority for you is there a way you can make it happen?’
Let’s show the next generation the beauty of our differences- the many colors, sounds, and flavors that make this world so heart-shatteringly brilliant.