Forget School -- Travel Might Actually Be the Ultimate Education

Aug 28, 2018

Travelzoo is proud to be teaming up with WE, a movement of extraordinary people coming together to create a better world. This story is part of a series looking at how we can all travel with purpose, and exploring how giving back to the world can be as easy as seeing the world. Read more about the WE x Travelzoo partnership.

“The world is a book,” classical theologian Saint Augustine wrote. “And those who don’t travel read only one page.” Travel, after all, is the ultimate educator -- both for young people and those whose school days are long behind them.

"I directly can trace a line of my son's personal development to the day we landed in Kenya" - Erica Ehm

Just ask Erica Ehm, Founder and CEO of YMC.ca (formerly Yummy Mummy Club) and legendary Much Music veejay. The mother of two tells Travelzoo that her son Josh’s real education -- in history, geography, economics and (above all) global citizenship -- began when the pair visited a Maasai village last summer, when Josh was 16.

Erica Ehm (L) and her son Josh (R) with schoolchildren in Kenya

They experienced an immersive family trip with ME to WE, the social enterprise arm of the WE organization founded by Canadian brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.  ME to WE helps consumers make responsible product, service and travel choices. 

“I directly can trace a line of my son’s personal development to the day we landed in Kenya,” says Ehm.

“He saw firsthand how education was so respected and honoured in these Kenyan communities,” says Ehm. “The Maasai warriors were so proud of their education and it made my son look at his own life -- how he resented going to school every day. It forced him to change his perception and to understand how lucky he is.”

Even if you left the classroom behind years ago, you can go “back to school” by travelling the world. And if you do have school-age kids, there’s no better time to enhance their education with a family trip.

Travel’s biggest educational boost comes in the form of those crucial but intangible life skills. I’m a parent of two myself, and I’ve seen the way family journeys -- and their inevitable delays and mishaps -- help my kids build resilience and patience. Visiting a new culture can remove the blinders many of us -- especially teenagers -- wear, providing a potent reminder that there’s a world beyond our schools, jobs and neighbourhoods.

Travellers build confidence as they tackle unfamiliar situations and sample new foods and experiences. And no school can provide the perspective offered by world travel, which for many travellers results in greater compassion, global citizenship and engagement in the world.

Travel also brings classroom learning to life.

Languages: French is part of the curriculum for most Canadian kids, but you don’t have to visit Quebec or France to give their studies a boost. A trip to any country where another language is spoken sends a motivating message. My husband studies Italian and on a recent trip to Rome, our children watched, impressed, as he communicated with restaurateurs, guides, drivers and friendly locals. True, the kids weren’t using their nascent French skills, but they saw first-hand how valuable it is to speak another language. I’m hopeful that this memory will help sustain them through the slog of verb conjugation and vocabulary tests.

Geography: When you’re flying somewhere, it’s always fun to consult a globe or map to see where your destination fits into the world. But don’t overlook the educational potential of your next road trip. Too often, we rely on cellphones for turn-by-turn navigation, missing the “big picture” entirely. Get a paper map (they’re free for CAA members) and track your route. You’ll get a sense of the regions you’re passing through and the nearest big cities -- and you might feel inspired by the tangle of roads and highways waiting to be explored.

Each exposure to a concept or culture makes us more engaged -- and you never know what will pique a lifelong passion. 

History: Your children may spend that afternoon at the Chichen Itza ruins or the Kennedy Space Center asking when you’ll leave for the water park, but let the experience marinate for a few years. Chances are their ears will perk up when the subject of Mayans or space travel comes up in a high school or university classroom. It’s as true for adults as it is for kids: Each exposure to a concept or culture makes us more engaged the next time we hear about it -- and you never know what will pique a lifelong passion. 

Cultural Studies: In a world where we can tweak our news feeds to ensure we only see opinions we already endorse, getting outside our bubbles is more important than ever. Ehm recalls the way meeting Maasai warriors exposed her son to a different version of masculinity than the one he gets from pop culture. “They regaled us with tales about their culture that intrigued my son to no end -- how their bravery was often in not fighting. It was redefining what it is to be a man -- and a gentleman, really.”

Josh and a Maasai friend.

 

Economics: In addition to coping with different currencies and exchange rate, travellers young and old get exposed to a range of economic phenomena, from bargaining with souvenir sellers to witnessing wildly different standards of living. You can empower your kids even more by giving them a budget (and if they're old enough, actual money) for momentos, which they can choose to spend on several small items or one big souvenir. 

Global Citizenship: This is a big one. Travel changes us -- almost always for the better, as we gain a new appreciation for our planet and its people. The effect can be especially profound on a trip to a developing country. In Kenya, says Ehm, “Josh saw firsthand the problems developing countries are having in all different ways -- with education, female empowerment, water, food.” He was inspired to start his own nonprofit -- Project Fingers to Fist -- to fund schools in Kenya. “The travel, as a family, gave us an opportunity to talk about philanthropy in a meaningful way,” says Ehm. “It gave us an opportunity to start a [nonprofit] and to feel what it feels like to do good -- that great feeling of generosity.”

So as this school year begins, start thinking about what you and your loved ones might learn on your next trip -- with the world as your classroom.

Looking for an incredible experience right here in Canada? Travelzoo and WE are inviting members across Canada to tell us about a recent volunteer activity -- whether it was travelling abroad or right in your own community. Share your story for a chance to win a pair of tickets to WE Day, a celebration of young people committed to making a difference at home and around the world. You can't buy a ticket to WE Day -- you have to earn an invite through volunteer service. 


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