When our first little person was five months old, we packed up our earthly belongings and jumped ship for the Big Red country across the water.
So began our seventeen years of international travel with kids.
We would go on to birth two of them on the mission field. Although the city’s hospital looked nothing like a field, lest you imagine a white woman squatting in a rice patty with her midwife.
Our family’s adventures may be on the extreme end of the spectrum but I know the hesitations that we parents feel as we consider traveling overseas with our kids. We want to be smart; we want to do the best thing for our kids. So is it a good idea to take our kids to developing nations?
My husband and I think so. Actually, we have made it a goal to do just that: at least one significant trip, to another culture, before they leave home. And even if the trip doesn’t seem especially significant, oh well, we are taking them anyway!
Practically, we have found that taking children younger than ten isn’t as impactful but it definitely shouts loud and clear, “The world is wide; traveling is fun!” In our experience, kids between the ages of 10-18 have a lot more to gain from this type of travel. At these ages, the benefits really start to pop.
Here are the top 5 reasons we love exposing our kids to developing countries:
- It widens their worlds. This one is dynamite! It is easy to forget about other places and we all need the reminder that ours is not the center of the universe. Flying on a plane for hours (or days!) gives our kids a sense of how much bigger the world is than their neighborhood and country.
- They experience poverty and true needs. Maybe your kids aren’t self-absorbed, but mine struggle. They fixate on that one brand of sneakers and whine about organizing their doll collection. Seeing actual poverty is a rather rude awakening that serves our kids well.
- They learn to do things differently. Sometimes my kids can’t imagine another way to take a shower, take a test or take the bus. Being in a different culture exposes them to variations of eating, socializing and earning money. Different languages, accents and vocabularies broaden their thinking and give them an appreciation of new ideas and innovation.
- It creates vulnerability. The differences all around them put our kids in a sensitive position. Which is not a bad spot to sit. Consider this: vulnerability sets the table for a teachable spirit. We want our kids to be learners. As they find themselves in new experiences, they are more open to learn and to grow. And that is a mighty fine spot to sit.
- It is bonding. You know how this goes down. Two people connect as they enjoy something unusual together. Walking through underprivileged neighborhoods, trying new foods, meeting beautiful people who become friends. All those experiences create an atmosphere of connectedness between you and your kids. It’s pretty great.
And don’t forget to ask them the important questions that bring closeness as well:
What was the most difficult thing you saw on this trip?
What did you learn from the people we served alongside?
What did you see God doing in those communities?
How has your thinking changed since leaving home?
Letting our kids tag along on a cross-culture trips does complicate things a bit. It is certainly pricey. Taking our kids to developing nations might also involve a small amount of risk. But so does taking them to the beach.
I believe it is totally and completely worth the cost and the risk. Exposing our kids to the world has the potential to alter the rest of their lives. No exaggeration, no sensationalizing. It can change the trajectory of their futures. I know because that is what it did for me.
Take them with you!