Family travel with the cowboy centaur

Family travel is one of the most important parts of our lives over here. Another major priority: Education. This is one of the main reasons why Powerwoman became a college professor. It’s why she plans special science programs every year for L’s charter school. And it’s why I’m on the board of directors of the girls’ preschool.

Every year, that preschool gets the bulk of its fundraising done at a dinner dance auction. This year’s auction was held last night. In an attempt to cut costs this year, the school board decided NOT to hire an outside auctioneer to run the live auction part of the evening. The alternative: Moi.

I did not take the assignment lightly. I studied bid-calling. I rehearsed for hours. I developed some of my own catchphrases. I also made sure I was wearing an outfit other parents would remember forever. So I hired a costume designer. And I had her build me a cowboy centaur costume. The result, dear readers, was one of the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen. No, nothing about the experience technically related to travel. But I thought you’d appreciate it nevertheless.

Heaven Centaur and the Mrs.

Heaven Centaur and the Mrs.

Part of something very special

FTA logoYou don’t have to read many of my posts to understand that a) I think pretty deeply about family travel and b) I’ve got ideas for how to change public perception about traveling families overall. You also don’t have to dig too deep to discern that even though I’m a man of words, I also am a man of action.

This is precisely why I’m proud to announce that I’ve joined the Board of Advisors for a brand new organization, the Family Travel Association (FTA).

The mission of the organization is simple: To inspire families to travel and to advocate travel as an essential part of every child’s education. In short, the FTA emphasizes the role of travel in the development of our children, and prioritizes travel as an important activity for family bonding and development.

These all are concepts I embrace wholeheartedly.

In the beginning, my role will be to help guide the organization in terms of policies and procedures. I’ll probably do some writing for the group, too, and hope to put together some original pieces for distribution through traditional channels. Over time, this role likely will grow (though I’m not sure how).

I’m honored to be on an all-star team of advisors; a team that includes Keith Bellows, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine; Laura Davidson, president and founder of Laura Davidson Public Relations; Lynn O’Rourke Hayes, editor of FamilyTravel.com; Kyle McCarthy, editor of Family Travel Forum; and Amie O’Shaughnessy, editor of Ciao Bambino (to name a few).

Of course I’m also delighted to work with the organization’s founder, my friend (and a former publisher at National Geographic), Rainer Jenss.

Stay tuned for more updates about my work with the FTA and some of the projects we’ll launch in the first part of 2015. In the meantime, check out this video that Rainer made to help newcomers understand what we’re all about.

Deep thoughts on education and travel

To what extent would a pricey school prevent us from doing this?

Would a pricey school tuition prevent us from doing this?

The grownups of this family are in the throes of decision time over here. The question: Where to send L (and, eventually, R) for kindergarten (and beyond).

Settling on a final answer has been challenging. In California, we are lucky enough to have a host of options: straight public, public charter, private, private parochial, and more. Because Powerwoman and I are researchers by nature (translation: because we’re total overachievers), we have investigated, toured and applied to nearly a half-dozen schools. With one of the deadlines bearing down on us next week, it’s proverbial crunchtime.

Ultimately, our decision will be based on a variety of factors. There certainly have been lots of issues to consider, including educational philosophy, class size, arts programs, and more. Of course another biggie is cost—not only because some of the schools are expensive, but also because every dollar we spend on school is one less dollar we can spend on travel.

To some of you readers, this notion of potentially sacrificing travel for the sake of mainstream education might seem trivial (or, maybe, short-sighted). For us, however, it’s a serious issue—not necessarily a deal-breaker, but a biggie.

Travel is a huge part of how this family rolls. My wife and I are committed to broadening our daughters’ perspectives on the world by spending at least one month out of every year living in a new place. Heck, we just wrapped up a four-month stint of living in London! We’re also committed to exploring through shorter trips, as well. Case in point: Next month, we’re headed to Yosemite National Park as a family for the first time ever.

From a practical perspective, Powerwoman and I also work to weave travel into the overall fabric of our girls’ education. This means our trips incorporate learning at every turn. We don’t just go to the beach and sloth. We go to the beach, and by DOING, EXPERIENCING and EMBRACING new things over the course of the day, we share lessons about geography and biology and botany and history and a whole host of other disciplines. We also strive to incorporate the journey into the overall experience; yes, those 6-hour road trips and ten-hour plane trips are challenging, but they also are great opportunities to bond with our girls.

In short, travel isn’t something we’re willing to sacrifice. Which means we’ve been thinking long and hard about putting ourselves into a position that could endanger our resources to do it.

This blog post isn’t the forum to diagram our answer—how and where we choose to school our kids is a private decision and one we’ll make privately. Nevertheless, because this is a travel blog, because travel is such a huge part of our world, I thought it was important to share some of our biggest concerns here, and solicit input and feedback from you.

What’s your take? How would you reconcile this conundrum? If you’re a parent who already has been there and done that, which way did you go and why? If you’re currently dealing with these issues, what are the issues that are keeping you up at night? Sharing your opinions on this subject could help Powerwoman and me—all of us, really—make the most informed decisions possible. I’m all ears.

Learning about Learning on the Road

Who needs classrooms when you have this?

Who needs school when you have this?

Nothing embodies my perspective on education quite like the line from Springsteen’s “No Surrender” (off Born in the U.S.A., of course): “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, then we ever learned in school.”

I certainly held this philosophy in journalism school; even then, I knew my parents were paying to hook me up with an alumni network, and that the real education would come on internships along the way.

Now, as a parent, my wife and I embrace the same sentiment with regard to family travel.

Yes, we regret pulling our kids out of their respective schools (click here for some tips). Yes, we recognize that, in terms of our nation’s standards-based curriculum, these absences create additional challenges (both for our girls and for the teachers). We even acknowledge that there are some social ramifications of our girls being “those girls” who jet off to Yosemite or New York or the Cotswolds.

Despite all of these issues, we still think exploring through travel is the best way to teach our kids about their world.

I’ve been pondering this subject a lot lately.

My wife and I are moving the girls to London for four months this fall, and, this week, we signed a lease on a fabulous two-story flat (it’s in Maida Vale, for those of you scoring at home).

Then, earlier this week, my buddy, Rainer Jenss, wrote this thought-provoking story for AFAR magazine about his experiences on a one-year round-the-world journey with his wife and sons (who were 8 and 11, respectively, at the time).

In the story, Rainer explains his rationale for pulling his kids out of school for the trip like this: “One of the primary reasons we chose to take a yearlong sabbatical with our kids was to enhance their education; to help them learn things no [school] could ever teach them.” Then, he offers this:

    “We all want our children to excel academically. One surefire way to improve their chances for success is to get them more engaged and interested in what they’re being taught. Science: Check out the glaciers at Yellowstone, hike a volcano in Hawaii, or snorkel in the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef. History: Visit Colonial Williamsburg, vacation in Rome, or tour Egypt. Social Studies: How about China, India, or, of course, Washington, D.C.”

To be clear: Turning family vacations into learning experiences takes hard work.

You can’t just sloth by the pool all day; you need to be engaged with your kids for pretty much all of their waking hours. You also often need to be engaged well after they’ve gone to bed. The day before I introduced L to Muir Woods National Monument near our home, I was up until 2 a.m. studying stuff to tell her about redwoods. I’m sure I wasn’t the first dad to play that game.

All of this effort usually pays huge dividends. My older daughter still talks about the Sequoia sempervirens she saw that day at Muir Woods. Rainer writes about how one of his sons fell in love with photography after being exposed to it on their year-long trip.

Heck, I think even The Boss would agree (that first record led to a few others).

So get out there. And embrace that learning can happen in any place, at any time, about any subject. Recognizing these truths arguably is the most important education your kids ever will get. It’s also not a lesson they’ll ever learn in the traditional classroom environment.

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