In Times of Travel Uncertainty, Go Local
By Ethan Gelber
There’s a lot in the world today that’s scary. And if you’re a parent, as I am, it can make you think twice about travel with your children.
The spread of serious diseases, the increasing frequency of extreme weather, the random acts of violence stemming from people’s forced displacement, the socioeconomic resentment due to disparities in income and opportunity, and, of course, terrorism are a few of the hot-button items that fill our news feeds and make us hesitate to hit the road, especially with defenseless and impressionable little ones in tow.
While I stubbornly refuse to let these concerns stand in the way of travel with my kids, I fully appreciate and respect the pressure they put on others. According to a recent survey about travel attitudes and challenges for U.S. families, safety and health worries ranked hearteningly low on the list of top issues making family travel more difficult, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored, particularly in light of heightened security warnings.
So what do you do if you believe in the importance of travel in your children’s growth and development? Where do you go if you’re convinced, as I am, that travel is a critical tool for your kids, as part of both their formal education and their informal, experience-based understanding of the world? Travel lifts them (and us all!) out of their routines and introduces them to the spice of life – different languages and cultures, sublime nature, new physical activities, and the diversity of lifestyles held dear by new acquaintances who, once they become lifelong friends, provide insight into a complex world.
How do we find balance between flight and fight?
One possible answer: go local.
There are two pertinent meanings to the ‘Go Local’ mantra – a phrase that has seen rapidly rising appeal in recent years. The first is best captured by “staycation.” In brief: you don’t have to journey to the ends of the earth to lift your family out of its comfort zone and teach your kids key life lessons.
Been dreaming of hiking in primeval jungle? Look in your own county, state or region for maintained trails through old-growth forest. Determined to instill a passion community service in your kids? Remember this: one thing far sexier than celebrating generosity in a distant village you may never see is being celebrated as a guiding force that brought hope to neighbors you might meet every day. Itching to challenge your own cultural and gastronomic sensibilities? Find a comfortable way (with a tour, friend or local host) to venture into adjacent communities you’ve never visited… and meet near neighbors before you fly off to your far-distant ones.
In all cases, your kids will be thrilled with the same sense of adventure. And, while you could certainly stay right at home and make day trips to as-yet-undiscovered nearby attractions, you could also amp up the fun by arranging overnight accommodation under a strange roof only a few miles away. When kids sleep in different beds located in different houses, is the thrill diminished by how near it is to their own? Hardly.
Wherever you decide to travel, you can rarely scratch more than one or two layers deep during a typical visit; there’s always far more to a place than what you see. So while there’s nothing wrong with taking in the top attractions – they’re “top” for good reason! – there’s also enormous benefit to slipping off the beaten track and discovering the haunts and pleasures of must-see-averse native inhabitants. It’s called living like a local.
The added value of engaging more directly and intimately with locals – sharing their homes and their meals, frequenting their off-the-main-street supermarkets and cafes, playing in their parks with other kids – is precisely the kind of stuff parents love to see their kids do.
How can you go about it?
- Be sensitive to the local people by putting yourself in their shoes and discovering how they think.
- Be mindful of the local environment by staying alert to its beauty and power, and doing what you can to preserve it.
- Be respectful of the local culture by sharing in activities and experiences as locals do.
- Be generous with the local economy by paying your money into local businesses and ensuring that it benefits the right people.
None of these approaches will make you immune to the real and perceived risks of family travel, but in keeping with HomeExchange priorities, they will help you and your children find all the thrill of adventure without having to put leagues between you and home, or by making yourself feel right at home if you do.