We have all heard about the amazing personal benefits of traveling the world. For many people this means finishing school, buying an around the world ticket and coming home after six months, having become the ultimate travelist who has discovered themselves. I totally knew why travel was important for my 17-year-old daughter’s future but wondered, why wait?
Travelling was not foreign to her, having already lived on several continents. But I wanted to take her on an epic year-long, become-a-beautifully-badass-woman, budget backpacking trip.
Many thought I was crazy to press pause on my career, pull my kid out of conventional school and go travel in such a gritty and real way with her. But it’s been the best decision we have ever made.
If you’re a parent reading this…
you’re going to see why travel is so important for your daughter.
If you’re the daughter, trying to convince your parents to let you go travelling, let this article do the talking. The benefits of traveling the world are undeniably magnificent, and I’m going to show you what is truly possible.
We are all in different stages of development and the skills my daughter is gaining may look totally different from what your kid may learn. The point is that travel provides a platform for developing self discovery and confidence, something most of us women desperately need more of.
Quite honestly, travel is teaching me to be a better parent. One of the most difficult, yet rewarding, things we can do as parents is to…
allow our kids to experience hardship and to learn through adversity.
I’m not talking about putting them in danger. Instead I recommend letting go of the constant instinct to make it all better and let them gain strength and capacity through overcoming real life challenges.
The two of us are currently just over halfway through our trip and these are 5 of the most invaluable lessons bare-bones world travel is teaching us:
When we first started our world travels my daughter was definitely in the passenger’s seat. Whether it was figuring out travel credit cards or ATM withdrawals fees or booking online vs rocking up in person, she was clueless. I picked all the destinations and she happily followed along.
Now she has opinions; they are not always the same as mine but I love it. I want to hear her voice. I love that she can pick the next town and decide how we should get there. Gradually she is learning the art of discount travel.
She is also taking control of her life by discovering how little she needs to be happy.
Living long-term out of a backpack is teaching her the true value of minimalism. Everyday she goes through markets full of awesome clothing, beautiful jewelry and breathtaking art, and she doesn’t feel the need to buy anything. When she does, it means letting go of something in her bag.
Before this trip shopping was easy and just meant stuffing one more item in her closet. Now she really thinks about what she wants and whether it is worth the expense.
My daughter is beautiful. I’m not just saying this because I’m her Mom. She has a lovely face and a bombshell hourglass figure. With her dark caramel skin and super curly hair, she stands out in a crowd.
Honestly, she embarked on this trip a little unaware of her effect on men and not really knowing how to deal with the various reactions she encountered.
Budget travel puts us in the thick of things, right in the heart of this big bustling world. The attention she gets is nonstop. It is everyday, all day. As much as I want her to embrace her beauty and feel proud of the way she looks, my main concern is obviously her safety.
When we started this trip, and she was being catcalled by grown men and I could feel my blood boil. The first couple times guys reached out and grabbed her arm, I nearly broke their necks.
My daughter is a – don’t rock the boat – kind of girl. She is eager to please others and hates confrontation. This worried me.
She was mortified when I confronted these men with angry words I best not repeat here. My daughter took me aside and simply said, “Let me handle it.” You have no idea how hard this was for me. It took a few tries but finally I learned to back off.
One of the advantages of travel is self-awareness and my daughter is rocking it. She has found this magical balance that amazes me. When she feels like it she accepts compliments from men with a polite smile, and a thank you, and often a bit of humor. She is quick with the comebacks but has also learned where the line is, where she doesn’t feel safe and how to diffuse those situations.
I’m impressed at how well she has mastered the art of absolute non-reaction, which is often much more effective than confrontation.
She also knows how to stand up for herself.
So now I sit on the sidelines and let her deal with it in a way that makes her feel comfortable.
My daughter is black and I am white.
She is my birth child. Minds are blown. She has always had to deal with the initial surprise that I’m her mother, but this trip is like nothing else we have experienced.
She understands that many people have never encountered a multi-racial family and they are curious. On so many occasions, during our travels, people react by pointing at her skin and then mine and saying, “No, not the same. Not your mother.” or “No, no not her child.” or simply, “Too different”.
One of the benefits of travel is that it is teaching her a beautiful blend of assertiveness and compassion. Her identity is constantly questioned and sometimes even mocked.
She is discovering her own way to give direct, kind, but no-nonsense answers to even the most insensitive of people.
No matter what your daughter looks like I can guarantee, somewhere during your travels, someone will make a weird-ass comment about how she looks. Learning to deal with that, without taking it to heart, is truly a gift.
The second issue is her hair. Every single day she gets questions and comments about her hair.
People ask if her natural hair is plastic, if she has had it chemically treated to make it curl, or where she bought her hair. There is complete confusion as to how she can have her hair smooth to her head one day and puffed out in a giant afro the next. These questions she answers with good humor.
She has had to deal with countless requests to pose for photos with strangers. People often laugh, stare, point and take videos of her as she walks by.
She reaches her limit when complete strangers start pulling, patting and digging their hands in her hair.
This she cannot abide and she has learned to tell people no.
Even when they ask, “Can I touch your hair?” She can now say “no” without feeling guilty. She truly hates it and does not want to be treated like she is in a petting zoo.
One of the main reasons I wanted us to go travel in such a hands-on way, is for my daughter to develop her “intuition”.
I could have her read a thousand travel articles but they would never teach her to follow her gut. Without a doubt, travel is the best education. We are constantly taking in subconscious information and pick up and process small details about our environment, without even being aware. We get feelings that we shouldn’t get in a specific tuk tuk, or that this road is better, or that we should not stay in a certain area.
My daughter is getting good at reading her surroundings and making quick decisions. She has learned to listen to those hunches. It is a skill I know will carry her through her whole life. This is not just with places but with people.
Humans are such complicated and strange creatures, all of us. Learning to read people takes a lifetime. For me, this is why travel is so invaluable.
She is tuning into that inner voice.
This helps her relate to people with both empathy and caution.
We were walking down a street and I was on my phone looking for directions. I felt her gently tug at my elbow and guide me to the other side of the road. Way up ahead there was a group of men. We pass groups of men all the time without incident. As we got closer the men started to catcall and get rowdy. It amazed me how she knew from a block away, before the men even spotted us, that this was a situation where caution was required.
Not only did I want to teach her the practicalities of how to travel around the world; I wanted her to reap the spiritual benefits that coincide. She has a big heart and cares very much about human rights and environmental issues. With each new country she is gaining a profound appreciation; not just intellectually but practically, of how not to define a whole culture with one stereotyped narrative.
Witnessing other travellers act like douche-bags has taught her the value of respect and kindness. She has seen first hand how environmental disasters affect the poor and has encountered beautiful animals on the brink of extinction. I see her taking note of injustice and thinking about what has caused it. Her sense of social responsibility is growing daily. And most importantly, she sees herself not as an observer but very much connected to the people and places we visit.
We have covered a lot of ground and not once have we met any other teen girls travelling with their families. We see many parents out there hitting the road with their little kids. But as their girls get older…
I think people sometimes feel it is too big of a risk to throw a backpack on our daughters and let them meet the world face on.
For us, the risk is greater not to do it.
This guest post has been brought to you by Dawn from Big Beautiful World (blog no longer live). Dawn has spent decades travelling the world. Currently she is embarking on a year-long backpacking adventure with her 17-year-old daughter. Canada is her homeland but her sense of identity is global. Dawn enjoys writing and visual arts but pays most of her bills by helping international schools around the world create student-centred environments.