Giving your children the lessons of travel

Taking your children abroad can have many benefits. It exposes them to the outside world, and it can foster curiosity and a lifelong love of learning. Travel expands their minds and teaches them that there are other ways of living. One of the most significant benefits of travel is that families get to bond as they enjoy new experiences together, without the distractions of day to day life.

Let’s face it though. Travelling’s not always possible. Plane tickets, accommodation, and other incidentals can add up to many thousands of dollars. And then there’s the time factor. For most, if they are lucky enough to travel, it’s likely to be a rare experience.

So what can you do if you want to expose your children to other cultures, but travelling abroad isn’t possible? Rest assured, many family-friendly possibilities won’t break the bank or require you to wander far from home.

Food: One of the easiest ways to experience a different culture is through food. Indeed, one of the greatest pleasures when travelling is trying the local cuisine. Encapsulated in the experience are the local ingredients and methods of preparation that developed within that culture to suit their environment. And, of course, there’s just the pure joy of discovering new delicious flavours.

The simplest way to experience this close to home is to visit a restaurant. Here you’ll get traditionally prepared food with decor and ambience providing an additional sense of culture. If authenticity is important to you, you might want to try to avoid restaurants that are westernized. Look for restaurants that are frequented by locals from that community.

Another great way to introduce your family to ethnic cuisine is to prepare it yourselves. Recipes and videos can easily be found online, which can make even the most complicated steps achievable. Sure, ingredients can sometimes be hard to find, but that can add to the experience. Discovering local grocery stores can, in of itself, be a fascinating journey as you explore shelves of ingredients that you never knew existed. If you like spicy food, how about trying some fiery red pepper paste? You can try sambal from Indonesia, or a fermented paste, gochujang, from Korea. Or, if you like blindingly sweet dishes, why not try the Indian desert, gulab jamun? These balls of dough are deep-fried and soaked in syrup, and you can purchase them canned or make them from simple ingredients. Be warned, visiting ethnic grocery stores is addictive, and they can offer a lifetime of taste experiences.

Preparing food is an excellent opportunity for families to spend quality time together. And the tactile experience of making food, chopping, mixing and sauteing for example can be a remarkably satisfying experience. Just ask any chef. Your children will learn valuable skills too, as they learn to prepare healthy food from scratch using a minimum of processed ingredients.

Museums, Zoos, and Gardens: Far from being drab grey buildings filled with musty old antiques, museums can be fascinating places to explore and learn about past cultures. Many museums now have exhibitions, tours, and activities that cater to children, and even the little ones can find lots to do. Don’t rule out museums that focus on your local area either.

Botanical gardens and zoos can also be great places to teach our kids about foreign lands. You can learn a lot about the challenges and conservation efforts associated with many animals, plants, and ecosystems. Some gardens have indoor greenhouses that capture the heat and humidity of the tropics, as well as the smells of the vegetation. These places have the added benefit of being a welcome escape in the depths of winter. And who knows? Perhaps your child will take their first step in the journey to being a scientist or conservationist.

Communities, Cultural Events, and Festivals: Many councils and cities have well-established ethnic festivals celebrating diversity in our community and this gives a perfect opportunity to experience another culture with food to explore and customs and dress on display.

There will often be cultural events and festivals associated with these areas. Just think of the colourful dragons and fireworks of Chinese New Year. There are festivals can be exhilarating as you experience all types of performances, food vendors, and booths selling different wares.

Look within your own home: Many of us trace our background to other regions of the world. Even if families emigrated several generations ago, and it seems like there’s little left of their culture, we might still have family heirlooms, photographs, and letters. You can use these items to embark on all types of exciting projects with your children to teach them about their roots. If you still have living relatives who emigrated, get your children to ask them questions about what life was like in the country of their birth. If you can trace your origins to specific regions, you can go beyond looking at atlases with your kids and try searching for pictures online. And if you have old addresses, you can even try Google Street View which allows you to travel through many communities around the world remotely.

There’s no limit as to how far you can go with research like this as you help your kids learn about their history, especially now that more and more resources are becoming digitized. No longer do you always have to travel overseas to research your roots. Take Scotland, for example, where records of births, marriages, and deaths are available online. And perhaps there are long lost relatives overseas with whom you can get in touch. Not only might you re-establish long forgotten ties, but you might even discover new family members and a history you never even thought about.

So don’t despair if you can’t take your children overseas. You can instil many of the lessons they can learn from travel with the activities listed here. And, just as valuable, you will have spent quality time with them that they will cherish throughout their lives.