11 min Read
School of Life: Learning Through Travel
August 10, 2010
11 min Read
August 10, 2010
A Toronto family decides to travel the world for a year.
Pete and I had dreamed of taking a big trip with the kids for a long time.
The dreaming part was easy. The hard part was deciding when, where and for how long. We wanted to do the trip before the kids were in high school, but old enough to carry a backpack. (Our daughter Brazil was 12 and our son Esker was 11 when we set out.) We figured it would be easier for the kids to be out of school for a whole year rather than enrol for a few months and try to catch up. When we told our family about our plan, we were met in some cases with confusion. Why would we do such a risky thing? But the more common reaction was, “Wow, I wish I could do that! It will be such a great experience for the kids.” We were able to rent our home thus covering the cost of our mortgage and my employer was able to give me a one year leave of absence and hold my job until I returned. Pete is a self-employed photographer. As for deciding where, we put a map of the world up in our kitchen and everyone put pins in the places that they wanted to visit. From there, we strung together a rough itinerary.
We spoke to the children’s teachers and our school principal about home schooling and integrating back into the next grade once we returned. We also got advice from other families that had travelled. Everyone encouraged us to not focus too much on book learning. The general consensus was that the kids would learn so much on the trip, and they would quickly catch up on any school work they missed. We took some books to study math and grammar the kids wrote on the blog and did special projects throughout the year. They also learned and spoke French and Spanish. The other subjects in our informal “school of life” were: mental math, history, map-reading, geography, social studies, religion, natural environments, flora and fauna, and more. The kids know they have had some incredible learning opportunities as a result of our trip. Still, they sometimes wished they were at school and worried about what they were missing and the impact that it would have when they go back. However, they will find that much of what they learned this year will serve them well in the long-term. If nothing else, they have learned to follow their noses to see where they take them, to take chances, and that anything is possible. Here’s a little taste of life and learning on the road with our kids.
ESKER’S Sahara Desert
I have wanted to go to a desert for as long as I can remember. I have always wanted to see the endless dunes of sand. When we were planning our trip we decided to go to the Sahara desert in Morocco. Driving to the desert meant driving through steep and rocky mountains and flat plains for three days. I realized that the flat plains we drove through were actually desert, too. My family and I had to pack our bags for the overnight in the desert. When we arrived at the place, the camels were waiting for us. The dunes were like huge waves in the ocean and they really surprised me at how red they were. The camels were very tall and it was really scary when we were riding them because it felt like we might fall. We could see our camp in the distance and really wanted to arrive before the sun went down. When we arrived, we ran up a sand dune to watch the sunset. The sun went down in a red and orange mess and it immediately got cold so we headed back to our camp for dinner. Even though it was REALLY cold, sleeping came easily underneath our five camel hair blankets. It was still dark in the morning when my family and I got on our camels and rode to a point where we could watch the sunrise. As the sky brightened, we could feel the heat and started to take off our layers of clothing. We got back on our camels and headed over the golden sand to the pick-up point where breakfast was waiting for us. We liked the desert so much that we went camping in Eureka Dunes in Death Valley, Calif.
IF THE IDEA OF A LONG FAMILY TRIP INTRIGUES YOU, FOLLOW PETE AND SARAH’S ADVICE:
HOW TO PAY FOR IT
The main expense to cover, since we didn’t want to sell our house, was our mortgage. We listed our home using SabbaticalHomes.com which specializes in year-long or shorter term rentals, often furnished. If you rent your home, find someone who can help your tenants out in a pinch. It is critical to have someone at home who can deal with your banking and bills for you. There are always taxes, insurance and car registration to deal with.
Speak with your school principal and teachers about your plan to take the kids out of school. Find out if they have any requirements for re-entry into school on your return. Look on the Internet for local home schooling groups. They often have advice about provincial and local school board requirements. Ontario has the provincial curriculum available online and it was helpful to review it. Visit a teaching supply store like Scholar’s Choice to pick up work books. Don’t try and do too much formal teaching or lug too many books. Lots of the learning happens in the day-to-day adventures.
Visit a clinic that specializes in travel medicine before you go. Buy antibiotics for emergency gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments. Many countries have pharmacies where you don’t require a prescription from a physician and are well-stocked. There are some things you just can’t get easily so bring all drugs you absolutely need with you. Bring the most comprehensive first aid kit you can carry, we used almost everything in ours. Travel clinics sell good ones. Leave what you don’t need in the community. They can always use them. Bring lots of dental floss and tampons as you may not be able to find them or they will be expensive.
FEEDING YOUR FAMILY
a couple of sturdy reusable water bottles and purification tablets
(available at camping stores) for emergencies. Bring a Swiss Army knife
as well but make sure to pack it in your checked baggage. You will want
to eat in sometimes so pack plastic cups, bowls and spoons at minimum.
If you can afford the space, bring a few more dishes, a small cutting
board, a scrubbie sponge and dish soap. A bandana or quick dry micro
fibre towel for drying is also handy.
PETE’S European War Tour
we decided to go to Europe as part of our adventure, I suggested that
we visit some World War I battle sites for a War Tour. The Great War
covered a large expanse of Northern France so visiting a few battle
sites and memorials would give us a chance to see a lot of the country.
The Great War has been a bit of a hobby for me and over the past few
years I have read a few fantastic stories about it. Canadian author
Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road is a great read, as is Pierre Berton’s
Vimy. With a copy of Horrible Histories: The Frightful First World War
for the kids, we set off for France and Belgium. Our War Tour brought us
to Vimy, France, the site of a significant Canadian battle during World
War I. This
is the main Canadian memorial for soldiers who died during the Great
War and is situated on a massive tract of land about two hours north of
Paris (or 20 minutes north of Amiens). Vimy is stunningly beautiful and
shockingly sad. I was dazzled by the soaring heights of the brilliant
white monument set at the edge of the ridge. At the same time, I was
deeply touched by the list of names etched in the base of the monument.
These are the 11,285 Canadian soldiers who fought and died at Vimy but
whose remains were never identified. Though much of the site is cordoned
off due to unexploded mines a free guided tour allowed us to see other
aspects of the memorial: restored remains of battlegrounds, trenches,
gun stations and communication tunnels. There is an excellent museum and
information centre. Identifiable remains are buried in two small
Commonwealth cemeteries on the site. All of this tells a vivid story of
the tragedy caused by war. Sarah and I consider ourselves proud
Canadians and pacifists, both ideals we wish to share with our children.
The War Tour, which included World War II sites in Normandy, allowed us
to observe the complex issues of national identity, national pride and
see the destructive results of extreme nationalism: war.
SARAH’S Brazilian BBQ
city of Sao Paulo has a population of almost 20 million. By contrast,
Canada has a population of about 34 million. Given this, it is amazing
how lucky we were to meet some of the nicest people yet. Everywhere we
went we met kind, generous, funny folk who treated us like family. An
example: We were introduced to friends of friends in Brazil. They
offered us their “ranch” as a place to stay. The ranch came with a
swimming pool, fishing pond, and outdoor kitchen for barbecuing. They
asked some friends to come by to show us how a real Brazilian BBQ is
friends came, complete with several different kinds of meat, beer and
snacks. Brazilians take their BBQ seriously, and even though our party
of 16 was small by their standards, the event still took 12 hours. The
day started at noon with the lighting of the fire and the cooking of
sausages for a snack. The sausage pieces were dipped in farofe, a
seasoned cassava flour. This was salty meat heaven. Next up was a
delicious cut of meat that had been marinated overnight. We think it was
goat but aren’t sure as we relied on drawings to bridge the language
barrier. All the meat was cut into small pieces and eaten off a communal
plate, with farofe for dipping. Then a cut of beef provided by Pete
went on the fire, followed by another piece of beef, some grilled
tomatoes, and so on throughout the day. We took a break around 4 p.m.
for a nap, then we were back at it. More people came, a hilarious card
game ensued with much miming and picture drawing. We gossiped, listened
to music and ate meat. Our big contribution was a huge batch of caramel
corn. The day ended around midnight, with photos and exchanging of
addresses and hugs. These people were total strangers only hours earlier
and now felt like old friends.
BRAZIL’S Irish hillsides
sheep in Ireland are pretty much stereotypical sheep. They are white
and poofy and, more often than not they say “baaa”. They also have a
tendency to go to very dangerous places in search of greener pastures,
a.k.a Ireland’s many cliffs where they stick like fridge magnets. In
October, we had just reached the summit of Mount Brandon, one of
Ireland’s highest mountains. It was so windy we could hardly stand and
the fog was as thick as pea soup. We were drenched from head to toe and
really happy to be on our way down. Suddenly we heard “baaaaa” and
turned around. There, marching out of the fog towards us was, yes, a
sheep. A sheep happily grazing a small patch of grass as we struggled to
stand, much less climb, down the mountain in the howling wind. Seeing a
sheep wandering around so high up wasn’t unusual. In Ireland, the sheep
are everywhere and are often not fenced in. For this reason a lot of
farmers mark their sheep with a spray painted dot on their behinds. On
our way down we saw a lot more colourful bums walking in and out of the
fog. There are sheep in every country but they are different everywhere,
sometimes because of climate, commerce, or religion. For instance, in
Morocco every family slaughters a sheep for Ramadan every year. In Mali,
the sheep are goat-like, hairless, and have long floppy ears. They also
sometimes climb trees to get fresh leaves to eat. Things are the same
and different in ways you couldn’t even imagine everywhere you go.
Published in August 2010.