We had been trying for a long time to take our family to Peter’s homeland of England.
Several years ago we started putting money aside every month specifically for that purpose. But then a car would need repairs or an appliance would need replacing, and—bang!—would go our travel fund.
Eventually, for one of Peter’s birthdays, I gifted him with a new, dedicated, England savings account—so we could squirrel away our travel dollars in a more protected manner. This system worked better, and two years ago we were close to being able to purchase airline tickets. But then our old McHenry house needed a new furnace, and our dream of an international family adventure was once again delayed.
Sixteen months ago, our lives (and our financial landscape) changed yet again when we made the decision to homeschool the kids. To accommodate our new homeschooling lifestyle, we tried to sell our McHenry house and move into Chicago to lessen our commute. The move would have been expensive, and a Chicago mortgage would have stretched our budget to the max.
Our McHenry house wouldn’t sell. After ten months of trying, we took her off the market, made renewed peace with our 55-mile commute, and decided to refocus our energy (and our dollars) once again on travel.
Last summer we took our first big family “expotition” (to quote Winnie the Pooh)—a three week, Laura Ingalls themed road trip. And it was a big success.
Now we’ve been in England for over a week. (More photo highlights are on my Facebook page.)
We haven’t decided where our journeys will take us next year, but Peter and I do agree on one thing. We want travel to be a high priority for our family. And we are willing to sacrifice in other areas to make it happen.
Why is this the case? Well, for one thing, the list of “lessons learned while traveling” is long, and it grows each and every day. Here are just a few ways that I’ve seen our kids already stretched and changed.
Certainly life can throw us curve balls no matter where we are or what we’re doing. But when you’re traveling, the odds are definitely increased. We are pushed outside of our comfort zone. We are thrust into new environments and situations. Things don’t go as planned. Unforeseen problems occur. So many factors are outside of our control.
Traveling—especially to new and foreign places—can build in all of us an increased ability to adjust to ever-changing circumstances. Traveling grows our adaptability, and adaptability enables us to remain calm in the face of difficulties, rebound from setbacks, keep an open mind, and see the bigger picture.
Adaptability is a highly beneficial life skill.
As parents traveling with children, we have the added opportunity of modeling adaptability for our kids and mentoring them in their own development of the trait.
We Worralls hit our first road bump as soon as we boarded our United flight at O’Hare. We had reserved four seats together when we purchased our tickets back in November. We confirmed those seats online the morning of our flight. So—silly us—in all of the craziness of navigating TSA lines, feeding hungry children, and getting to our gate, we neglected to triple-check our seat assignments on the boarding passes we were given.
It wasn’t until we boarded the plane that we realized we had been split apart. We had been given three middle seats in completely different rows, and one seat on the aisle. Economy class was full, and—understandably—no one on that trans-Atlantic flight was interested in trading their aisle seat for one of our middles.
Daryl started to melt down, thinking he was going to have sit by strangers for eight hours. Amelia was taking advantage of my distractedness—pulling papers out of pockets and chatting to the grumpy man to my left. I felt my blood pressure rise. We were among the last to board, so the flight attendants were coming along to close the overhead bins when Peter went to the front of the plane to sort it out.
By the grace of God and United, Peter returned with permission for us to take seats in Economy Plus. In fact, we didn’t just get new seats, we were able to utilize an entire empty row of seven. Amelia had a cozy two-seat bed. Daryl sprawled out across three. And we were able to give thanks together that a potential problem turned into an unexpected praise. For our kids, it was a lovely little introductory lesson on how to go-with-the-flow.
Our little lives seem so large and all-important when what looms before us are only our own circumstances, our own troubles, our own choices and dreams.
But traveling can open our eyes to our real place in God’s great big world. Traveling can put our lives and our problems into perspective.
We are in England, where the way of life is similar to ours in the States. (Eventually, we want to take our kids to places where the difference is even greater.) But even here in Plymouth, Daryl and Amelia have become well-aware that most of the stores close at 5 p.m. The houses and the gardens are quite compact. The weather can be rainy and cold for much of the summer. (I wore six layers yesterday.) Plus, Grandma has no clothes dryer, so on many days wet laundry has to hang from all the door frames.
Miniscule “discomforts”—if you can even call them that. But an opening of the eyes, nonetheless. An opportunity to foster a proper perspective. And perspective can and should breed gratitude.
Last summer we learned quite a bit about American history when we took our road trip out west. We visited Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park and ventured as far as Yellowstone. We spent time at several Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and listened to the Little House on the Prairie books in the car. You can begin to read about that trip here and continue with the several posts that follow.
During this month in England, though, we are able to explore history on a whole level.
We’ve been studying ancient Rome in our homeschool studies this year, so the Roman Baths in Bath were of particular relevance. The site is beautifully presented, and the oldest stone they have excavated is dated 76 A.D.
Not far from Peter’s childhood home, where we are staying with Grandma, is the Plympton Castle. It was built in the early 12th century for Richard de Redvers, a trusted supporter of King Henry I. On one of our first nights here, we walked up to the motte-and-bailey castle ruins and climbed the walls.
The Plymouth Barbican is home to the Mayflower Steps, from which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail in September of 1620. The Barbican blessedly survived The Blitz during World War II, when most of the Plymouth city centre was flattened.
The Royal Citadel, built in 1660, also survived and is still an operational military base. We toured the citadel one afternoon last week.
And so on. Every day is a history lesson—much more vibrant than a text.
Culture is a complicated thing and encompasses many elements. Language is one of the more obvious aspects, of course.
While we are currently traveling to a country whose basic language we share, the dialect changes significantly from county to county. And here in Plymouth, Peter often says they speak “pirate.” Even I find some people difficult to understand.
Peter’s own sweet aunt and uncle speak with a thick west country accent. When we went to visit them last week, we tried to prepare the kids. Listen carefully. Speak clearly. Ask questions politely if you don’t pick it up the first time.
One funny moment occurred when Amelia asked Aunty, “May I have a glass of water please?”
Aunty Iris just stared at her blankly for a moment and then confessed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand.” And we all had a good laugh at how the tables were turned, and it was good to remind the kids that we are the foreigners here.
Money is another important part of culture that the kids have encountered. We talked a bit about the exchange rate, and now Daryl is enjoying purchasing his own souvenirs with his thick and weighty English pounds. I, on the other hand, am still trying to keep straight the many other British coins that have opposite values from our own.
Food has been one of our favorite cultural explorations. Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, and fresh fish-n-chips have been the favorites, by far. Followed closely by the knickerbocker glory and many varieties of Cadbury chocolate treats.
But beneath these easily apparent aspects of culture lie the deeper and even more important elements—the values, beliefs, and norms that drive the people’s lives. Marcel Proust, a French novelist, wrote about travel that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” And that, I think, is what excites me most about giving our children this gift.
My parents found it difficult to travel, so our little family never ventured far from home. We took lovely and memorable family vacations to Naniboujou Lodge in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the coast of Lake Superior. But I didn’t take my first international trip until I was 21. Certainly, it still shaped me in significant ways. I caught the bug that year and took as many international journeys as I could cram into that decade of my life. But I’m thrilled that our kids can experience these things in this even more formative time of their childhood.
From the cliffs of the Cornwall coastline to the rolling hills and hedgerows…from the craggy beach by the sea to the rocky tors on the moor…from the wild ponies and stubborn sheep to the jellyfish decorating the sand, we have been daily bedazzled by the beauty and diversity of God’s great earth.
The pictures make this point far better than words, but even they don’t do it justice.