October 2, 2012

Things I Learned About Geography From My Kids

Geography is the study of people, places, cultures, history, geology, economics and more. To a certain extent, it’s also about travel. Since I’ve had kids, I look at both geography and travel differently. Here are five things I’ve learned about our world since I’ve become a parent:

It’s not the place—it’s the people.

Kids see the world differently than we do. To them, there’s really no difference between a 4-star and a 5-star hotel; a 2-hour plane ride can feel like 10 hours and vice versa; and, yeah, a zipline ride is pretty cool, but so is a hike or throwing rocks in a lake.

What my kids seem to really remember is who they were with on a trip and who they met. It’s the people that matters, not where they were or what they did. I forget that. I get caught up in what the place is like and overlook that the people make the place what it is. Now, I make a point to focus on the people. Who are they? What do they eat? How do they speak? What do they do on a Saturday afternoon?

Bismarck is the capitol of North Dakota.

I never really thought about what the capitol of North Dakota was or Delaware or Rhode Island until my youngest asked me to quiz her on her state capitols. Like most people, even as a student, I never thought it mattered much. If I needed to know, I’d look it up on the Internet or, before that, a map.

But as I quizzed her, I realized that knowing the states, their capitols, the continents and the countries puts our world in perspective. When you hear about the building tension between China and Japan, it helps to know where they are located. How does Taiwan figure into the picture? What about South Korea?

Travel is not a race.

As a travel writer, I’m often forced to race from one place to the next, hitting the highlights but never truly experiencing a place. I will visit Santa Fe, kamikaze-style, and within a 24-hour period dine in at least three restaurants, visit Loreto Chapel, pop in half a dozen art shops, and so on.

The few times that I’ve actually traveled with my family on a planned itinerary, the kids have become exhausted. They clearly do not enjoy the trip, and I have to admit I feel like I’m missing something. When I slow down and plan less, I learn more about the culture and gain a real sense of place.

You have to try it once.

We’ve told our kids this since the beginning. You think asparagus looks gross? Fine. But, you have to try it once. You don’t want to fly fish? Fine. But, you have to try it at least once. We’ve even emphasized that it’s important to try things again a few years later because you never know when your taste buds or interests might change.

Recently, I was faced with a 100-year-old egg. It sounded gross, it looked gross, and I turned my nose up at it. Then, I remembered what I told my kids—you have to try it at least once. So, I did.

And, okay, I really didn’t like it, but that’s not the point. At least, now I know I really don’t like it.

I had another experience at the beginning of the year that changed the way I handle these situations. Growing up, I tried skiing twice and fell both times. When I had the opportunity more than 25 years later to give it another try, I almost declined. I’m glad I didn’t, though. I actually really liked it. Just proves my point: you have to try things at least once and sometimes again and again and even again.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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