Tools for global travel

I was 21 years old the first time I travelled abroad. 

My final destination was a semester-long study program in Cheltenham, England. My plane from the West Coast landed in Boston along with a terrible snowstorm that cancelled my flight to New York City, where I was supposed to meet the college group I’d be travelling with to the UK. 

I had only so much time to get to JFK, and I’d never taken any public transportation. 

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with my two very large suitcases (neither of which I could carry) and the prospect of getting to the train station that led to the airport, three states away.

After a nice gentleman hailed and paid for my cab to the train station (even carrying my very heavy bags to the taxi), I arrived to the airport in time to meet my group. 

  • Riding the rails

My semester abroad opened my eyes to a world that was bigger than I ever could’ve imagined. I made a silent vow to my 21-year-old self that I would someday introduce my children to global travel. 

Though I enjoyed a series of international-service trips with my husband earlier in our marriage, my world-travel adventures came to a grinding halt when we had kids. 

Raising a family took precedence. 

As a hopeful young mom who never forgot her dream, I planned a special public-transportation day on a visit to the city when my kids were little. 

We took the BART (the San Francisco subway) in from the suburbs, rode the bus around town, took the trolley through the middle of town and ended the night with a taxi ride. 

We pointed out signs and sights along the way. 

  • Culture and art, too

When our kids were 9 and 11, the opportunity came for us to take a three-week trip to France, (where my husband’s employer was based). As we planned our trip, I contemplated my purpose for wanting to show my kids the world beyond the U.S. 

I realized, for me, it was as much about art as travel skills. I was excited to pass on my excitement for the paintings and sculptures in the museums we’d tour — and the architecture of old buildings and churches we’d encounter.

We checked out books on different French artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

The kids designed their own posters with the traditional Lautrec colors — gray, black, yellow and red — and hung them in our home. In Paris, it was fun for them to spot Lautrec posters and postcards sold at street stands throughout the city. 

  • Take only what you can carry

For our European trip, I had them pack and carry their own suitcases. This sounds like a small task. But after my experience, I saw how important it was for them to know how to pack prudently. 

They were champs, going up and down the long stairwells of the Metro, with my daughter’s beret-wearing American Girl doll sticking out of the front pocket of her suitcase. 

Before our trip, we made a poster with the Metro stops on butcher paper. It paid off: They quickly navigated from the train station to our our St. Germain apartment, and out and back again to the local boulangerie and beyond.  

  • When it’s their turn

If they get stuck in a city they’ve never been in, I hope they’ll have the courage to wave down a taxi, generously tip a skycap and find their way out of any subway or airport. Maybe they’ll even look curiously at an old building or step into a museum, thanks to their childhood travel experiences. 

After that, the art of getting lost and discovery will be up to them. 


 

Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, tweenage daughter and teen son. Write her at jwizbowski@mnparent.com.