WIRE TELEGRAM: The blue and pink Arabian princess dresses purchased in a souk in Marrakech are just one small example of the impact Morocco had on Liliana and Alia Hosseini, but for these children, the gowns are a vivid, tangible and lasting connection to a vacation that won’t soon be forgotten.
The two young Georgia residents, 4 and 5 years old, spent seven days traveling around the North African country this summer, a journey that included tagine for dinner, attempts to speak Arabic, camel rides and even a night spent camping in the Sahara, staring up at the endless canopy of stars.
For their mother, Sarah Hosseini, the trip was part of effort to expose her children to different cultures and ways of life.
“I really want them to understand the world in a broader sense, and understand humanity,” says Hosseini. “I think it’s very important to build the next generation of empathetic, worldly human beings.”
Often parents are afraid to travel with young children. Many worry about whether kids will be able to handle the unknown foods, long plane journey or countless other variables accompanying world travel.
What’s more, there are few organized resources specifically for families or parents interested in planning travel that includes children or is specifically geared toward children.
In April, Rainer Jenss, a heavyweight in the world of children’s travel, founded Family Travel Association, a website aimed at helping parents with all of these issues and more.
As the former publisher of the magazine National Geographic Kids, Jenss certainly has the credibility to establish such a site. But that’s not his only claim to being an authority on the topic. Jenss and his wife also took the brave step of spending one year traveling around the world with their two young sons.
He is passionate about the idea that travel can be life changing for children.
“The one thing parents tend to do is underestimate what their kids will like,” Jenss says. “That goes for food, for places to visit…It’s often the parents who are hung up on ‘well, kids want routine. When kids are taken out of their comfort zone it feeds this curiosity that kids have. And it’s important to do that while they’re young, because eventually that curiosity fades a bit.”
Not only does it feed their curiosity, but Jenss points out that traveling quite literally helps increase a child’s intellectual capacity.
The good news is that families are hitting the road in record numbers, but not enough are taking advantage of all the opportunities travel has to offer, Jenss says, noting that there are many wonderful experiences for kids out there that the public knows little about.
The Family Travel Association is a coalition of the travel industry’s leading suppliers, resources and experts on the subject of traveling with children. It’s not a site that books vacations for families, but is rather one developed to inspire families to travel, an effort that includes promoting child-friendly experiences families can share and simplifying the process of trip planning.
The site includes for instance, an interactive map linked to articles describing family friendly travel experiences in a particular destination. Click on a geographic location and articles with headlines such as “A Perfect Day in Sydney: Travel like a Local” pop up or “10 of the Best Active Family Sports Holidays.”
Customized searches can also be conducted on the site, by indicating how old your children are, what length trip you’re interested in and what sorts of experiences you’re seeking – cultural attractions, nature, adventure and more.
There’s also an advice section with information about topics that frequently worry parents such as air travel and health and safety.
“Ultimately what we want to do is unify the industry, to help traveling families, making it easier for them,” says Jenss. “We want to make sure parents understand there is so much more they can do with kids, then they are aware of. Travel with kids should be just as transformational as it is recreational.”
Yet another way to expose your child to all that travel has to offer is through Virtuoso’s Journey to Global Citizenship program.
Designed for families that view travel as more of a necessity than a luxury, or perhaps as a tool to supplement classroom learning, the program offered by the luxury and experiential travel network provides families with a travel advisor who helps map out a multi-year travel plan.
The opposite of scheduling a one-off trip, Journey to Global Citizenship is about building a personalized travel strategy for three, five or ten or more years.
Virtuoso’s David Kolner describes the program as not all that unlike meeting with a financial advisor to establish a family’s long range economic goals.
“The program looks at travel planning in a whole different light,” Kolner explains. “Think about a financial advisor who you sit down with to talk about retirement goals and you create a plan over an extended period of time. We really believe people’s most valuable, perishable asset is their free time. The idea here is – how do you maximize your most precious asset, your free time? So it involves mapping out a family’s anniversaries, milestone birthdays, graduations, all those things you want to incorporate into a multi-year travel plan.”
When applying that perspective to the opportunity to travel with your children, Kolner points out that “15 summers are really all you have.”
“The idea is to put together a really cohesive plan,” he continues.
But that’s not all. Establishing a family travel plan geared toward children through Virtuous also involves mapping travel to match activities and interests in your child’s life and perhaps to align with the subjects children are studying in school. In other words, bring classroom lessons in history and geography to life by planning travel experiences to some of the destinations they’re studying.
“The idea behind global citizenship is that by time the child graduates high school you’ve created a mix of experiences,” Kolner says. “You’ve given your child an education in and of itself. They’ve seen different cultures, spoken different languages, experienced different foods. It isn’t about getting on a private jet. It’s about experiences.”