More families are trying to give their kids the world — or at least show it to them (Photo: Getty Images)
What’s the return on your family vacation? Is a glowing highlight reel on Instagram, a tan for the parents, and a couple of days at a kids’ club enough? Many families that can afford it are saying no. They want a higher return on their travel investment and for their kids to acquire “global citizenship” by the time they leave for college.
“We call it a return on life,” says Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, a network of 9,000 advisers selling billions of dollars worth of travel to clients each year. Due to the nature of his jet-setting executive role, he spends much of the year traveling with his wife and two young boys, homeschooling them on the road. “What’s the point in having children and never seeing them?” he says. “When you look back on your childhood, what do you remember? You remember the trips.”
Jet-setting parents often take their kids along. (Photo: Getty Images)
Travel as an irreplaceable educational tool continues to grow rapidly. Virtuoso is even in the process of trademarking the phrase “Journey to Global Citizenship.” Upchurch explains: “We already know the power of family vacations to bond us. But we have clients sitting down and mapping out the next 5, 10, or 15 years of travel. So they’re planning it in a more conscious way for their children, as they would for financial planning.”
It Matters Even When They’re Young
“Don’t travel with young kids. Wait until they’re older. They won’t remember it anyway,” some parents say. Think again. Their adult selves might not remember the trip, but their developing brains and personalities feel the effects. “There is a lot of formal research that shows so much is being absorbed at a young age,” Upchurch says. “One perfect example that I see in my own kids — their palates. Now they are 5 and 9, and they’re telling us where they want to go.”
Kids are never too young to start getting a global education (Photo: Getty Images)
For Malaka Hilton, owner of Florida-based Admiral Travel, travel has unequivocally shaped the worldview of her two children, 13 and 11. Hilton has taken her kids to destinations such as Zimbabwe, Egypt (where they had family connections), Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Russia. “They are more aware of the world and more accepting of race, religion, and culture,” she says. “They also recognize that they are extremely fortunate to have the lives they have here.”
Malaka Hilton’s children, Carter and Alexandria Hilton, in Egypt, 2005 (Photo: Malaka Hilton)
Traveling Feels Like a Right for the Parents
Upchurch of Virtuoso points out that travel wasn’t always as popular or accessible as it is today. “Prior to WWII, travel was very elitist and considered almost a frivolity,” he says. “But during the war, you had all the GIs going over, seeing how beautiful Europe was, and wanting to bring their families when the war was over. Of course, who did they take? The baby boomers, who then grew up and started to travel on their own in the 1970s. They finished college and went backpacking and passed that along to their kids.” And now those kids of the ’70s and ’80s are traveling with their own young children in hopes of raising them to be enterprising, ambitious adults. Today’s traveling parents have tools to assist them like never before, like international camps and study abroad programs.
Hilton’s children still enjoy traveling. Here they are in Hungary earlier this year (Photo: Malaka Hilton)
Global Citizenship Breeds Creativity and Jobs
There’s no single definition for global citizen. But families want their children to thrive in unfamiliar surroundings, and a great way to do that is showing them the world. “The world is moving so fast today that by the time our kids graduate, everything will have changed,” Upchurch says. “You’d better teach them how to be creative thinkers, how to collaborate with other human beings, and how to fuel their passion.” And Upchurch believes there are few greater travel educational tools than a trip to China. “If a parent can afford it, it is almost irresponsible to not take them to China at least once,” he says. “The chances that your children are going to be sitting across the table from a Chinese banker, professor, doctor, or scientist are high.”
The ‘Taking a Year Off’ Myth
A trip abroad can be an educational bonding experience for you and your child (Photo: Getty Images)
Another oft-heard phrase: “I wish I could just take a year off, travel with my kids, and have them go to school in another country.” Some families are lucky enough to be able to do this. For the rest, that magical year of freedom isn’t realistic. Many families still take shorter trips, whether it’s two weeks or a weekend, but are asking their advisers to add educational components, like a great kid’s guide, to the itinerary. “Kids can get bored easily in a museum, but a guide can be a great teacher, and it is critical that they’re hands-on and not simply reciting facts,” Hilton says.
For many of these high-earning parents determined to raise global citizens, travel is as important an educational investment as their kids’ college funds — maybe even more so, considering how travel, and its ability to make the world seem both bigger and smaller, can enrich their children’s lives. “Travel is the greatest education tool,” Upchurch says. There might also be a benefit to the parents as well: the chance to pass their love of travel to another generation.