- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

One of the typical characteristics of home-schoolers is they do far more traveling than other children. I have noticed that nearly every home-schooling family takes advantage of opportunities for their children to travel, whether it’s to another city, another state or even another country.

Even families with low incomes often do a lot of traveling. One reason is that many home-schooling families cooperate, even over distance. For instance, we have a group coming up from Virginia this week and one from Ohio leaving to go home, and we have had families from California, Washington, North Carolina and Florida come and work with us over the past year alone.

One family I know sent their son and daughter to stay with relatives in Austria for a two-month period. The youngsters were about 16 and 14 at the time and had a grand time climbing mountains, eating traditional Austrian foods and absorbing the language. They were able to travel at the cheap times of year and see more sights without the usual floods of tourists. Most of all, they were able to get to know all their distant relatives and to hear stories about and see their parents’ birthplace.

Travel broadens the mind and deepens the heart. Young people, who are at their most mentally flexible stage of life, can pick up more knowledge in a two-week trip to a new area than by reading about and studying it for a year.

My own children have traveled to dozens of states and several countries. They have confronted new ways of eating, sleeping, bathing and dealing with other bodily functions. They have learned how to price and buy things, convert currency and find their way around a city using the maps and transit system of that area.

If you are considering a travel experience for your child, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

• Communication. In many countries, you can rent a cell phone for international and local calling. I strongly recommend this unless it’s extremely expensive. Otherwise, invest in phone cards. You’ll want your children to be able to contact you and you to contact them.

• Local families. Home stays are far more economical than any paid lodging. You may want to have several backups, however, in case something unexpected happens.

• Health insurance. Some insurance plans exist for travel or overseas emergencies.

• Internet. Most countries have Internet cafes where e-mail can be sent and received, documents transferred, etc. It’s worth it to have an e-mail account that can be accessed easily and has plenty of space to store bulky files.

• Journaling. It’s a great habit for the student to write down the experiences of the day and to remember the people and places he or she visited. Also, this will be a good record of the learning accomplished on the trip.

• Pictures. They’re worth a thousand words and are lifelong reminders of the experience. Invest in a good digital camera with good batteries and make sure the student knows how to delete and upload photos.

• Electricity. I have traveled to several continents, and it seems that each has a completely different electrical system. Check with local people ahead of time and ask them to send you a photo of their electric sockets. Just knowing that the sockets are 220 volts won’t help if the plugs are round and you purchased rectangular adapters. Also, check that your U.S. appliances won’t be fried by the other current.

• Medicines. Send the basics: painkillers, vitamins, cold remedies and tummy medicines, along with directions for use.

• Shoes. They should have at least two pairs of comfortable shoes, one that can double for fairly nice occasions. Watch out for sandals and thongs, because after a full day of walking, straps can rub and cut into the skin.

• Check the local dress code. In many countries, clothes that are common here are seen as provocative. Part of the education is to prepare your children to be sensitive and respectful to others’ cultures, including wearing appropriate clothing.

• Money. You may want to send some cash with the student and send more by electronic transfer to be picked up in a safe manner while there. Traveler’s checks aren’t always the answer. In some countries, it may take days to negotiate the cashing of a traveler’s check. Find out if there are automated teller machines that will work with your U.S. bank account and consider opening an account to withdraw cash on their side.

With rare exceptions, you don’t have to plan some huge tour for your students. Just living and working in another country’s normal circumstances will teach them a lot. Bon voyage.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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