What Growing Up in a Traveling Family Taught Me

Giraffe Manor Nairobi Kenya 1989 3

From the time I first got onto a plane at six months (and subsequently made everyone on the flight miserable enough that my mom still tells the story to this day), to my childhood spent living overseas with my traveling family, to an adulthood filled with vacations both domestic and international – I grew up traveling. Growing up in a traveling family brings with it a lot of blessings, adventures and complications that non-traveling families might not run into. And many of those blessings, adventures and complications helped form who I became as an adult.

Tired in Switzerland
My mom officially done with traveling in Switzerland.


Above all, traveling taught me patience – a lesson not always easy to learn as a kid. Errands around town can end pretty quickly if your kid gets bored and makes it known, but when you’re waiting for hours for a red-eye flight that’s running late and your dad gives you The Look whenever you say you’re bored, you don’t have a lot of options other than to just wait. I got really good at waiting as a kid. It’s a skill that has paid off as an adult many times. Waiting at the bank? It’s cool. Long lines at the grocery store? I can stare at the magazine rack for as long as it takes. Waiting for Space Mountain? Worth it and no problem. But traveling as a kid didn’t teach me what to do about other people who aren’t competent at waiting and ask if we can get out of line since it’s taking too long. The answer is no. We are going on Space Mountain. Even if it takes three hours.

That Grownups Get Tired Too

I have a picture of my mom sleeping on a bench, sprawled out and dead to the world, in an airport in Switzerland. My brother and I played nearby and thought nothing of it. We let her nap. Traveling taught me that not only I got tired as we hopped across time zones, but so did my parents. So did my brother. My feelings and comfort were not the only ones that mattered. If there’s any lesson that matters in this world, it’s that your feelings aren’t the only ones that matter.

How to Be Quiet

Now, to be fair, I have always tended toward being quiet so it’s possible it’s just my nature and not traveling, but I feel a fair argument could be made that traveling while young improved my awareness of my surroundings, which in turn taught me when to sit quietly rather than running in circles with my younger brother at the airport (though, that happened too). And maybe I learned to be quiet from sheer jetlag, but the fact remains – I came out of my travels with the ability sit still and be quiet from a young age.

Giraffe Manor Nairobi Kenya 1989 3
Traveling to places like Kenya as a kid also taught me that I love animals. All kinds of animals. Adulthood taught me I was allergic to most of them.

How to Entertain Myself for a Loooooong Time

The more often kids hit the road, the more often they will find themselves in some pretty boring situations. Sure, travel is adventure, travel is exciting. Travel is also a whole lot of layovers and late flights and long stretches of time with seatbelts on whether that’s in a car or a plane. Travel taught me the value of a well-packed carry on and how to think ahead. I didn’t bring just one toy. I brought a book or two, a Koosh ball, my Electron Echo mini piano (oops, did I just date myself? That’s cool. Enjoy the nostalgia) and maybe a handheld game or two in the era before Nintendo 3DS. To this day, I might only bring a few shirts on a trip (because laundry), but I always make sure I have books or that my Kindle app is well stocked.

Faith in My Parents

It’s not uncommon that kids start to deliver a heaping serving of sass to their parents pretty early in life, but I rarely did. Why? It might have had something to do with the fact that my parents moved us to places like Kenya and Japan. I needed them. How was I going to get back to the land of Doritos and Lucky Charms if they turned on me? More than that, they usually had my plane tickets on their persons. Traveling taught me that my parents always knew what was going on. Even if they didn’t, I thought they did…and because of that, I was well into my 20s before I figured out they didn’t always know everything I thought they did. But as an adult, I have concluded that it’s best if kids think the parents are geniuses and I totally plan to attempt to teach my daughter that I am a genius as well.

Kids in Nairobi Kenya
My brother and me about to row a rowboat in Nairobi. Nothing says bonding like rowing a boat together.

A Bond with my Brother

I grew up with my younger brother traveling everywhere I did. Maybe if we had a childhood all in one town, we wouldn’t have bonded quite like we did. We would have had separate friends that we would have been off with, but instead, we were often all each other had. We weren’t stuck in airports with our friends. We weren’t in hotel rooms with our friends. We weren’t in other unknown countries with our friends. We were often all we had, whether for a few hours at an airport or for a few months before school started and we met other kids. Traveling forces family time and family friendship in the best of ways. And it also makes you appreciate what you have in that if you want to play with kids, often you have to play with your own siblings.

That Not Everyone is Suburban and Playing Nintendo

Depending on how far afoot you wander, you may or may not see this at work, but some of my most vivid memories of travel were seeing a world so different from my own. Getting off at a bus stop in Kenya and having kids my own age rush up to me because they knew I would give them money or candy gave me perspective of exactly how much I had, that not everyone had nearly as much, that my 10 cents meant something to them when it didn’t mean nearly as much to me. Other times I saw young children with distended stomachs from malnutrition or lepers begging on the street, and on the other end of the spectrum, I also saw wealthy kids and families who could afford way more than we could. Traveling offers perspective to all ages, but it can be especially powerful for young minds just learning about the world to see a greater swath of it from the start, whether that’s Kenya or someplace closer to home.

That perspective has stayed with me as an adult. What’s more? It has made me want to continue traveling because there’s still so much more to see.