Parent Daringly And Travel With Your Kids

Let’s raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise children. Because resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise children become resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise adults and the world needs more of those.

Parent Daringly and travel with your kids to raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids.

I am, primarily, a mother, and as such charged with bringing up two men of the future. Today I am going to tell you the story of an ordinary mother and her children, they could be any one of us.

Arriving in Santiago at the end of 800km and 33 days, Melanie, Ben and Harry Gow

Let me introduce you to our characters – here they are. Harry aged 12 and Ben aged 16…

This is us a the end of a walk we took.

For 33 days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km

Here’s the kicker, they asked me to do it.

That didn’t happen overnight, it began the day my parents piled me on top of the luggage in the back of the car and drove for 8 hours to Lake Turkana; a jade green desert lake with a volcano in the middle of it. Populated by Nile crocodiles and scorpions, and blasted by strong, hot winds, it sits in the badlands on the largest rift in the Earth’s crust; and there the cradle of humankind was laid out naked before me.

I didn’t know it was called travel or adventure; I just grew a wide-eyed eagerness for the horizon. I began traveling independently before the Internet, even before Yugoslavia broke down, while the Kibbutz was still a movement and, in fact, I have been traveling since England last experienced 45 days without rain in July and August.

When I had children I knew one thing and that was I wasn’t going to exchange the backpack for a pushchair. I was going to travel with them. Not through a selfish desire to continue what I loved, but a deliberate act of legacy. I’m from Kenya, East Africa and when I came here to the UK I learnt overnight that there are different normals. I know it is one world, that is a fact, whether we see it as one or not is a choice. From the top of any hill you can see the one earth we live on, and I wanted my sons to know this. More than that, I wanted them to learn values like tolerance, compassion, empathy, kindness and gratitude, as well as skills like resilience, persistence and more.

I know that travel has shaped my life, not just because I’m here today telling you about it,  but because it has shaped who I am at my core. I believed in doing it with my children to round them out, I hoped it would build passionate, free-thinking children, who would be resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise people.

When they turned to me and asked me to walk with them for 33 days over a little mountain and across a country for 800km, and they were aged only 16 and 12, I had my answer.

I’m not saying it was easy, it’s not meant to be; travel is that heady balance between euphoria for the new and the fear of the unknown. But, that’s dreams for you.

Ben Gow in arms off the tip of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, with Melanie Gow

My sons have sat in my arms off the southern tip of Africa, India and Australia; and they have seen the curve of the Earth in the horizon, and on to the universe beyond it.

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Very soon the experience of travel as a series of extraordinary novelties begins to transform into meaning.

We racked up 96 hours criss-crossing north to south down India. Sometimes outside the window an unimaginable vastness slid past, soundless but for the old-fashioned clickety clack of a train steadfast on its tracks; white noise for the thoughts of what lives were like lived in acres of red dirt, beaten by heat and wind.

We were between Jaipur and Mumbai, several hours into the heart of Madhya Pradesh, a state that is home to a large tribal population largely cut off from development. We passed patches of trees bent low and stripped naked, cowed by the conditions, interspersed by low piles of layered cowpats, alongside equally lowly homes.

The train banked with a lopsided tilt, and there was a young woman turning over cowpats spread out on the ground, to dry the underside for a natural fuel. I had time to notice the drape of her terracotta sari falling as she bent, the cracks in the heels of her feet, the hair framing her face beginning to turn a wiry grey.

She looked up as the train passed, and I thought our eyes met. She had a round, deep copper face, the face of a woman who labours ceaselessly on the land; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate and self-sufficient expression I have ever seen.

There was a child in her peripheral vision, of five, maybe less, picking up the already dried pats at the edge, and starting a new pile. The sound of my son’s voice brought me back into the carriage, “Father Christmas doesn’t comes here, does he mum?”

He was seven.

“No, I don’t suppose so.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why do you think?”

Far from losing his childhood innocence, his world went from the black and white of certainty to the brilliant technicolor of empathy.

Empathy, compassion, and an understanding that your start in life is an accident of birth.

On the savannahs of Africa they learnt that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.

In the outback of Australia they learnt a person only looks at their watch if they have to be somewhere else.

From the streets of Hong Kong, despite the dragons coming down from the mountains every morning to drink in the bay below the mountain, they learnt we are all more similar than we are different.

In America they learnt kindness, grandiose optimism, and that a sermon is better lived than preached.

Everywhere they have learnt to love this life, and learnt the power of gratitude to transform a day; they have learnt those values, and those really useful skills… and more; they know they have to be stronger than their excuses.

They have both learnt that you can hang up your shoes anytime, you don’t have to do any of this; you have to decide to get up every day, and get out there. Despondency can set in at times, and you can stew in the juices of your own complaints, but you have no choice but to wrestle the emotional flatline and find the energy to feel for the heartbeat of a day.

The climb up Ocebreiro Mountain, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

Anytime you are afraid you are just at the edge of your comfort zone, you just have to take a step out of it; and nothing great comes out of comfort zones. To save our lives we must risk them, and throw ourselves out into the unknown. It takes courage, but when you are no longer afraid courage is irrelevant and you need faith, faith in yourself.

This has nothing to do with confidence, confidence can be knocked, you need determination, determination allows for doubt and humility, but it is steadfast.

And when you have struggled up the path to the top of the mountain, on your hands and knees sometimes,  you will see from there that there are many ways to get to to the same place. But from up there you will witness the most beautiful dawn, and it will ask you what are you going to do with this one glorious day.

They have learnt that wherever you are, be all there.

Ben and Harry Gow looking out over the Grand Canyon, aged 10 and 7, by Melanie Gow

Whether you are seated at the greatest natural wonder in the world, on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Or on a cold bench a 5 o’clock in the morning, under a street lamp, eating hot cheese and ham toasties straight form the bakers tray in a city somewhere in Spain

Travelling is the practice of being the moment; it’s a kind of elevated purposelessness. 

For kids life exists in the present, or nowhere at all, and while traveling you almost accidentally discover you are able to focus your mind naturally where time meets eternity.

It is important to be present to it, in that awareness you can hear the earth whisper…

It that space you come to know that lasting peace is found inside

Ben Gow, aged 2, with goats on a rubbish heap in Kenya, by Melanie Gow

We have seen the goats feed off the smoking piles of rubbish in the slums of Africa.

But we have also played in the sand in the silence on the banks of an oasis, high in the Thar Desert in Rajhistan, India; and we know that small space inside where we go to hide, is actually where life happens.

Ben and Harry Gow at an oasis, India, aged 7 and 4, by Melanie Gow Pushkar Oasis, India, Wanderlust

That deep inside us is the unique spark of who we are, with an inherent capacity for coming into being. We are alive at the deepest centre of ourselves in a way that is unknowable until we are sitting in it with wonder.

There we see that things are the way we see them.

We have found themselves miserable trying to find shade in the shadow of hay bales on the side of a dirt track in 52 degrees.

Ben and Harry Gow running on the shore of Lake Michigan, aged 10 and 7, by Melanie Gow

But we have also run free with the seagulls on the shore of Lake Michigan and we know that it is not where you are, or what you are doing, or what you have that makes you happy or unhappy, it’s how you feel about it.

We know they don’t have any control over what happens, what we can learn to have is control over how we respond.

Most of all, we know that a closed door lets nothing in.

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What we all want is to make the world a really big place and yet be familiar with it.

To live fully, live lovingly in this world, on this pathless adventure called life with affinity, we must explore unknown territory,

To find any sense of perfection we must learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.  Most of all, we must learn to master our own inner landscape.

We all want this world to be huge, but for us to be familiar with it, Ben on the Camino, by Melanie Gow

We, as adults, know that the simple challenge of living in a world in turmoil can dull that clear-eyed eagerness for the beauty. The pain of disease, divorce, death, the simple brutality of idle criticism or petty gossip, can teach us to be afraid to fight for our dreams. So we draw back, and tell ourselves we are now wise and rational to want so little from life; and we shrink to fit the box we make for ourselves.

From inside our box we hear the sounds of dreams shattering, we can feel the disappointment, and smell the frustration, and hear the broken bones. Many times we watch others endure bruising defeat, and we reassure ourselves that to is they who just need to grow up; and we ignore the dull ache in our hearts.

But, from inside that box we can’t see the fire in the eyes, or feel the knot in the stomach, or know the delight, the sheer delight in the hearts of those who are fully-engaged in The Grand Quest.

So I see it this way, and I have travelled with my sons across four continents, by planes, trains, and automobiles, before eventually walking with them aged 16 and 12 years old, for 800km across over a small mountain and across a country for 33 days.

Arriving in Santiago at the end of 800km and 33 days, Melanie, Ben and Harry Gow

Here we are 800km and 33 days from where we started, far away from when we left our front door

Travel is not about rest and recuperation it is a challenge to your life back home, and it doesn’t so much change you as unwrap you.

Although you may loose a little sleep, you’ll bank a thousand memories; and travel is actually a space in which you can let children fail, make decisions, think, be, gaze at the cosmos and understand our place in the universe.

Deep inside it changes their idea of living, and what life is about.

If we want to grow the leaders and dreamers of the future we have to give them resources, to build resources we have to give them experiences, to give them experience we have to take them by the hand into the world beyond our normal.

Travel equips them to be successful by a radically wider definition than we usually measure achievement by. It’s about growing as a human being, a craftsman, and a thinker. It’s about basing feelings of success on your own efforts and who you are at your core.

It has been the best thing I could do for my children, and it is the best thing I could do with them.

But however we do it, let’s raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids.

Because resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids become resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise adults and the world needs more of those.

One day you too may find yourself walking with your 12 and 16 year old, for 33 exceptional days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km, and it’ll be their idea – if you play it right.

If you would like me to come and talk to your institute, conference, school, or community please contact me here and we can arrange it.

I would love to know what you think?