As a parent, I think one of the best things we can do for our kids is try and help them learn from our mistakes.
Now, I know there are many parents out there making various snorting noises and chuckling but please believe me when I say that I’m not talking about lecturing our kids until they get the message (an approach almost guaranteed to ensure they repeat the exact same mistakes I might add!)
I’m talking about providing them the environment and the experiences that inherently grow their sense of self and love of life to set them up on a good path.
I was born and raised in a typical, middle class, suburban Australian family. I grew up in one of the most sleepy, orderly, clean capital cities in the world. We had our annual family holiday at our little beach hut a couple of hours away. My life was focussed on studying, getting a good corporate job, and creating a cosy existence in suburbia. I love my parents and they provided me with warmth, security and comfort every day, but I grew up with an inherent fear of change and difference.
When I was seventeen, bored and looking for adventure, I saw an ad in a magazine and took a punt – I convinced my father to let me sign up for an exchange student programme in the USA. My favourite TV show of all time, Beverly Hills 90210 had shown me what this city would be like and I was ready for all the hot guys in convertibles and beautiful girls in designer clothes.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. Within hours, I was transported from the safety and security of my calm, clean world into the crazy, dirty, and somewhat scary streets of LA.
I can remember to this day, walking down Hollywood Boulevard, seeing the homeless man lying on the seat; the working girl standing on the corner waving down cars; walking over the star of my favourite actress of all time Marilyn Monroe, covered in dirt, chewing gum and spit balls. This was nothing like I had seen on that damn TV show!
And yet, the experience invigorated my soul like I had never expected. Every day, every sense was heightened as I spent much of the time warily looking around assuming I was about to be mugged. I made new friends at school, toured Southern California and spent time getting to know my warm and welcoming host family.
I returned to Australia completely re-energised. Gone was the wallflower, good Catholic school girl.
World traveller Emma was here!
What I didn’t realise at the time was that world travellers require one essential thing – money.
Focussed on my goal I shunned university and went to work for one of the big international airlines, convinced that this would give me access to travel. What it actually give me was a low paid job that required me to get up at 4am everyday and argue with the general public – most of whom are not happy travellers I might add.
The inspiration of that one little US trip was fading fast.
Before I knew it, I was 23 married to a man who had no interest in travel, living the quiet, suburban life I knew – back in my comfort zone. And here I stayed, unhappily married, living like a caged animal, for another ten, depressing years. The only bright light on the horizon was the birth of my beautiful daughter.
Perhaps it was having her, and seeing the endless possibilities and potential of this new life, that awakened me from my apathetic slumber? I don’t really know. All I remember is lying with her in the hospital bed, stroking her soft hair and promising her that she would know the value of living her dreams. I began to extract myself from this destructive, soul sapping marriage and started to re-build my life with my little girl.
I felt like I needed to reconnect with myself and try and find that spark that existed in me back when I was fresh out of school.
“What better way to do that”, I thought, “than to go on a trip”.
And so with many nerves but much excitement, I packed my backpack and retreated to the hills of Bali to spend some time reflecting on my choices and trying to summon the courage to rebuild my life.
Bali is a feast for the senses – pure soul food.
The hills are a world away from the busy, dirty, touristy areas of Kuta and the mountains past Ubud were like nothing I had ever seen. As my car from the airport drove further into the mountains, the scenery became more stunning with each kilometre. At my retreat, I was greeted by a beautiful Balinese lady and her young daughter who walked me through the gardens to my hut overlooking the gorge nearby. They settled me in with my citronella candle and my flask full of fresh lemongrass tea so I could sit in peace.
I was scared at first. Apart from the woman and her daughter, it looked like I was the only person around and who knew what was lurking in that jungle.
I spent the first couple of days just sleeping, lazing in my mossy, outdoor bath tub and lying on the deck of my bamboo hut, drinking in all colours of the jungle. Each morning I would venture as far as the main building to join my yoga teacher in the gardens for daily yoga and meditation. She talked to me about the importance of looking after yourself and that the positive energy you put out comes back to you ten-fold. Once you are happy with yourself, everything good will follow.
Eventually, I summoned up all the positive energy I could muster and I was pleasantly surprised. Not everyone I met seemed to want to mug me for being a rich Westerner. In fact, the Balinese are some of the most warm, welcoming and kind people on the planet. They welcomed me into their villages and homes and were willing to share whatever they had, which in many cases wasn’t much at all.
I realised that travelling is like Life Lessons 101. It teaches you how to cope in situations outside your comfort zone; how to communicate with all types of people and how to rely on yourself. None of these lessons can be taught by watching a TV show or reading a magazine!
I was suddenly filled with a sense of energy and urgency. I wanted to help my daughter learn these lessons much sooner than I did so she could benefit from a life of adventure.
Fast forward a few years and here we are – We have explored the South Pacific, some of Europe, the US and Canada and now, we live in the Middle East. She has skied the slopes of Whistler, strolled the wonders of Petra, zipped up and down sand dunes in the deserts bordering Saudi Arabia and loved every second of it. I sit writing this in my lounge room in Dubai – she is at her international school down the road. She learns Arabic, and French and they go on school excursions to places like India and Vietnam.
Wherever she goes, she wants to learn about the people, try and talk the local language and she loves exploring all the different places, especially the restaurants!
I have since married a kindred spirit who loves to travel as much as I do. We have a little boy and now we spend as much time as we can travelling as a little family together, exploring the world.
I feel somewhat content that I am doing everything I can to make a difference to her life.
I feel a sense of comfort that she is learning some of life’s most valuable lessons without her mother having to lecture her even once – well, about life anyway. Still plenty of lectures about picking up clothes, putting away school bags and not teasing her little brother of course!
And to all the mums out there I say, don’t let the thought of the long-haul flight or the prospect of hours spent jet-lagged trying to sync kids nap times deter you. We owe it to ourselves to give our kids every chance to learn these life lessons early and if that means a little discomfort on the way for us, then so be it!
Get out there and embrace the chaos – love life, love travel!