by Brandon Blache-Cohen
20 years ago I had the incredible opportunity to circle the globe as a university student. It was two years after the September 11th attacks and a few weeks after SARS was contained; the US had recently invaded Iraq; the internet wasn’t widely available in most places; the iPhone was years away from existing; and China’s economy was just beginning to heat up. I witnessed a world jam-packed full of explosive creation, hopeful changes, and endless difference. It was chaotic and far more exciting to me than a future ruled by robots, money, and being on time. I returned to the US in December 2003 with plenty of culture shock, a few trinkets, lifelong friends, an urge to do good, and a considerable fear that the world was homogenizing; that in 20 year’s time the diversity that awed me about the planet would end — that every city would look like Dallas, every person would talk like a Valley Girl, and all food would be a variant of a Nebraska Applebees.
This summer my family did something foolish. We took our 7 and 9 year olds — both clocking in at a teeny 4’1, 59lbs — on a journey around the world. 26,000 miles, 10 countries, 16 flights (5 red-eyes), 4 continents, too many time zones, driving on the left, on the right, streets of total chaos, strict borders, no borders, places too hot for people, places new bellies don’t do very well in, and places with way, way too many humans. It was fun, intense, inspiring, beautiful, bonding, and a really unusual, privileged, and dizzying way to see the world; more than anything, it was rapid — a global bender of sorts — in which the call to prayer in Istanbul kept us wide-eyed and excited on a Friday, turbulence over relentless storms in India kept us up on Saturday, and by Sunday, bed bugs made sleeping impossible in Kuala Lumpur. We were both idiot parents and champion travelers.
In 67 days, we did very big things and observed some widespread phenomena. We were remote workers, we were tourists, we visited friends, we did nothing, had private tours of two parliament buildings in two separate countries, went to the Women’s World Cup, saw the tallest buildings and hippest cafes, trekked in national parks, went to concerts, ate all sorts of new foods, and so much more. We saw our kids confused and excited, tired, and flourishing. We saw a lot and were inspired by a lot; here are a few of our unavoidable takeaways from circling the world with children in the year 2023.
First, the bad news.
The world is too hot. From Greece to Canada, Australia to Ireland — wherever we went — we were trapped in some sort of hellish record; for forest fires, for air temperatures, for sea temperatures. The irony is not lost on us that we were contributing to the climate crisis, as we were observing it. It’s all such a mess.
Workers are confused and scared. It can’t be a coincidence that we had three Uber drivers in three countries who were out-of-work engineers, or that robots replaced immigration agents at most borders, or that everyone, everywhere is complaining about wages not keeping pace with the cost of eggs. These trends are real and disorienting.
There are not enough houses on our planet. You think your rent is too high? Try going anywhere else. Dublin, Auckland, Jersey City, San Juan, you name it. The shortages are everywhere, for every reason, with little relief in sight.
And now for the obvious, but noteworthy.
The world revolves around selfies. From the Monkey Forest in Ubud to the mountains on the South Island of New Zealand, the selfie has changed the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Selfies did not exist 20 years ago, and now they create a lot of new millionaires. They are also a not-too-infrequent cause of death for people. Entire landscapes have been forced to change, be rebuilt, and often closed because humans and selfies haven’t quite figured out an equilibrium yet. This is a silly global phenomenon, but its power is evolving faster than our cultures can make sense of.
Humans just want good vibes. There’s a reason why Bob Marley shirts were universal around the world 20 years ago, and remain so today; we all want a chill, peaceful, “irie” life. Travel reminds you that the vast majority of us are really good beings, with wonderful intentions, and that’s why, generally, things work fine. After all, we haven’t destroyed ourselves yet.
Kids are incredible and are far better candidates for creating global unity than adults.
Children experience the world in very different ways than grown-ups. My traveling kids don’t have demons, don’t know or care about history yet, aren’t afraid of robots taking jobs, and only want to spread and share in goodness. When my kids were in Northern Ireland, they couldn’t tell you the difference between a Protestant and Catholic; In Indonesia, they were radically accepting and adaptable to a very different lived reality; and in every new time zone — no matter how little sleep they got — they would wake up as if each day would be awesome. Kids are incredible and are far better candidates for creating global unity than adults. You should definitely consider going on a community-based global learning trip with your children (and you can with Amizade).
And here’s the really good news.
The homogenous world I worried about 20 years ago never came to be. Malaysians make their own cars and Kiwis don’t have any security checks on domestic flights. 12 year olds drive motorcycles in Turkey and helmet laws are strictly enforced in Indonesia. It’s hard to find someone with a Scottish accent in the center of Edinburgh and that’s all you’ll hear a mile away.
Americans love their guns, Czechs love their beer, and Brazilians love their beaches, except for the millions of them who don’t. The best ice cream in the world is probably in Argentina (sorry Vermont). When asked what the national dish of Australia is, you might hear people say Banh Mi. The best burger I ever had was in South Africa, the best hugs in Massachusetts or Jamaica or maybe the right answer is wherever my mom is, and the best mango was definitely in Brooklyn (sorry Trinidad, though you probably grew that very fruit). My favorite karaoke is in Pittsburgh, but baseball is simply more fun to watch in Japan.
20 years ago John Lennon shirts were in every corner of the world. He’s out and Frida is in. 20 years ago you’d get serious jail time for getting caught with cannabis in the United States. And now it is the defining welcome smell to most American cities. 20 years ago print newspapers and phone booths and travelers checks kept our economy in motion; today, my kids think they are outrageous cosplay jokes. But in Donegal they still love their daily newspapers, in Sydney people still use phone booths (and they’re free), and while I don’t think anyone still uses travelers checks, banking and security and privacy are managed very, very differently around the world.
We take the same things — transport and coffee and politics and feelings and language and technology and garb and the rest of the lot — and play with them differently, sometimes just a street away. We improve them, we ruin them, and we make them our own. Maybe it’s a bit comforting or scary to believe that America or Disney rules the world; they are powerful institutions, but traveling has reminded me that they do not control the global spirit. Not Instagram or Tesla and not politicians or religious leaders. These things can augment our lives or crush them, but after another trip around the world, I’m confident that as long as we continue to share our approaches, we’ll always find ways to make both enjoyable and disgusting ice cream; that small countries like Jamaica and Nepal will continue to export some of the best cultural gifts to the world; and that as long as we continue to convene with folks different than us, we’ll create better music, art, architecture, and ideas than the most powerful AI. That’s what makes the world so exciting, so perfect.
As long as we continue to convene with folks different than us, we’ll create better music, art, architecture, and ideas than the most powerful AI.
The Earth is too hot and we should burn less jet fuel, but we’re even more doomed if we’re not interacting with each other. Our kids need to learn that their mom’s cooking is not the best. Your uncle needs to know that there’s a dude just like them in a far away place. Your teacher needs to know what silent reflection feels like in a concentration camp. Your local leaders need to know that another community is doing it better. Teenagers — and this is painful for me to write — need to be out of their houses, experimenting, making mistakes, and embracing the gray spaces that generate new culture and the ideas that will keep this experiment progressing.
Circling the globe with young children was both ridiculous and courageous; humbling and a bit hegemonic; but I’m positive that our family, friends, colleagues, and random good humans we met along the way are all better off because of the journey. You should try it.
Feeling inspired to travel with your family after reading this post? Amizade can help! Check out our 2024 family programs and take your family to Bolivia, Ecuador, Italy, or more destinations coming soon. We can’t promise you’ll meet the US Women’s National Team in the airport, but you will have an eye-opening, amazing time!