What To Listen To When Traveling The World With Kids
The Adamos did what many of us dream of doing and took their kids on a year-plus trip around the world. Here's what they listened to along the way to deepen their experiences and education.By Courtney AdamoSep 21, 2016 11:18 AM
Our kids were growing so quickly. We wanted to soak up some of this precious time before it was gone. With our eldest turning 10, we decided the moment had come. Soon, school would be more serious and his friends would be more important to him than his family. We sold our house, sold our car, and gave away lots of our stuff. We told our families, friends, and work colleagues that we were leaving it all behind. Some thought we were crazy, but most were supportive. It seemed we had tapped into a common dream.
We planned an around-the-world family gap year: We’d take an adventure from our home in London to North America, South America, Oceania, Asia, and back to Europe. Not the easiest of plans with four kids, but that suited us. So we drew up a list of places we’d always dreamt of visiting and others we thought we could potentially call home.
We wanted to find ways to really connect our kids with each country we visited.
After refining our itinerary and whittling down our luggage (one suitcase each, plus one for a homeschool kit), we thought about how we would prepare our kids for our coming adventure. Neither of us had homeschooled before, and though we’d done some reading about it, we were going to have to learn on the go. We knew the most educational aspect of this year would come from the travel itself, so we wanted to find ways to really connect our kids with each country we visited.
We decided to travel slowly. Though we were tempted to do and see it all in every country, we lingered in each place for as long as possible — usually three to four weeks. While there, we got to know the neighborhood, the markets, and the locals. Mastering the language wasn’t possible, given the short amount of time, but we learned the basics with the help of audiobooks like the Earworms series of “Rapid Language” lessons. Each of our older kids (ages 6, 8, and 10) also kept a travel journal. Here they made maps, learned geography, recorded facts about new places and new people, and wrote about or sketched memorable experiences.
Quin’s travel journal.
As perennial fans of audiobooks, we wanted to make the most of all the time spent traveling from place to place by listening to books that would inform and inspire us. We chose books for all ages — and not solely educational; we threw in lots of entertaining and even silly titles too. Most of all, we wanted to try to connect books to the places we were visiting to build anticipation for an upcoming country or to deepen our understanding of it. This wasn’t always easy. For example, when we couldn’t find an audiobook set in Uruguay that would engage and inform the kids, we had to think laterally. We had just spent a couple of days riding horses in the Pampas so we chose to listen to Black Beauty, a children’s classic about horses.
Our first leg was a road trip through California — an easy warm-up that would take us up Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Big Sur then over to Yosemite and down to Joshua Tree. As we traveled past Santa Barbara, I remembered a favorite book from my childhood, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, set on California’s Channel Islands. This story of a Native American girl’s survival alone on an island was a great introduction to a California of the past and to its native flora and fauna. During these few weeks, we also took in The Call of the Wild and To Kill a Mockingbird, two American classics that captivated our children and us. The latter was a challenging listen for the younger kids, to be sure, but it was easy enough to pause and catch them up. Indeed this title, more than most others, was referred to time and again by the kids.
Big Sur, Calif.
Making our way around New Zealand, we noticed so many towns, roads, and landmarks named after the English explorer Captain James Cook who had famously circumnavigated and charted these islands. We wanted to know more about this legendary man so we listened to The Explorations of Captain James Cook. After five weeks in a camper van, we began to feel like adventurers ourselves, so we enjoyed listening to The Swiss Family Robinson and their story of creating a makeshift home on a deserted island and taming the natural world. The story makes reference to plants and animals from around the world and our kids enjoyed calling out the ones they knew from their travels.
Easton in Milford Sound, New Zealand.
In Australia, we wanted to learn a bit more about a country that was at once foreign and familiar. Bill Bryson’s Down Under (titled In a Sunburned Country in the U.S.), though not intended for a young audience, was full of fascinating facts and captivating anecdotes. The children also enjoyed Blueback, Australian author Tim Winton’s story of a young boy who, with his mother, ekes out an existence diving for abalone while protecting the reef that sustains them.
Sometimes we just needed something comedic, like any of David Walliams’ silly novels, or something a bit scary, like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Other times, we discovered books about a country after we visited it. In Australia, we listened to Journey to the River Sea. The story of an orphaned girl sent to live in the Amazon Rainforest transported us back to our time in Brazil where we, like the book’s heroine, were intoxicated by the country’s exotic sights and scents.
Brazil’s Trancoso Beach.
Last month, we boarded the final flight of our year — a year full of extraordinary experiences and memories. We arrived back in London as changed people. Will we stay? The prospect of simply slipping back onto the treadmill of careers and childcare just isn’t an appealing option. The world is too big. There is too much to see, to do, and to learn. For the moment our journey has ended, but we will continue to find inspiration in our listening. We will find titles to transport us back to familiar places, we will travel in our minds, and we will lay plans for future adventures.
SOME FAVORITE LISTENS IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Chile - Chile was all about surfing for us. We tried our hand in the chilly waters of Punta de Lobos and listened to Barbarian Days. Not a kids’ book per se, but William Finnegan’s story of a life spent surfing captivated our older boys. Michael also listened to Let My People Go Surfing, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s account of his life as extreme-sportsman-turned-environmentalist and businessman.
Japan - Kensuke’s Kingdom was another of those “lateral choices.” The kids loved this story of an English boy who falls overboard his parents’ yacht and washes up on a remote Pacific island. He soon discovers he’s not alone and learns survival from another castaway, Kensuke, an elderly Japanese man.
Sri Lanka - The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Though Kipling’s inspiration was found mostly in India, we encountered many of the same animals in Sri Lanka (elephants, leopards, snakes, and crocodiles), and the kids loved hearing these fanciful stories.
England - Five Children & It. We enjoyed this imaginative story, set in southwest England, of five children who discover a “sand fairy” while visiting the coast and beaches of nearby Cornwall.