We made a promise to our kids that when they reached their twelfth birthdays, my wife and I would take them any place in the world they wished to go. We called the program "Twelve and Travel." There were several pre-conditions to the travel. The first one was, we had to be notified of the choice at least 12 months before the birthdate and there had to be some kind of rationale for it. That provision gave us time to organize and plan the trip.
Second, each child had to apply for a passport and know why a passport was needed. We helped with the application process, of course, but the initiative had to come from the kids.
We required each child to produce at least $50 for currency exchange of the selected country. We required them to follow the exchange rate as published in the New York Times or on the Internet but we left the decision as to when to exchange the money up to each child.
We made a family-affair out of the itinerary with the 12 year old leading the way. This meant learning how to read maps. On the trip, the 12 year old got to sit up front with a map and guide us according to our agreed travel plan.
The 12 year old had to select a travel theme. Usually that theme developed from the rationale we required at the outset. For example, the child who selected Scotland and England for his Twelve and Travel program identified literature as his theme. In the planning stage we identified and highlighted Shakespeare country, Thomas Hardy country, Robert Burns territory and where the location out on the Hebrides Islands was were Robert Louis Stevenson did some of his writing. In all honesty, the thematic part of the trip was rather cursory, but we did visit specific sites associated with the identified authors, and we did read a little bit of their work when we were on location.
One child chose Italy for his Twelve and Travel. He couldn't decide on a specific theme so he created an acronym: ALARM. A =art, L = law, A = architecture, R = religion and M = music. So ALARM became our point of reference. We would ask as we pointed to a classic piece of art, "What does that represent?? Ans: Art. Good. And so on and so on.
The Twelve and Travel program proved to be wonderfully successful so we offered it again as the "Sixteen and Travel" program. There has been one of these so far. The 16 year old chose Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. All the conditions of the Twelve and Travel program were re-stated and the planning began. When asked why he made that choice, he said he was studying WWII and wanted to see some of the places his class had discussed.
We concurred with that decision and negotiated a deepened theme. We proposed that we would approach the trip within the time frame of the 30s and 40s, but that we would contrast two subjects or themes: How this period and this part of Europe produced 'the best' and the 'the worst' of humanity as experienced in Western Civilization.
En route, we discussed Mozart, Freud, Beethoven, Bonfoeffer, the Confessing Church... and we discussed Hitler, visited salt mines, Eagle's Nest and Dachau. It was an extremely valuable three weeks.
As this is being written, another trip to Italy is being planned. We leave May 24th for two weeks in Tuscany. This time it is a high school graduation celebration for/with the child who chose England and Scotland for his Twelve and Travel.
Of course anyone can readily see variations on this theme. Aunts and uncles can inaugurate a travel program for nieces and nephews. The choice of travel can be narrower (the US only, Canada, Mexico), the age of the child may vary, etc. The important thing is to enjoy the togetherness such a program offers. It can mean a whole year of family planning, two or three weeks of unforgettable travel and years of remembering once it is over. And, perhaps most valuable of all is the introduction of young people to other cultures and expose them to the larger world.