How RV Travel Helps Kids Become Global Citizens


Preethi Harbuck

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Preethi loves exploring the world at home and abroad with her husband and 5 little kids. She loves fostering curiosity and connection, as well as sharing tips for family travel with a social justice lens, especially while RVing through America’s outdoor gems. She’s currently visited 63 countries (43 with kids), 49 US states, and 43 national parks.

Ever since our kids were tiny, it’s been important to us to raise them to be global citizens. When our oldest was only 4 months old, we set off on a trip to southern Africa, visiting 5 countries over the next 5 weeks. It was an incredible adventure and set a precedent of learning about other customs, cultures, and peoples.

Since then, we’ve loved taking him and our other 4 children on many global adventures across 6 continents. It’s been eye-opening to appreciate other ways of life and we can only hope it fosters empathy, compassion, understanding, and advocacy in our children.

Of course, the global pandemic put a pause on our global travels. We were no longer able to explore the world in person for a while, so we started seeking out other ways to teach global citizenship. Learning about the world right from home has been an incredible experience, especially through our Global Children’s Book Club. But we wanted to do more.

We purchased our first RV exactly a year ago, not knowing at all what to expect. We figured we’d use it as a way to safely see high-risk family members, but we had no idea how much it would help us continue raising little global citizens, without crossing borders. Here are 5 ways RV travel has helped us to do exactly that!

Meeting Others

The Harbuck kids play and laugh while traveling by RV.
The Harbuck kids play and explore at the campground. RV Travel allows children to make new friends, or even pen pals, with other children of varying cultures and backgrounds.

Before we started RVing, it seemed like a very solitary adventure to me. There we’d be, stuck in our tiny little box together with no one else to talk to. Wow, was I wrong! I went from RV skeptic to RV convert. It turns out, we spend so much less time INside our RV than I ever expected. That’s because one of the biggest advantages of family RV travel is that we have an ever-changing backyard to explore! And that also means we get to meet so many new people every single day.

Even during a time of social distancing and health safety, we were able to safely converse with people from all over while outside and spaced apart. It was an incredible way to maintain and even make new connections while still protecting everyone’s health. And one of the most important parts of raising global citizens is being an actual citizen – someone who understands, empathizes, and cares about others. Our kids have had the opportunity to continue to listen, learn, ask questions, and share about themselves in return. It’s been such a gift to allow our kids to continue to do that through our RV travels!

Encouraging Curiosity

Family reading in RV
Each new destination is an opportunity to learn about new people, history, and food. Books make excellent souvenirs.

Travel provides so many opportunities for discovery and curiosity. Kids start to notice similarities and differences, and ask questions and appreciate it all. It’s pretty magical to observe!

I love that RV travel has allowed them to continue to experience new and surprising and interesting adventures, activities, and people. There are so many exciting places we’ve visited, with unique histories and stories. Our kids have had opportunities to be curious about flora and fauna, as well as indigenous folk tales and traumas. They’ve had the chance to question how geology works and the way certain animals have evolved. We’ve seen what we don’t know, and had the opportunity to learn and fill in educational gaps. The natural world is a playground for imagination and RV travel has proved an amazing way to experience more of it.

Proximity to Stories

Kids exploring caves and learning history
The Harbuck’s explore desert caves and learn indigenous history while traveling by RV.

One opportunity afforded by global travel is proximity to stories. Our kids get to hear history not from afar, but up close. They learn directly from people whose ancestors have lived and experienced these stories. The learning becomes real and meaningful. These kind of encounters happen with various peoples around the United States as we’ve RVed our home country!

Indigenous tribes have vastly differing, special stories and experiences. Traveling to different places has allowed our children to learn more about those peoples of the globe. They’ve learned that becoming a global citizen isn’t just about learning far-off histories, but placing an equal importance on those that have often been forgotten in our homeland. It’s given us a reason and a chance to highlight indigenous sadness and joy, success and trauma.

Being up close with indigenous lands, protected and cultivated by native peoples, has helped us recognize their importance in global history. For developing minds, it’s necessary to remember them in global citizenship.

Experiencing Foods

The Harbuck's cook global foods
Food is an excellent gateway into learning about new people and cultures. RV travel introduces new lives and stories to kids.

You might think that experiencing foods of different cultures is limited to trotting around the globe. But, it turns out there’s plenty of opportunity for culinary exploration right in our home country – and RV travel is perfect for exploring it! As we traversed 30 different states last year, we ate everything from Ohio dairy, to MIssissippi po’ boys, to New Mexico Christmas-style chiles. Our kids came to know places by their foods, and came to know their peoples along with it.

As we traveled in our RV, we found that food is never created in a vacuum; it’s inextricably tied to the people who prepare it. The people who learned to farm the land, raise the cattle, and gather the chiles all played a part in the goodness we met. The food was so much more than sustenance; it was a vehicle to human stories. The diversity of foods translated to a diversity of peoples. Expanding our kids’ palettes helped them also expand their minds and their love.

Just like French cheese helped us connect to the stories of the people of the land, we found America’s food to be sometimes surprisingly diverse and rich with history and heart.

Flexibility for Arts, Culture, and Other Experiences

Kids hiking palo duro.
The Harbuck kids hike Palo Duro and learn about geology.

While we were a bit limited in experiencing arts & culture due to the pandemic last year, I caught a glimpse of how RV travel can help so much with this. The USA is filled with art museums, symphonic halls, science museums, historical societies, and so much more. Gosh, we love these places!

RVing will allow us to seek out and spend time on these treasures. Instead of rushing through in a time crunch to be somewhere, we can stop to spend more time in a place we love. When we find out about a hidden cultural gem, we don’t need to press onto our next hotel. Instead, we can reschedule to focus on what we’d like to prioritize, and the cultural education we’d like to receive. If we hear about an outdoor theater company putting on a family show one summer evening – We can attend!

I love the flexibility that RV travel affords us, which is maybe the most important part of global citizenship of all.

Seeing the world teaches my children that their experience isn’t the only one, or the most important. It shows them there are so many ways to live and learn and love, and they can all be good. RV travel helps them also to be adaptable, flexible, and willing to create space for other experiences, just like global travel does. It’s a gift and one I hope they carry through their lives.

What do you think? Have you ever connected RV travel with raising global citizens? Tell us in the comments below.

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