Has the Internet Ruined the Wonder of Travel for Kids?

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A reality of parental life is we only have limited time to make an impression on our kids.  An impression that sticks.  An impression that is positive and life affirming. 

Natalie is an Ancient History geek.  Ancient History memes come through Twitter and Instagram constantly.  She’s on social media with her Ancient History teacher for goodness sake.  She breathes this stuff.  She not only loves it, but lives it.

When we made the decision to take her to Europe, we had to weigh the cost of such a trip (especially from Sydney!) against how this may impact her in life. We wanted to give her a taste of adventure to energize her already keen interest in Ancient History.  Italy seemed like the perfect location to fan the flames.

I knew a trip like this would be a great mother-daughter adventure before she set off for University next year.  It would be the perfect setup for when she begins her History focused degree. By traveling to Italy, I hoped that she would be able to carry the excitement she felt as she remembers seeing these ancient wonders with her own eyes.  Real world experience would trump the virtual world, as it did for me on my first visit.

Yet the reality was not as I had imagined.

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On my first visit to Rome in 1997, I stopped in my tracks in front of the Colosseum and gasped.  When I saw the Pantheon for the first time, I cried a little.  I studied these magnificent buildings in my high school years.  Writing essay after essay brought me close to these architectural achievements, just as Natalie has felt with Ancient History this past year.

Up to this point in my life, my experience with these monuments was limited to mostly text, words on a page. To see them with my own eyes was magical.  It was so breathtakingly different from what I had imagined; the size and scope of the structures was surreal.  It was so much better than what I imagined.

And yet, when Natalie saw the Colosseum for the first time, she seemed less than impressed. When we finally got down the street to the Roman Forum, I asked her ‘is this a “pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here” moment?’

She responded: ‘meh’.

I was shocked.  Okay, I’ll be honest:  I wanted to slap her upside the head and call her a spoiled brat. However, we were both hungry and very tired from a long flight.  By that point, we were like animals circling each other.…

But, various versions of this lacklustre response continued over the next few days.  I expected Natalie to be giddy with excitement as we went from one treasure to the next.

It made me wonder if the internet hasn’t ruined these experiences for our kids.

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Just how impactful was social media on the experience leading up to this moment?  So much can be seen on YouTube or on other social media channels that being there, seeing those places in person, is almost like an anti-climax.  I mean, Natalie was all over Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter while we were there. More than once I had to tell her to put her phone away and experience the moment.

I’m going to sound like an old grandmother with my ‘back in my day…’ line here, but let’s face it. Life is so different than it was for us ‘previous generations’.

We dreamed of the places we read about in books and magazines. We saved every penny we could just to have that ultimate travel experience.  I’m sure there are people like us that are still around, but I have doubts that Natalie’s generation is one of them.

People can experience almost everything through the internet. Through blogs, photographs, and videos, they can see every nook and cranny and garner virtual experiences of a just about any place.  While we still can’t touch, taste or smell virtually, as fast as technology is advancing, those experiences won’t be far behind.

It was even more confronting for me when we got to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

I really expected Natalie to be jumping out of her skin.  She could barely contain her excitement about seeing them before we left.  These were the places she was most eager to see.

Instead, when we arrived, she took on the persona of a seasoned academic who hosted tours all day, or more accurately, became a textbook verbally coming to life, as she guided me through the ruins.  It was great, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate her knowledge and insight.  Maybe this was her version of ‘jumping out of her skin?’  But somehow I didn’t feel her excitement.

I know that all kids express their excitement in different ways.  Natalie is not one to gush or bounce up and down.  I know that. She’s reserved when it comes to her emotions.

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As I looked around to others of her generation on our travels, I began to have this crushing sense of disappointment for future generations. Where is their curiosity?  Where is their imagination and wonder of these places, without the internet revealing it to them? When are they going to put their damn phones down to just be in the moment?

I feel as if I’ve failed as a parent in some ways. I didn’t have the opportunity to travel overseas with Nat as much as I would have liked. I didn’t have the opportunity to ‘world school’ like so many other family bloggers do. Circumstances didn’t allow for those things and I know that I’m not in the minority with that. Yet even with the trips we took, the internet still followed us. It was always within reach.

Maybe that’s where I went wrong?

I can only hope that this taste of Europe has fuelled her own version of wanderlust. One that will be influenced by reality and not virtual reality.

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