IS LUXURY TRAVEL SPOILING YOUR KIDS?
In an era of globalisation, travel is still the greatest way to enrich your child's life, so don't be ashamed to show them the world.
WORDS Amelia Hungerford
W ith the opportunities many parents are now lucky enough to give their children, it is easy to worry that reality can get lost in a world of butler service and high thread counts. However, luxury doesn't just mean gold taps; it means adventure, exploration and education. It means the chance to give our children authentic experiences and personal interactions with cultures different from their own.
In this way, travel has become the most necessary luxury. It is the one thing that can truly break down the barriers that persist in our globalised world, and a five star approach often gives kids more of a chance to do this.
A REAL-WORLD EDUCATION
The late Keith Bellows, Emeritus Editor-in-Chief of 'National Geographic Travel', sought to make family travel an accepted form of education. Its wonders and challenges, he believed, are essential to understanding the world and our place in it.
"Any adult who gives a child the gift of travel bestows the gift that keeps on giving," he wrote. "The value of lifelong learning, the ability to teach yourself, is incalculable. You get your most important diploma in life from travel."
Cathy Wagstaff, founder and publishing editor of Holidays with Kids and Five Star Kids , says, "Travel is the key to enlightening, engaging and teaching children about the world. This can't be taught in the classroom and is essential for the growth and empathy of our future leaders. Travel broadens young minds and can inspire them to help those less fortunate, to appreciate what they have and show them what they can aspire to."
Five Star Kids' own editor, Hilary Doling, has seen similar attributes in her son. "He's been lucky enough to grow up travelling in style, but far from spoiling him, it means he treats the general manager of a five star hotel and the guy who sweeps the streets in Bangkok just the same. He's met so many different kinds of people that that's all they are to him: just people. He doesn't judge by clothes, colour, creed or class. To me, that's a real achievement of travel."
Heidi Lakani, the jet-setting owner of Lakani World Tours, is of the same opinion. She has seen the transformative powers of travel in young guests on her private-jet journeys. As a result, she believes all children should see the world as part of their education. "Travel is the best school," she says. "Kids see the poor and they see the rich, but what they discover are humans. They're unveiling the similarities, not the differences...That is how we can make one world."
The sooner children cross borders, the sooner they will realise they don't really exist.
THE VALUE OF LUXURY
At its heart, luxury isn't five star resorts, Michelin-starred dining and helicopter transfers. While these might be its physical manifestations, luxury is really access to the chance to travel authentically to experience life beyond the package-tour pool.
Think of the world's most extraodinary trips: cruising to Antarctica, going on safari in Africa or discovering the Galapagos as Keith Bellows did. Most of these don't exactly have budget options, and if they do, they aren't suitable for kids. The luxury is being able to go there in the first place and, once there, being able to join a Maasai tribe at a traditional ceremony or walk alongside an elephant in Thailand.
For Sven Lindblad, the travel pioneer at the helm of Lindblad Expeditions - National Geographic, travelling to remote parts of the world such as the Galapagos, Baja California and Alaska with his four kids was a luxury he aims to replicate onboard his ships.
"When kids travel aboard our expedition ships, rather than being spoiled by luxury, they experience real privilege - getting to be in these remarkable places at all is privilege," he says, "Kids are treated like equals in the onboard expedition community, spending their time with like minded others, who are drawn to travel to know more and, therefore, to protect more of the world's wild places."
It's more than just the immediate effects of seeing the world, however, that Sven values. "I think exposing children to the wonders of the world is incedibly meaningful and lasting. Laregly because it's not about instructing them; it's about introducing them to joy - the joy of simply seeing animals, and seeing how and where they really live."
Without knowing these benefits, luxury could be seen as indulgence. Ms Lakani recalls a teenager who refused to stay in luxury hotels on a trip to India, seeing it as inauthentic. Upon arrival, he quickly discovered that what he wanted to see and do simply wasn't possible within the mechanism of mass tourism. A few calls to Heidi and his perception of luxury was transformed. The contacts forged within the world of five star travel don't exist elsewhere; if you want a music lesson with a sitar-playing master, it isn't available on Viator. You need to know the right people.
That is the real luxury; doing the things you never thought possible. Through these experiences, you create family bonds, a unique perspective on the world and the start of a lifelong curiousity and passion for learning. Ultimately, isn't that what we all want for our children?
THE JOY OF EXPERIENCES
There is science to prove the truth of the oft-quoted saying, "Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer." Recent studies show that over time, satisfaction with material purchases decreases, while the satisfaction we feel about experiences increases as we continue to dwell on the highlights and learn to laugh at the lows. Spoiling your child with journeys rather than things turns out to be an exercise in lifelong happiness.