Growing up, I’ve always been a child lucky enough to travel all over the world. My dad is a pilot and we’ve been fortunate to travel with him as a family and go on amazing trips. In fact, traveling is one of the main reasons that my sister and I started homeschooling. We wanted to be able to explore amazing places all over the world without the limitations that school holidays impose. Traveling is also different when you are on holiday from a mainstream school. A holiday is a refuge then, a time that you use to escape from school and unwind completely; when you don’t feel like doing anything other than relaxing because you are so tired.
Traveling while homeschooling is a completely different experience. It presents so many opportunities, free from restrictions. One of them being that you can travel at any time, organising your own holiday or being able to travel and work at the same time. Now I’m sure most people will read the words ‘travel and work at the same time’ and have an immediate gut reaction of aversion because who would want to ruin their holiday with work? Allow me to show you how the opposite can be true. Learning doesn’t have to be sitting behind a desk and toiling through work when you’d rather be doing anything else.
Firstly, what must be said is that I am not really talking about work in the strict sense of textbook reading, but rather engaging in active learning that is relevant to where you are traveling. Due to the fact that we have been lucky enough to travel as much as we have, I’ll only be able to fit in a few of the magical places we have visited. I’ll start off by telling you about the road trip that we took. I live in South Africa, and when we had been homeschooling for about a year, we decided to take a six week family road trip through the Karoo, a region of semi desert that covers parts of the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape in South Africa. An area that is incredibly beautiful to travel through but whose sites also have great significance to the history of South Africa.
I have vivid memories of mornings when we would rise early, half asleep and bleary-eyed with flasks of tea clasped fervently in our hands as the sunrise would light up the world around us, an orange glow slowly permeating the immense and absolute Karoo veld that stretched out all the way to the horizon. I remember feeling completely at peace in those moments.
There were so many incredible experiences we had on our road trip. My mom had researched and created an entire itinerary for our trip that included a lot of learning opportunities about the cultural and historical places we had been learning about. At the time, my sister and I were doing a History and Geography syllabus called Footprints in Our Land, that instead of giving us names and dates from a textbook, had short stories that told the history of South Africa in a way that was really interesting to learn. That was one of the things I loved most on our road trip; being able to see the places that I had been learning about. It made it feel real and tangible, like I was connected to the history that had occurred there.
We stayed in farm houses and visited quiet towns that had hidden depths and culture. We joined a fossil tour where we visited a museum and then went out searching for fossils in the surrounding area. We also viewed the sites where the oldest and most valuable fossils had been found. We experienced the gems of each town and their different traditions and food. In the town of Prince Albert, we went on a night tour that combined the history of the town with its myths and ghost stories. I can still vividly remember that night as I clutched my sister’s hand and hung onto every word.
Our next stop was a town called Sutherland which is famous for being the coldest place in South Africa and for having the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere. The first night we were there, we had booked a stargazing tour and we could only drive up to a certain part of the hill before we had to walk the rest of the way. We shivered our way to the telescope we were using, our teeth chattering all the while despite being bundled up in our warmest winter wear. We were freezing the whole time but I’ll never forget looking through the telescope and witnessing how vast the universe is and seeing the stars and planets as more than just far away glittering pinpricks in the sky. I can recall that memory far more easily than actually seeing the telescope in the observatory that Sutherland is known for because it felt less real, however I always wondered how the stars might have appeared to me had I witnessed it through that telescope.
A couple of years ago, we had a family wedding in Greece and we took the opportunity to extend our trip in order to more fully explore Greece and what it had to offer. We had always wanted to visit and at the time, my sister and I were both fascinated with Greek mythology. We booked a week in an Airbnb in the centre of Athens in addition to the time we would spend on Rhodes Island where the wedding was taking place. Our trip to Greece was probably one of my most favourite trips ever.
Good food is something that everyone in my family loves and is important to us when at home and when traveling. So on our first day in Athens, we met up with a food journalist who took us on a tour around the city, showing us all the local markets, teaching us about the different spices, the culinary staples prevalent to the residents of Athens and pointing out all the best restaurants that were not overpriced and geared towards tourists only.
The best part of the trip for me was, other than the amazing food of course, the tours of the temples, ruins and ancient buildings. It was inspiring to stand in the places I had read so much about and actually be there. It felt like I had been transported to a completely different time. It’s different visiting places that you have learnt about before traveling to, you feel invested in the stories they have to tell. This is how I felt about visiting the Acropolis, which might surprise you, as it it one of Athens’ most well known attractions but I had been enthralled with the story of the Athena Parthenos, a 42 foot tall gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena who was the patron goddess of Athens, which had disappeared from the temple and had not ever been found. Sadly, most theories seem to believe that it was melted down for money and lost forever but it was an interesting story all the same.
The tour we did of the Temple of Delphi was perhaps one of the most valuable and interesting tours we've ever done because of our tour guide. She was actually an archaeologist who was working as a tour guide because there was no new current archaeology work in Greece at the time and she had an overflowing wealth of knowledge that amazed and engrossed us.
There are so many stories that I wish I could share and that I could go more in depth into, but alas, I can only share one last adventure.
As a family, we prefer discovering a country more authentically than the extremely touristic avenues. When we were in Bali, we wanted to visit the three temples of Mount Lempuyang which is most known for its bottom temple, whose gateway creates a mirage effect that tourists flock to. We however, found a local guide who, instead of walking us up the one thousand and eight hundred steps that lead to the top temple, took us on a hike around the back of the mountain through one of the incredible forests native to Indonesia. He taught us about all the different plants and roots that grew alongside our path as well as all their uses. About three quarters up the mountain, we stopped at a temple that consisted of a clearing, a statue and altar, where our guide led us through a meditation which felt so beautiful and special to experience with our view down the mountain. We carried on with our hike to reach the highest temple where we had a tea ceremony with the local food wrapped up in banana leaves before we made our way back down through the three temples this time. It was a magnificent day.
All of the learning experiences I had while traveling, whether it was history, nature, culture or life skills, have shaped me into the person I am today and I could not be more grateful that I have had the chance to go on these journeys. They are etched in my memory forever.
About the author:
I’m Tessa Schroenn, a 17-year-old girl from South Africa who has a passion for travelling and exploring the world, loves a good laugh, and can’t wait to curl up with a book and a blanket, especially on rainy days!