“I don’t want to stay, I want to go home,” said teary-eyed Ben as he arrived at the Arte al Sole Umbria kids art workshop, an Italy family travel experience on an olive farm. I saw hints of curiosity as he looked around at some of the new friends he might make, but travel fatigue overcame him. “We’ve been traveling for weeks and I just want my own home now,” he protested with so much despair it even made me begin to feel homesick as I thought about the many times on the road, amid the excitement of the journey, that just at the moment toward the third quarter of the trip, my mind would wander toward home, and a case of the blues might set in temporarily.
For kids and adults, this is part of the learning process of travel. We are excited as we set off to explore new places, compelled by wonder or a desire for the new–this enthusiasm tends to set the tone for the first two thirds of the trip, but once we round the midpoint, a malaise can set in. Overcoming the low point, however, is, in the end, the where the rewards of travel exist. For the last legs of the journey are inevitably the most meaningful, when all of the ups and the downs culminate into reflection and a deeper appreciation of the new place we have discovered. When we return home, we bring our knowledge of this place and the lessons we have learned with us, and we share them. We make a difference in the end through our travel, both afar and at home.
You can probably guess how this story ends? Ben is the hero, of course, those elephant tears turned to sparkling glints of wonderment in his eyes once he shrugged off his homesickness with some courage and inspiration (from gelato and producing a medieval mystery i-Movie with all of his new Arte al Sole friends, perhaps!). He overcame missing home by climbing an olive tree to gather some leaves as part of a lesson by the Colle San Paolo agriturismo family on the history of olive cultivation in the Mediterranean, picking cherries and plums from the garden for snack; mixing paints and pigments to design his own medieval crest, and sharing his designs with some new friends. He learned how to cook the Umbrian specialty torta al testo; visited the Perugina Chocolate Factory; chased fireflies; waved to the shepherdess tending her flock; and stormed the ramparts of the castle at Lake Trasimeno with a retinue of 20 kids ages 6-12.
Meanwhile, after a few weeks on the road, Ben’s parents were in about the same boat homesick-wise. The romanticism of weeks of travel with the family on the road also meant sacrifices in terms of time together for mom and dad. While their kids were off adventuring, parents also made friends, hiking with a prince on a truffle hunt in oak woods; on a wine tasting excursion; visiting nearby hill towns for a leisurely lunch together with a view; and enjoying some time in one place to get to know the locals–finally dancing all together, kids, parents and the locals of Colle San Paolo at the festa hosted by the community every year the first week of July, where it seems, by the end of a rich and immersive week in a beautiful spot in Umbria, the Arte al Sole families have discovered something of a home away from home.
At the end of their family’s Arte al Sole adventure, setting off for their final stops on a weeks-long trip, Ben’s parents gave me one of the most cherished compliments I’ve ever received about the program. “What you’ve created here is community, we are leaving feeling we are a part of something, which is a unique experience.” It struck me that community was their souvenir. That this family was bringing home, each in their own individual way, a sense of global belonging that they would share when they return with their own community, so that travel benefits those near and far.
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