Words and Photos by Erin Austen Abbott
For many years, I worked as a travel nanny for several families. I have a bachelor of science in Early Childhood Education and had taught school previously, so it seemed like the perfect way to blend my education degree with my love of travel. The parents I worked for would travel for their jobs and often wanted to bring their children along. I traveled all over the world this way, caring for children, learning the ins and outs of traveling with young ones. It was an invaluable experience packed with ideas for when I had my own child one day.
I went on my last nanny trip when I was about six months pregnant with my son Tom Otis. Shortly after he was born, I spent every morning doing some sort of activity with him, talking to him as if he already understood me. I would open up the large atlas and see his face light up with wonder at the colors on the maps. Or I would take him on nature walks, stopping to gather leaves and acorns or to look for bugs under a fallen tree or rock. Everything we did was an adventure and a learning experience. As he got older, we cooked food together that we couldn’t find near us, all the while, bringing the world of travel into our home. We couldn’t go everywhere, but everywhere could certainly come to us.
I began working on my first book in 2015 when Tom Otis was just three years old. As I crisscrossed the country, taking the pictures for the book, my husband and Tom joined me any chance they could get. It was on one of those trips that I began to think about our adventures from both home and beyond and what a vital resource they could be for parents. My second book was born, Family Field Trip. It was a guide to bringing the world into your home, to teaching your children through art, design, nature, culture, food, and so much more. I wanted a book that would help parents who can’t travel but want their children to understand the world around them and parents who travel a lot to know how to find learning experiences around every new corner.
Over the next few years, I gathered my ideas and various tips that I thought might be the most useful and put them all aside until I was ready to think about writing the book. In the meantime, we traveled all over the place with Tom Otis, visiting new places and also becoming very comfortable in places to which we loved to return. Tom understands the layout of cities such as New Orleans and knows what food he wants to eat there, he looks forward to riding the subway in New York City, and he always asks to watch the boats in Ottawa. He dreams of going to Japan and visiting Aoshima, or Cat Island, as it’s often called, and to Iceland to see the waterfalls and volcanos. He wants to eat street food in India and ride bikes through Amsterdam. He also really wants to mail a letter to a pen pal and eat ice cream from on the top of the Eiffel Tower. Tom Otis now has his own book of dreams and adventures he wants to take. Until we can take those trips, we are always learning and exploring from home, making dishes from countries we want to visit, reading books about each place, and diving deeper into the culture of the country.
I set up a travel center, or family field trip, in our house to keep Tom engaged in the wonders of the world. This project can be done in a shoebox if you are short on space, rotating new things in however often you would like. If space is a bit freer, then let it take over a small bookshelf in your home. I store travel souvenirs here, such as pressed pennies and snow globes and maps from our travels. You can include places you want to visit, an atlas, a few small globes, picture books of other cultures, city blocks stored in clear jars—anything that allows your child to study the world from home and prepares him or her for the journey beyond.