Keith Bellows is editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine and senior vice president/editor in chief of National Geographic Travel Media. Bellows’ book 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life was released in February 2013. Here’s a glimpse at the inspiration behind his latest project.
In mid-January, my daughter Mackenzie turned 7. At her birthday party at the Playseum, she stood in front of a crude, child’s world map—no country names, just illustrations of objects like whales, palm trees, and pandas. I was astonished as she named countless places—Paris, Antarctica, China, Australia—and it dawned me: She really knows her geography.
I wish that for all children—to travel the world and learn about it firsthand. It’s what I’ve done all my life, starting when I left what was then the Belgian Congo, my birthplace, when I was four. The world is the best classroom we have and I believe a passport is every bit as important as a diploma. This idea—and my kids—inspired me to write 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life, which explores iconic places worldwide from a child’s perspective.
I took my first-born son Adam abroad when he was just three months old. Since then he has traveled extensively—from San Francisco, Montreal, the Grand Canyon, and Big Sur to Berlin, the Norwegian fjords, the Peruvian Andes, Alaska, and the Greek Islands. My other two children are following his lead. Here’s their emerging view of travel:
Perspective from Mackenzie, 7
What are your favorite places that you’ve been to and why? The Galapagos because there are awesome animals there. New York City because I went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw the Starry Night painting. Florida because I love the water and Sea World. And Canada because my dad is from there and I went to a cottage where there were lots of dogs. I like Jamaica, too, but I scraped my leg there and almost needed stitches.
What animals have you seen while on a trip? In the Galapagos I saw blue-footed boobies and pelicans. I also saw sea lions, frigate birds, flamingos, and parrotfish. Oh! And sea turtles and bottle-nosed dolphins. And a whale bone.
What places are on your travel dream list? I want to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and eat real French bread. And see the Mona Lisa and lots of Monet paintings. I want to go to Ireland because I love the color green and there are so many horses there. I love to ride. And I want to see leprechauns.
What do you do on a long flight to make the time go faster? I draw animals like dolphins and monkeys and bears—oh, my!
What are your favorite foods to eat while traveling? That’s a good one. When I was in Ecuador I ate all the free cookies in the airline lounge. French fries and chicken tenders, of course.
What exotic foods have you tried? Plantain in Ecuador. And crab is pretty weird but I like. It tastes mushy.
What is the most important thing to pack—that you can’t leave home without? My blue blanket. I would normally take my fruity blanket but it once got lost in the hotel sheets. I found it, but I don’t bring it anymore.
What advice would you give to another kid going on a trip? It’s good for the brain and you will have a good time. They should bring water, of course.
What is your favorite thing about traveling? It’s really fun to go on planes. And I get to be with Dad and Mom and my brother Chase.
What is your least favorite thing about traveling? When I’m in the plane and my ears hurt.
What is the grossest thing you’ve seen when traveling? The dead tortoise we saw in the Galapagos. It was gray and old and rotting. It stunk.
Perspectives from Chase, 8
What are your favorite places—and why? The Galapagos—there are amazing animals that you can get close to. Seals come right up to you. One was a baby that had just been born. He lay on my foot. I like Jamaica because there are so many hermit crabs. And I got to play soccer with the local kids. In New York City I got to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music and my cousins. I saw the huge Christmas tree and people ice-skating. I’ve never seen so many people in my life when I walked down Fifth Avenue.
What animals have you seen while on a trip? Seals, lizards, dolphins, manta rays, giraffes, starfish in the Galapagos, crabs on Chesapeake Bay.
What places are on your travel dream list? The Amazon. It’s this giant river with a jungle attached. I want to see piranha—they can eat a cow really fast. I want to go to Egypt to see the pyramids and the tombs. And King Tut. And I want to go back to Wisconsin. We went there in the summer.
What do you do on a long flight to make the time go faster? I draw and play on the iPad. You can’t play chess because the planes tip over. I read, but not that much. I usually bring something to color.
What are your favorite foods to eat while traveling? Oh, mango juice. Mushed-up ham and cheese sandwiches. I really like cake. But I will have nothing to do with fish.
What exotic foods have you tried? Rice pudding. Galapagos brownies–they had almonds in them.
What is the most important thing to pack—that you can’t leave home without? My favorite toothbrush.
What advice would you give to another kid going on a trip? Don’t cry about security. Be patient.
What is your favorite thing about traveling? Eating new foods. Staying in hotel rooms. Playing on the piano—if I can find one.
What is your least favorite thing about traveling? When my sister leaves things behind. But I love traveling. It takes me out of my mind.
What is the grossest thing you’ve seen when traveling? Dead birds. Old whale bones. In the Galapagos I saw a sea lion that had been attacked by a shark. Its fur was ripped off and it was bleeding. I think it died.
For more information about 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life, click here. Then tell us below: Where have you traveled with your children? How has it impacted their view of the world? Sound off in the comments section, or tweet us at @KiwiMagazine.