Ihave an intense curiosity about the world, so naturally, I love to travel. I find experiencing life through the filter of unfamiliar city or foreign country to be a magical and transformative experience. I’ve been fortunate to visit several countries, absorbing the art and culture, relishing in unique cuisine and trying on local customs for size. What’s that, Spain? An afternoon siesta? ¡Si! Don’t mind if I do.
I’m aware of how influential travel has been in my life; of my insatiable urge to pack up and fly away far across the map at any given moment, and as a mother, I am eager to take my son abroad. While I’m perfectly comfortable taking him to western Europe and other countries to which I’ve previously been, I am slightly hesitant to venture to a new land, unsure of whether it’s safe or conducive for travelers with small children. Sure, I’ve done online research and skimmed a few guide books, but nothing I’ve read can compare to the first-person account of a trip abroad from a friend.
Turns out our own Jenn Wong is a seasoned traveler, indeed. With more stamps on her passport than anyone else I know, I’ve found her to be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to traveling abroad. It stands to reason: She’s been a jet-setter since the tiny age of two.
So Jenn, at what age did you get your first US Passport? Where was your first trip to?
I was two years old when I got my first US Passport. My first trip was with my godmother to the Philippines to visit my maternal grandparents. I don’t remember the trip, but I’ve been told the story many times–apparently I was a pretty good traveller, even though I was traveling without my parents.
Why do you think your parents were so willing to travel with small children? What was their motive for showing you the world at such a small age?
Because my parents were both immigrants and most of their family was on the opposite hemisphere, traveling was the only way that we would get to see our extended family, so my family committed to traveling on a regular basis. My brother Chris is only a year and a half younger than me, so they were dealing with two little children when they travelled, and usually it was only my mom who traveled with us because my dad was working. He would join us for just a few weeks, even if we spent a month and a half in another country. We would alternate summers between the Philippines, my mom’s home country, and Hong Kong, where my father was born. I think it helped to have a sibling, even though we were both so young, because we would entertain each other on the long flights, (roughly 18 hours from the US). We would build blanket forts over the seats and play peekaboo with the other passengers.
What was the first trip you remember taking? What’s one memory that stands out in your mind about that trip?
I remember going to the Philippines when I was about five years old. I remember playing on the plane and getting to meet the pilot. That trip was memorable just because my mother’s family is so large and many of them are older than I am, so I had so many cousins to play with, so to me, it felt like I must know everyone in the Philippines. That was the first trip that I remember, but the most memorable trip of my youth was when I was six or seven when we took a train from Chicago to Calgary, Canada. That blew my mind. There were different train cars where you could eat, beds on the train and one of the waiters could do magic and gave us an LP of his band. It was the highlight of my little life. And I saw snow for the first time!
How has traveling influenced your your life? Do you think it’s helped shape your character?
Absolutely. I have three siblings and I think we all have a curiosity and sense of adventure that is a direct result of the experiences that we have had traveling. I grew up in first world America, but when I traveled to the Philippines, I took cold showers out of a bucket with a pail, rode a carabao, learned a different language and ate weird fruit that didn’t exist in America. I knew there was a world beyond the one that I knew outside my front door and because of it, new things took on the air of ‘exciting and different’ instead of ‘alien and gross.’ Traveling outside of the US tested me to adapt to new situations, helped me appreciate how lucky I was to grow up in America, and humbled me to realize that there was not just one kind of person in the world, there were many, many different shades.
What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to? Where do you still hope to go?
Gosh, I don’t really think I can pick just one. India and Venezuela were both memorable because they were so different from my status quo and both so challenging. I had a chance to spend five days in the Amazon Jungle, living in native villages. In India I attended a traditional wedding (which basically lasted a whole week), rang in the New Year and traveled by nearly every mode of transportation possible. There are so many places I still want to travel. Vietnam, South Africa, Argentina, Russia, Cambodia…
In the meantime, until I’m ready to take an overseas flight with a toddler, Little Passports is a wonderful resource for teaching children about other worldly cultures from home. Little Passports offers monthly subscriptions filled with items designed to teach children about the world–letters, maps, play passports, souvenirs, stickers, access to online games and more. It’s an excellent and interactive way to teach children geography, expose them to world cultures and art from places far across the globe. To learn more about both their USA and World Edition subscription services, click here!