The Passport is the New Diploma

My daughter Mackenzie just turned 7. At her birthday party at the Playseum, she stood in front of a child’s version of a world map—no country names, just illustrations of objects like whales and palm trees and pandas. I watched, astonished, as she pointed out dozens of places—Paris, Antarctica, China, Australia. Then it dawned on me: She really knows her geography.

100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life - Book CoverI believe the world is the best classroom we have and that 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 Lifewhich explores our planet with those values top of mind.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel and learn firsthand about different cultures all my life — starting when I left what was then the Belgian Congo, my birthplace, at age four — and it’s something I wish for every child, including mine.

I took my first-born son, Adam, abroad when he was just three months old. Since then he has traveled extensively—from the Grand Canyon to the Norwegian fjords, from Big Sur to Berlin, from the Andes to Alaska. Now, my other two children, Chase and Mackenzie, are following his lead.

Here’s a glance at their emerging view of travel, and what it’s added to their experience of childhood:

Q: Of all the places you’ve been to, which ones are your favorite and why?

Mackenzie Bellows (Age 7): New York City, because I went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw “The Starry Night” painting, and Florida because I love the water and Sea World. I like Jamaica, too, but I scraped my leg there and almost needed stitches.

Chase Bellows (Age 8): The Galápagos—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.

Q: What places are on your travel dream list?

Mackenzie: 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. And I want to see leprechauns.

Chase: 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 I want to go back to Wisconsin. We went there in the summer.

Chase and Mackenzie pose with a baby chick in the Galapagos. (Photograph by Keith Bellows)

Q: What do you do on a long flight to make the time go faster?

Mackenzie: I draw animals like dolphins and monkeys and bears—oh, my!

Chase: I draw and play on the iPad. You can’t play chess because the planes tip over. 

Q: What are your favorite foods to eat while traveling?

Mackenzie: 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.

Chase: Ohmango juice. Mushed-up ham and cheese sandwiches. I really like cake. But I will have nothing to do with fish.

Q: What exotic foods have you tried?

Mackenzie: Plantains in Ecuador. And crab is pretty weird–it tastes mushy–but I like it.

Chase: Rice pudding. 

Q: When you’re packing for a trip, is there anything you just can’t leave home without?

Mackenzie: My blue blanket. 

Chase: My favorite toothbrush.

Q: What advice would you give to another kid going on a trip?

Mackenzie: It’s good for the brain and you will have a good time. And to bring water, of course.

Chase: Don’t cry about security. Be patient.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about traveling?

Mackenzie: It’s really fun to go on planes. And I get to be with Dad and Mom and my brother Chase.

Chase: Eating new foods and staying in hotel rooms. Oh, and, playing on the piano—if I can find one.

Mackenzie learned about cormorants on a recent trip to the Galapagos. (Photograph by Leslie Magraw)

Q: What’s your least favorite thing about traveling?

Mackenzie: When I’m in the plane and my ears hurt.

Chase: When my sister leaves things behind. But I love traveling. It takes me out of my mind.

Q: What animals have you seen while on a trip?

Mackenzie: In the Galápagos 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.

Chase: Seals, lizards, dolphins, manta rays, giraffes, and starfish in the Galápagos. Crabs on Chesapeake Bay.

Keith Bellows is the editor in chief at National Geographic Traveler magazine, where he spearheads efforts to encourage parents, corporations, and schools to view travel as a critical learning tool.



  1. Lauren Hesterman
    May 4, 2013, 10:53 pm

    Amen. Love the Q and A with the kids. Thanks for the post… excited to go read 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life.

  2. munna
    dhaka, Bangladesh
    March 24, 2013, 3:13 am

    I Like natinoul Geograpy

  3. Leo T. Gondim
    Brasília- Brasil
    March 14, 2013, 7:23 pm

    Your post was an injection of Hope. I traved for 5 years in 5 continents, then stopped in Brazil, married and had two children (age 5 and 6). Now I´d like to do my PhD in Australia and show them very interestings countries I knew: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. I loved your wise opinion. Thanks.

  4. Allyson
    February 20, 2013, 11:03 am

    So true! My 3 1/2 year old surprises me every day with the things he remembers and has learned from our travels. There is absolutely no better way to learn about places, faces and food is to experience them first hand!

  5. Chelsea (
    February 12, 2013, 5:43 am

    Thank you for this article! My husband and I are currently living abroad and are thinking about beginning our little family. We were both very inspired by the idea/importance of traveling the world with our kids and your talk about how these experiences become invaluable to them as they grow. It was especially nice to hear in contrast to the numerous voices out there claiming that once you have kids, your ability to travel ceases. We will definitely take this to heart!

  6. Travelling Abroad
    February 11, 2013, 1:22 am

    That’s a great post Keith! I am sure your daughter having pride on you, and you prove to be yourself a great classroom for your kids. It’s really an acknowledged post.

  7. Heather Greenwood Davis
    Toronto, Canada
    February 10, 2013, 6:41 am

    Great article Keith. My favourite piece of advice has to be “Don’t cry about security. Be patient. ” Working on that one myself. ;)

  8. Nancy Sathre-Vogel (@familyonbikes)
    Boise, Idaho
    February 9, 2013, 5:37 pm

    Absolutely! I am a HUGE believer in travel as education. My sons learned so much during the four years we spent traveling the Americas on our bicycles. I am a long-time schoolteacher (21 years) but saw so many benefits of travel and being in Mother Nature’s handiwork, being school pales miserably in comparison.

  9. Sheila Zajkowski
    February 9, 2013, 11:10 am

    I really enjoyed this article. We have a standing travel rule that no matter where we go we must visit at least one national park a year. My son has been all over the country, and has seen some incredible sights. You can tell someone about a place but until they actually see it, that is where they will fully appreciate it. Thanks for the kids input!!

  10. Laura Davidson
    New York
    February 8, 2013, 6:49 pm

    Keith, I love this article! I have always said that travel is the best education for my kids. We try to bring their textbooks to life each year based on what they are studying (Rainforests, Costa Rica; Roman ruins and history; Sicily, etc)
    Thank you for such a well-written piece.

  11. Olivia
    February 8, 2013, 4:59 pm

    This is probably one of the best posts I have read. This is so personal and it’s amazing how cultured your kids are at such a young age. They sound adorable, and so intelligent.

  12. Yvonne Batal
    Fairfax Station Va
    February 8, 2013, 7:17 am

    I agree so much with the saying the Passport is the new diploma .As a Purser with United Airlines, I have been able to give my children the “Gift” of travel… Best decision I ever made was to be with the airlines… They have seen so much of the world and continue to do so. Our son, decided he wanted to study in FInland for college.. he is there now exploring the globe, something many of his friends that haven’t traveled cannot even fathom . Great article!

  13. Educational Travel Mom
    Costa Rica
    February 8, 2013, 12:11 am

    Hi love this article! I live abroad with my family and plan to travel as much as I can. I truly do believe that travelling is the key to opening children’s minds and worlds, for imagination, real world issues and is humbling. I grew up in a Military family so we traveled my whole life. I lived in many US states, European countries and even the island Guam. I know that I would not be the person I am today if I had not traveled growing up. My daughter is 8 months old and has already been on a plane for 3 separate trips, I can not wait for her to be able to understand the true gift of traveling!