Fleeing The Burbs:  Our Two-Wheel Education Chapter 6 Beyond The Classroom:  What A Teen Learns Through Travel


“How do you educate Jack while on the road? Do you use an online program? Are you homeschooling? What the hell is ‘worldschooling’? Aren’t you afraid Jack will miss something if he’s not in school?” That last one is a personal favorite. Since Jack was 6, we’ve hit the road via motorcycle on journeys that have taken us through Canada, Baja and across the U.S. Sometimes we ventured out during the summer, other times we pulled Jack out of class often at the discouragement of the teacher. Okay, not all were against our travels, but the majority did not approve. “Why don’t you travel in the summer like everyone else?” was a question we were often asked. If you haven’t noticed, we’re not like everyone else. With a heavy sigh and judgmental scowl, ol’ teach would hand over a huge stack of work to be done while on the road. Year after year, we had to make room for math books, writing packets, and packs of colored pencils. “Do you realize how far behind he was going to be in class while you are gone?” It’s okay, teach, we got this. So when the time came to pull Jack out of school for the entire eighth grade and part of his freshman year, we knew he was going to be just fine. Yes, we did have an online math program we were using. No, we were not going to adhere to a home-school agenda. Just as it is with adventure travel, this was going to be another ‘Fly by the seat of your riding pants’ gig only this time, we weren’t sending Jack back to class after a month off. Now, take your seats, no squirming, and get ready to learn about educating your teen on the road, adventure motorcycle style. WARNING: Some of what you read may actually apply to every day life and real world survival skills.


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They learn how to work a daily and monthly budget. Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was this class in high school called “Home Ec”, aka Home Economics. Here, student’s learned to cook simple meals, balance a checkbook, and do basic home repairs that included sewing up tiny holes on the end of your socks. Basically, it was Life Skills 101. With today’s kiddos, I’m not even sure if most know what it means to have a daily budget, let along what the word budget means. I can say this because Jack used to be one of those kids. Oh, how the Borden family shopping trips have changed since the steady incomes and trips to the Apple store. We’re now on a VERY strict daily budget of $100 that includes lodging, food, gas for 2 bikes, incidentals, etc. Jack knows our daily budget and adheres to it no matter what, even getting a little freaked out if we’re just a couple of dollars over for the day. He knows that when we’re even close to being over, it’s tuna sandwiches for dinner…again. One time, Terry and Jack were in the market and Terry reached for a small bottle of libations. Jack looked right at him and said, “Daddy, we can’t afford that tonight.” Dammit, kid! There went date night. This kid’s mind for money has taken a 180-degree turn. Instead of asking us for certain items, he now talks about getting a job when we get home so he can pay for things himself. Excellent job, son.

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Geography and history come to life. How many of us remember being in geography class, pointing at Lake Titicaca and laughing like the immature students we were? Guess who actually camped along the shores of Lake Titicaca and laughed like immature imbeciles live and in person. How about living with a Mayan family for a week as they teach you how to cook, eat, and live like a local? THAT’S the kind of stuff I’m talking about here. We’ve met many travelers in their 20’s who are taking the time to wander before landing a job back in the states. When they talk with Jack, they tend to soak in all the 13 year old has to share about his time on the road and what he’s seen, heard and learned. And, 100% of the time, they say they wish their parents had done the same thing. We can sit in a classroom and learn all of this, but it’s not tangible. It doesn’t feel ‘real’. What we learn in class just becomes a list of facts and places that we get to regurgitate later on a test, emptying the brain for the next round. The 3 of us will never forget riding the motorcycles through the Andes in Peru or chatting with the native ladies in Oaxaca, Mexico. Why? Because we got to live it, not have someone talk to us about it. Now when Jack goes back to the classroom scene, he’ll be able to look at a globe and say, “I’ve been there.” How incredible is that?

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Problem solving, real world style. This journey has become its own word problem, seriously. Example? You roll into a town in Guatemala at 3PM with 2 hotels as your only option for the night. You have two requirements for your stay – it must be safe for your family and have secure parking for the bikes. Option 1 is in a great neighborhood, has clean rooms, is close to a restaurant, but the only parking is 5 blocks away in a friends cousin’s yard. Option 2 is in an OK neighborhood with OK rooms, but offers secure onsite parking for the motorcycles. Option 3 is you keep going down the road and hope that you find a happy medium before the sun goes down. What do you do? How about if a bike breaks down and you have no means of contacting help? Food? Water? All of these situations have come up in the past 10 months with all of us having to figure out the next move. As you can tell, we’ve lived to tell about it, but it required all of us to put our noggins together and come up with a plan. Our teen is even learning to take apart each bike and put it back together. Lordy knows what’s going to happen to the tractor when we get home. Basic mechanical skills go a long way in life.

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Talk! Talk! Talk! It’s one thing to say your child knows how to chat it up with his or her peers, but it’s another to take that teen and throw them into a whole new arena of adults and kids in other countries. Fortunately, Jack is fluent in Spanish. Thanks to the magic of bi-lingual education, he spent K-6 in a Spanish immersion environment. Because he is bilingual, he has been given the gift of memories that make Terry and I very jealous. Oh, how we wish we were as fluent! Jack now has friends that span through Mexico and across Central and South America. He chats online with friends who are older and younger, everyone having enough in common and even advice on where to travel next, the best sights to visit, you name it. And yes, there’s the usual teenage chatter as well.

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The world and her people are inherently good, no matter what the news tries to tell/sell you. This is a lesson all of us need to learn. Terry remembers quite vividly how many people asked if we were scared to go to Mexico. One friend even asked, “Are you going to bring a gun?” Oh, what a chuckle we have about that one! Look, here’s the thing – until you turn off the TV, put down the paper and go explore beyond your comfort zone, you’re never going to believe me. I’m not saying that the world is only full of rainbows and chocolate chip cookies, but the good truly do outnumber the bad. Hell, after what I’ve been reading lately I’m scared to return to the states! No, not kidding. Funny thing is that people in every country warn you about how dangerous the next country will be to visit. Mexican warned us about Guatemala. Colombians warned us about Ecuador. Had any of the naysayers with these grand warnings ever ventured beyond their border? Nope – they heard it on the nightly news or read it in the paper. Bad news makes for better ratings, period. Good news not so much. Sensationalism sells. Stories of “I once heard about a guy who was killed in , so everyone should hide in their bubble” gets ratings. Our journey has been filled with smiles and hugs, invitations for meals and open doors for shelter. Every country, I mean EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY has met us with wide-open arms and questions about our travels. The people are as fascinated with us as we are with them. And, we continue to learn from those around us, no negative media allowed.


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We’re not all that different, really. We all need food, water, and a place to call home. We love our family and friends and lean on each other to get through each good day or tricky situation. We crave laughter and time together as well as time alone. None of this changes when you cross into a new frontier. The same basic needs are a constant from border to border.
It’s okay to miss home. A couple of months ago, we had a big sit-down conversation. Topic? Were we sure we wanted to continue this trip. Why? Home-sickness was beginning to creep up on us. Jack watched via social media as friends from home gather for end-of-year parties and trips to San Francisco. I cried within the first 5 seconds of every Skype call with family or friends. We all began to miss our beds and the ability to walk across a room without stepping over panniers or motorcycle gear or each other. We had left the comforts of home in exchange for shared rooms, quickly declaring “No Fart Zones” and quiet time. We thought that missing home meant that we were somehow ‘weak’. Crazy, I know, but aren’t we long-term travelers supposed to be made of tougher stuff than that? Nope we’re just as human as anyone else. It’s okay to cry when your dad answers the phone.

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I know there is so much more for Jack and the rest of the Trio to learn. All in good time. We promise no formal tests, no multiple-choice answers, and no scantrons. But, how do we know that these road-schooled kiddos retain any information? Stop talking and start listening. Once you listen to how they came to a conclusion or how they found the problem in the motor, you will know. Let your teen learn through life. Who knows, you may learn something along the way as well. And, it may be your kiddo that is the teacher. Cheers.