Jennifer Spatz has lived abroad in six countries and traveled the world. As founder of Global Family Travels, a tour company with a mission to “learn, serve and immerse,” Spatz is changing the lives of children and adults by creating family travel opportunities that build character while also building bridges between people and different cultures worldwide.
What was the impetus for you to launch Global Family Travels?
Years ago, I was taking an online photography course when my kids were little and was looking at some of the wonderful trips offered to learn photography while you travel. Unfortunately, none of them offered the option to take your kids with you.
I saw this opportunity for families to travel together and do something meaningful and bond as a family in an immersive experience.
Were you influenced by the fact that service learning has become a part of our kids’ core curriculum?
We kept meeting parents who were envious of their kids’ service experiences and who were saying, “Hey, I want to go on this trip!” Traveling as a family for adventure, service learning and fun strengthens family bonds. Repeatedly, we see how these excursions instill values that are a challenge to teach your child on a day-to-day basis. Having an experience of going to do a home stay or volunteer with a local community in Nicaragua or India opens your hearts together.
Where was your first adventure?
One of first trips was to Ladakh, India, where we brought used digital cameras to the children of the Siddhartha School Project and taught them how to use the cameras. While there, we also filled 30 bags of garbage in their village. Today, we have several photography trips to China and Ecuador, and our Nicaragua Transformative Travel Plus (TTP) has a digital storytelling component to it.
Please give us a glimpse into a personal experience that has been life-changing for a family, or one that inspires you to keep doing what you are doing.
I have had families tell me how these trips have built character and values for their kids that they never imagined. One dad, in particular, went with his children to Nicaragua, and they actually built a soccer field together in the local community. We had a soccer coach lead the trip, thinking that his expertise and his passion for the project would beautifully translate to both his family and the community. It just created a great experience to share mornings and evenings together at quite a different pace and with a very different focus than when they are all at home in the busy rush of their separate lives. Simply being together in remote locations, disconnected [from technology], is an outstanding shared experience. Hearing from a parent that they witnessed their children learning empathy skills that seem to be so hard to teach in the classroom in the 21st century inspires me.
Hearing from a parent that they witnessed their children learning empathy skills that seem to be so hard to teach in the classroom in the 21st century inspires me.
How do you vet these types of family service and adventure trips in order to best figure out what communities around the world to visit?
We partner with in-country tour operators who focus on sustainable tourism. We are extremely mindful about the partners we select and ensure they are members of the Family Travel Association. Through that, we make connections in different countries that assist with the logistics and the home stay arrangements. That is one of the trickier and more complicated aspects of what we do. Through the NGOs or schools that are located in the communities, we have been really lucky to partner with some nonprofit organizations that are able to vet the home stay arrangements, and it’s worked out beautifully. Not every trip has a home stay aspect, so sometimes we just have an immersive experience like picking crops, building or making a meal together.
Our readers represent a wide range economically. Tell us about the cost range of these family trips.
We are trying to provide these trips so that they are affordable for some people who may not think they could do this with their children. Destinations like Nicaragua or Central America are more affordable than Africa. China is actually affordable, once you get there, and often it’s the airfare that costs a lot. People may have access to [air miles], and so the trip may cost anywhere from $1,700 to $3,000 per person. The more people you have, the more there is an economy of scale.
How does your work now, years later, integrate at this point with your family life?
In Ladakh, India, in the Himalayas, we work with a school that actually was created to basically preserve the Tibetan culture. As a part of this trip, you can sponsor a child to go to school for $360 per year. Our family has been sponsoring a boy named Stanson Safall in Ladakh, and I can’t wait for my kids to meet him. My son is the same age, and they’ve been able to communicate by sending letters. I’ve met him twice, but in a couple of years, we’ll go meet him as a family. These kids live in remote villages, and not all of them can go to school beyond an early age. Some of the kids that were at this school are studying now in the U.S. They all want to go back home and give back to their communities with their new learned skills.
We are trying to create more global citizenry. When you travel abroad, you must be mindful of bringing back what you learned and teaching your own community. Sometimes it takes a transformative trip to realize what we have in this world and what others don’t. Yet we are all the same, you know, we all want the same thing: to be loved, respected and understood.