Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

France 101: Remembering Our Fallen

Memorial Day is here. In our family, like so many others, it is the kickoff to our summer season. The holiday seems iconically American as Memorial Day has its roots firmly planted in the Civil War. As time marched on, the day of wartime remembrance became the bank holiday we all know today- the official start of Summer. While fun and sun seem to dominate the landscape, this is the most solemn of military honors. It is meant to assist us in remembering our fallen in battle. It’s a moment of gratitude. While the US honors the fallen, our allies wish to say thank you as well since so many of “our boys over there” paid the ultimate price for their freedoms as well. Join me as we travel to France.

Understanding military family sacrifice…

One way other countries honor the military sacrifice is to honor the sacred battlefields of both WWI and WWII. A great example of this is what you can find when you travel to France. Last summer, I had the honor of meeting two heroes while I visited and the experience was life changing. My mom and I hopped into a sporty euro rental in Belgium and made our way west across the French border to an area out in the middle of nulle part– that’s French for nowhere. We were stopping to visit Private First Class Thomas McGovern. His address is one I can share: Plot B, Row 18, Grave 11, Somme American Military Cemetery, Bony, France.

Thomas is my great, great uncle and died in the famous Battle of the Somme on September 27th, 1918. Visiting the cemetery is quite amazing. The superintendent escorted us out to the grave, among impeccably manicured grounds and explained to us the play by play of the battle and exactly what fate my uncle met. He produced a small container of sand from Omaha Beach to rub across the marble stone so that Thomas’ name was easily read. There, in the summer sun out in the French countryside, I became the first family member- military or not- to come and pay my respects to him. I was all at once proud, connected, elated and humbled. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

My journey to understand family connections continued the next day. While the Somme had 1,100 bright white graves, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery holds 10 times as many. And it is here at Meuse-Argonne that I meet another uncle. John McGovern also died on that fateful September Day. He is Thomas’ brother. Attached to a completely different unit, it’s hard to imagine their mother losing both of them on the same day. But, it happened. And I pay my respects with sand and flags.

This WWI cemetery has very few visitors but it is far from empty. And on this Memorial Day I remember. I think of those McGovern Boys and many others from my family- for they are not the only ones. I look at this picture of a wild poppy so bold in color and so fragile to touch. It is a metaphor for each marble stone. I take time this Memorial Day to remember.

Where do you start to find your ancestors?

Many families look to make their travel more meaningful by connecting with their destination in a bevy of ways. Visiting a relative who sacrificed is definitely a great place to start. But how? First, check out your family tree. Once you have some information to work with, connect with the American Battle Monuments Commission. This is the governmental office that maintains all of these military sites overseas. They will point you toward the correct site for your ancestor. If you find that you do not have a familial connections, try choosing someone from your hometown. Contact your local VFW to get started. Good Luck! You won’t regret your experience!

American cemeteries are all over the world but the ones that you are most familiar with are ones that you will see when you travel to France.

mini globe decor
Study Hall: Essays On Travel, Travel U for Kids

Maps 101: Strategies and Explorations

As a modern traveler, I am constantly working at paring my luggage down to the minimum without losing the comforts of home. It’s true that no one ever says that they wished they had brought more from home! The past few years have given us quite a lot of technological solutions and I readily take advantage of them! From go pros to travel apps, the choices seem endless these days! There is one app that has me taking a step back though- digital maps.

I know, I know! How could THAT be the app I have issues with? Well, it’s not because they’ve gotten me lost. Digital maps have gotten me from point A to point B all over the world. I just miss the art of opening a map and exploring. Imagine finding your hotel on a well drawn map and tracing your fingers through the old town streets of some famous capitol discovering shops and restaurants along the way. I’ve discovered secret churches with priceless art or smaller museums that no one has mentioned in years. I miss that.

Brain Food.

More importantly, my brain misses that. Believe it or not, our brains are the very first virtual map! Each time you look at an unfolded map, it builds more geographical knowledge which, in turn, helps you have a better sense of direction and space. Unfortunately, digital map apps don’t provide this service because it’s almost impossible to see any detail of a larger area on your screen. Research has shown that digital directions actually prevent you from fully immersing yourself into a culture that you’ve just spent time, money, and effort arranging to see. I know what you’re thinking! It sounds like I’m saying, “drop the phone open the map on the Royal Mile and make sure everyone knows you are the new kid in town screaming please pick pocket me!”

person wearing beige sweater holding map inside vehicle
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

Way back when…

When we think of maps, I guess a lot of us remember those big rollaway maps in our elementary school classrooms. You know the kind, they made a whizzing sound coming down which always signaled either immense boredom or intense curiosity. It was a roll of the dice. There was something about the colors and shapes that seemed to make a young mind wonder- or maybe wander, which was certainly my case!

My love for maps extended well beyond the classroom. I loved any kind of map I could get my hands on. Globes, atlases, the tricky fold out ones, theme park maps, museum maps, the Great Adventure Safari map, the New York City mass transit map; it truly didn’t matter. And I always learned something from those maps. For example, I remember discovering that American highways actually have a grid system that helps you know where you are, the lower the highway number, I 10, for example, the further south or west you were.


Another young discovery of mine is that all of the light posts in Central Park have a location marker on them that you can follow or use a map to plan with. I spent countless hours in the car with a Rand McNally atlas learning exits and town names and tracing red, blue and black roadways with my fingers. I admit it, I’m a map junkie.

As a teacher, my absolute favorite activity that I ever got to do was rent one of the world’s largest maps of Europe from National Geographic. My first graders and I kicked off our shoes and went exploring. We measured countries we had literature circles around England, we plotted a road trip from Germany to Italy using robots. We matched landmarks with countries. It was so much fun! Maps create a serious sense of logic out of what can seem like total chaos. They give order to our place on earth and help young minds start to see geographic connections as never before. Maps cater to both the linguist’s and mathematician’s mind set. They speak to current events and history. They restore order to nature as man interferes. Maps are the total package.

As a mom, I always seemed to be stuffing a map into my kids’ hands. Whether it was Disney or the Tokyo train system they go a map. Lead the way! My mother loves to tell a story about how my daughter, who was about 8 at the time, was able to take her to the Big Buddha while we were living in Japan. It took about 3 train transfers and you had to know how to walk through a department store to catch one of those transfers. My daughter had no problem. She totally had it down thanks to maps.

crop person choosing route near map
Photo by Enric Cruz López on

So, take out some maps! Have a treasure hunt, plot a trip using public transportation (which is completely underused in our country) and fall in love with maps! There is no doubt that maps contribute to being globally literate.

Recently, I was walking with my mom in old town Brussels. We were just taking in the scene and window shopping. Walking along, I saw a store window that I fell in love with. And if you’ve been following our page, it might look familiar. So, are you a map junkie like me? I hope so…

What’s a map explorer to do?

I actually think that there is a better (and safer) compromise. Build your brain’s map by exploring all of those maps at home before you take off to your destination. Get a sense of where everything is, how long it takes to get from place to place? What landmarks are along the way, which neighborhoods are worth a look (and which to avoid!) Throw an atlas in the back seat of your car for your road trip.

Krakow from the air! Maps can be the key to any travel success.

Let the kids figure out the national highway numbering system. How do the exits tell you how much further it is to the state line? Take the time to get your bearings and build your map. Then, grab that phone and use it when you need to. I bet it won’t be as often as you think! And if you are not tethered to your screen in directional nervousness, you might look up. You’ll experience more of what you came looking for. A small park, a good falafel stand, a pretty lane, a talented street busker…. the small moments that turn any trip from good to great.

The Verdict.

I can’t say that I will trade in my google maps for a paper map while I’m out and about but I do think that those old school maps have a place in the travel process. Looking at maps laid out on a table does evoke a certain sense of nostalgia doesn’t it? I mean there really is an anticipated delight in finding something new as you connect your list of travel plans to their location. So, invest in the time to explore, it worked for hundreds of years and it still does today. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Travel U for Kids

Travel U Library: Pacific Edition

Thanks for joining us for our 10 Books in 10 Minutes Facebook Live Event! Sharing stories from around the world is an amazing gift to give any child. Putting the world in a young mind’s hands is one of the best ways to create productive, understanding adults. Books like this allow readers to develop life skills like empathy, cultural understanding, and a global sense of self.

TGC strives to connect travelers with quality literature and media that allows the curiosity in all of us to thrive. More importantly, the most powerful tool we have to be the best travelers we can be, regardless of our age, is gobal literacy. So, for more great reads and connections to travel and culture, click here! Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Are We There Yet? By Alison Lester

Are we there yet?

It’s almost Summer and that means that tons of us are hoping to hit the road to go see the great big world around us. As with any car ride, the proverbial question tends to bubble to the bored surface sooner rather than later. Here it comes… you know what it’s going to be! Are we there yet? But have you ever considered really hitting the road? Really dedicating a few months to traveling rather than just a few days? Author Alison Lester takes on the HUGE task of circumventing an entire continent. She weaves a story based on her family’s very brave decision to check out their Australian homeland.

This charming and detailed book does a great job of answering that big question. It proves that each time a kid asks “are we there yet” it may just be the smoke signal we need to pull over, take time and experience something new. Perhaps it motivates you to take that epic road trip you’ve always dreamed of!

The Outback By Annaliese Porter and Bronwyn Bancroft

With illustrations being just as important as the text, this book focuses on the elusive center of Australia. The Outback uses aboriginal art to convey the importance of nature and the harmony that makes this unique region work. Look for this perfect bedtime read to inspire lots of adventurous dreams.

The Aussie A to Z By Heath McKenzie

Get ready to get on the alphabet train to make 26 stops in the land down under! This wacky look at all things Aussie. From furry friends to sports, look for this pick to give you a launching pad into studying this great corner of the world. While the text is minimal, the author includes a quick reference glossary in the back of the book. Additionally, all of the illustrations are ready to explore over and over again.


Living in Australia By Chloe Perkins

Get ready to meet Ruby! She is ready to tell your young reader all about her home country and does a great job at showing what life is like for a fellow kid citizen. With stops at Uluru and Sydney among others, this global book pick goes a bit further by telling what schools are like and highlighting the aboriginal culture. With easy to read text and clear illustrations, this pick is perfect for your younger travelers.

Our global book picks never feel complete without a journal!

Another huge help when taking any sort of road trip is a journal. Structured journals help kids be part of the experience. In fact, many of the bumps and bruises that come with extended trips can be rooted in the fact that kids don’t feel that they have any ownership in the experience. Journals are a great way to include young minds into great travel buddies that feel like they are part of the travel process.

Tokyo City Trails By Lonely Planet

Straight from the publishers of some of the best travel guides for children comes Tokyo City Trails. This book, great for your older explorers, has over 15 walking tours themed for every interest a kid could dream up! From sushi to ghost stories, this book covers Japan’s capital covered. The pages are designed to explore all aspects of culture and get your kids excited about visiting the land of the rising sun.

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Freidman

How My Parents Learned To Eat, a global book pick!

This wonderful tale of a Japanese-American child leaves you with a satisfied feeling. She treasures her parents story. When her mom and dad meet, things are a bit confusing. It causes the two young lovebirds to question if they have a future with each other. Each person struggles to understand and learn the other’s culture and are surprised to discover how hard they have both tried. The lovely end allows for the little narrator to share her story with us. A great read!

Books like How My Parents Learned to Eat allow all of us to savor the unique differences in our cultures and connect over the commonalities. Perfect for ages 4 through 8, it’s the perfect bedtime story. Be sure to share this gem with a young reader soon!

Hachiko by Various Authors

Of all the books I share with kids, I have yet to make it through this one without crying. Be prepared! This unbelievably true story about a dog’s loyalty speaks to the Japanese senses like no other. Hachiko will show how steadfast loyalty can be the very thing that matters most. Richard Gere turned the tearjerker into an americanized version a few years ago. It’s worth the watch but doesn’t hold the same power as the Tokyo setting of the original version.

Suki’s Kimono By Chieri Uegaki

Suki doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t admire her kimono in the same manner. While she is most comfortable in it, others don’t see it’s importance. Suki teaches them how her kimono connects her to her culture which she loves so much. This is a great pick to read with kids who may be struggling with their own cultural identity. Look for Suki to relate that fitting in and standing out are both a great way to be.

Dogku By Andrew Clements

Enjoy this this pick that bring the ancient art of Haiku into the modern world by writing about one of our favorite topics, the family dog! Get inspired to write your own haiku about your furry family member.

Thanks for joining us and look for more global book picks in the future!!