When Keith Bellows' firstborn, Adam, was 18, his idea of getting outdoors was "opening a window," Bellows says.
That's mildly frustrating for the average parent. For Bellows — editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, native son of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Istanbul-to-London-to-Egypt globe trotter — it wouldn't stand.
Bellows sent Adam on an Outward Bound wilderness expedition in the mountains of North Carolina and watched his world forever open wide. Such is the power of travel.
"Learn to travel, and you'll travel to learn," Bellows says.
It's a mantra worth contemplating as summer draws near and families weigh conflicting visions of how to spend those precious days off. Should vacation be educational or fun? Can it be both? And what happens when half the house spells fun D-I-S-N-E-Y and the other half spells it Y-O-S-E-M-I-T-E?
"Replenishment, renewal, adventure and excitement," says family therapist Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (Scribner). "That's the ideal family vacation."
The learning, she says, doesn't need to be forced.
"Some trips take on an element of transcript-y-ness," she says. " 'You can write a paper about it for school and impress your teacher! You can apply to be a camp counselor and say you did this! You can write about it on your college application! That kind of trip might be great, but it takes away from the idea of recreation for its own sake."
Which isn't to say that travel shouldn't introduce new worlds and open your mind and inspire wonder. Quite the contrary.
"I think vacations should be and can be about transformation," says Bellows, whose new book, "100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life: From Your Backyard to the Ends of the Earth" (National Geographic), opens with a quote from the philosopher Augustine: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page."
"What's amazing is how powerful one place on a Wisconsin lake can be for a child who's young enough," Bellows says. "These kids are going to grow up and inherit the world. It's up to their parents and ... anybody who has a child in their life to reach out a little bit and put them on that road."
And where, specifically, should that road lead?
The less contrived, the better, he contends.
"Disney and Orlando and Sea World are all fine, and they're a rite of passage, and they're perfectly acceptable wonder," he says. "But they're not real wonder. They're artificial wonder. What you want your kids to understand is the entire world is filled with wonder. It's not where you expect it, and it won't be predictable, and it won't be there when you want it to be there. The adult's job is instill that sense of wonder and then get out of the way of it."
The best destinations, Mogel says, allow maximum room for discovery.
"Peter Pan's Flight at Disney World is one of my favorite places on the planet," Mogel says. "But so very much of the work is done for you. That element of serendipity and overcoming slight challenges and solving problems with the materials you have at hand — that level of invigoration can't be beat.
"The freedom to get dirty," she says, "a tiny element of something scary — crossing a stream on some slippery rocks, maybe — not too educational and absolutely not too canned."
Bellows' book extols the virtues of locales as far-flung as Mongolia ("ride horses on the vast rich green plains or on a two-humped camel in the Gobi Desert") and as exotic as the Great Barrier Reef ("swim right next to dolphins, rays, unicorn fish and other marine life").
But you don't need to venture far from home to find adventure.
"Take them to a new city, and let them navigate it without a whole bunch of rules," Bellows says. "Shop at an Ethiopian market. Look for different worlds. Most people can't afford to get on a plane and fly to the Great Wall of China. Allow your kids to experience and discover the foreign in their own backyard."