Traveling the World: Lessons From Kids

4 Brother of the Bride-Sq

In all our years of travel we’ve learned that no matter where we are on the globe, we can rarely predict what’s going to come out of a child’s mouth … especially if we’re holding a camera. And there’s the joy.

Shyness was not a problem for this precocious kiddo. He didn’t have a shy bone in his body. We encountered him at a Buddhist wedding in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was the brother of the beautiful bride … and very proud of it. The minute he locked eyes on us, he hurried over – all smiles – with his new digital camera.

“Where do you come from?” he queried.

When we answered, he declared,

“America is a good place! Will you take my picture? Then I will take yours.”

So we exchanged photographic poses, but every time we tried to snap him, his smile disappeared and he looked away. After the click, he beamed a radiant smile and raced over to see the results. When we asked why he wouldn’t smile for the camera he said,

“It would not be proper!”

So we asked if it was okay for us to smile in our photos, and he replied,

“Yes, of course. You are Americans!”

1 Girl w Llama Cusco, Peru-Sq

“How much you pay for me?” she whispered.

Whoa! Back the train up!

“Did that little girl with the llama just ask how much we’d pay for her?” James said incredulously as we walked down the streets of Cusco, Peru a few years ago.

“I think she wants to know what we would pay to take a photo of the two of them,” I answered.

“Oh … okay.”

And that’s how we snapped this beautiful photo. Worth every shiny centimo we placed in her hand.

But the Llama Girl is the exception. Most kids around the world just want you to talk to them and take their pictures – no strings attached.

2 Khartoum Kids-Sq

Kids love instant results. When we lived in Khartoum, Sudan (before the days of digital photography), we always carried a Polaroid to take snapshots to give to children. After the click, the anticipation would build and we would all wait for the camera to spit out the photo. The kids were totally gobsmacked when the images popped out! Then the questions would start:

“How did I get inside the box?”

“Is this a magic trick?” 

“Hey, that kid’s wearing my shirt!”

We learned that the best way to answer all these questions was to let them take photos of us, then they felt empowered!

3 Brickmaker's granddaughter-Sq

On the banks of the Blue Nile we encountered an ancient man who was supervising the production of bricks. He was also babysitting his son’s youngest child. She was incredibly shy, usually hiding in the folds of her Grandfather’s flowing white robes. But when we brought out the Polaroid camera, she became curious. We asked if we could take her photo. The man gave his permission, but the little girl was none too sure. She was afraid of the camera.

“Are you going to shoot me? Will I die?” she said as her grandfather translated from Arabic.

“No, no, of course not.” So I took a picture of James to show her how it worked. She relented, backed up against grandpa, and waited. Click! Then she came running to see the results. Although she wouldn’t smile for the camera, when her picture zipped out she shared a megawatt grin. It was the first time she’d ever seen a photo of herself!

Luang Prabang Cutie-Sq

Everyday this little girl accompanied her mother to her small grocery shop in Luang Prabang, Laos. All day long she entertained herself, climbing the mountains of bottled water and socializing with the customers. When she saw our camera, she immediately sat on her stool and struck a pose. No words were necessary.

Boy on train

Sometimes kids say something so preposterous that you’re totally floored. Even though you know you shouldn’t laugh, you can’t help yourself. That was the case when we encountered this little tyke on a train ride from Colombo to Ella, Sri Lanka.

The train had stopped at a tiny village and we stepped off the train to stretch our legs. This boy was hanging out the window, trying to sell trinkets to anyone who passed. When we came within his radar, he offered to sell James a keychain. But when James politely declined, the little cherub loudly proclaimed,

“You have bacteria on your brain!”

Totally stunned, we looked at each other and burst into gales of laughter. Wonder where he learned that one? It’s our favorite kid-delivered insult so far, and we use it regularly when we need a laugh.

Sometimes I wonder how kids get to be so darned charismatic! They could charm you out of your socks. And this describes the Bedouin children of Petra. From an early age they learn how to live in the desert, handle animals, speak several languages, and charm the tourists. They definitely know how to embrace the camera with a practiced face.

But if you can say something surprising … or catch them in an unguarded moment … their “true smiles” are worth it.

6 Donkey Jockey-Sq

This boy was amazing! When we walked toward him he was wrangling three surly donkeys, hoisting awkward tourists into the saddles, and keeping up a constant sales banter with anyone who passed.

“Need a donkey? It’s air conditioned!”

“She’s beautiful, but no thanks!” I answered in Arabic.

His head whipped around. “You speak Arabic?” He turned to James and exclaimed.

“You’re a lucky man!”

I love this kid!

7 Waving Beduoin Girl

And this gorgeous girl was supposed to be selling jewelry to the tourists, but she and a friend found a sunny spot hidden in a cleft of rock and were engrossed in a game of jacks. When she saw me, she halfheartedly asked me if I wanted to buy a necklace.

I said, “No thanks, you’re on your break.”

“That’s OK. I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll try again. May God be with you.” she replied.

* * * * *

Ahhh … wisdom from kids … so true.

Peace and Happy New Year,
Terri & James

Podgirica Little Girl



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

40 thoughts

  1. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. It is interesting the fear and confusion about your camera at times. I like the kids in Khartoum, – how did he get my shirt?!

    You have bacteria on your brain.

    1. Many thanks, Jeff. I can’t tell you how fun it is to tell someone, “You have bacteria on your brain.” The looks you get are priceless! James and I use it as a safe word if we’re having a difference of opinion. Once you say it you can’t stop laughing! That ends any squabble. 🙂 Happy New Year to you and Kristi. ~Terri

      1. When you are married to someone you develop a secret, unique vocabulary. As long as you’ve been married, I am sure you can speak your own language. Happy new year to you too!

  2. I remember some of these from previous posts–goes to show how striking and memorable they are! I get the feeling my 7-year-old brother would get along well with the Low-blow Lad.

    1. Happy New Year, Brittany! It’s definitely hard to forget these kids.. And bringing them all together in one place just made me smile. It sounds like your brother must be a character, too. Does he have any choice phrases that crack you up? ~Terri

      1. Well, my nephew is a bit older than him, but when they were really little (ages 1 and 3 or 2 and 4 or so), my brother had very advanced speech for his age, and one time he smiled and said to our nephew, “hey, your brain is thiiiis tall” and held up a small space between his hands. We had no idea where he came up with that.
        We’ve been hoping since then that he’d grow up to us his powers for good rather than evil, but so far using his cleverness to get reactions out of people is more enticing to him.

  3. Out of the mouths of babes. What a great post. Kids really can have such a magical view of the world. I think adults would be better off if we remembered more of the magic.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Laura. There are time I wish I could recapture some of that child-like wonder – and sometimes that happens when I’m exploring somewhere new. James always says, “You can close your mouth now,” as I stand there gobsmacked. 🙂 ~Terri

  4. Like Jeff, this may be one of my top post picks form you. Perhaps it is so soon after my struggle with the children of Peru wanting payment that this resonates so deeply. Wonderful photos and encounters I will tuck in my travel tool belt.
    As to the bacteria on the brain comment, well it definitely beats an insult like ” You have meningitis!” 🙂

    1. Such kind words, Sue. Thanks so much. No matter where we go we always interact with the kids, and we usually joke with them and ask them to teach us a new word. You know, the old art of distraction. 🙂 Rarely does any money change hands – just a lot of giggles. The kids in Peru were particularly persistent as you experienced. And as for “You have bacteria on your brain” – we loved the alliteration. Maybe it would be “meningitis on your mind!” 🙂 ~Terri

    1. You are very welcome, Angelina. Kids around the world are an unending source of amusement and amazement – and a great cultural barometer. I’m so glad that you stopped by and I wish you a fabulous 2016. ~Terri

  5. Wonderful post. The bacteria comment is hilarious! 🙂 Maybe it’s a local idiom translated directly to English. Love that you took Polaroids in Khartoum. Would love to see all of those pop up in a post one day! 🙂

    1. Many thanks, Lynda. I hadn’t even thought about “bacteria on the brain” being a local idiom. I must research that because it makes total sense. I remember when James asked our friend from Germany how to tell a woman that she was “a little dish.” She said, “Why in the world would you want to do that?” Somethings just don’t translate well. 🙂 And as for the Khartoum polaroids, that’s a great idea. I just might do that. Thanks for the inspiration. Did you spend the holidays in Texas? ~Terri

    1. Thanks Jolynn, so happy that you enjoyed it. I bet you have some great stories from things your boys have said. 🙂 The great thing about kids is they don’t pull any punches – you usually know where you stand with them. Wishing you and your family all the very best in 2016. ~Terri

  6. Great post full of smiles. In the High Atlas Mountain the children followed us around. Lots of people give them sweets but it’s bad for their teeth so we took a ton of pens with my company’s logo. You’d think we’d given them gold. I wonder if there are any Cadogan pens still kicking around in the mountains today?

    1. Thanks Marie. I love your idea of taking pens – so useful and fun. I bet the Cadogan pens are still going strong! 🙂 We visited the Atlas mountains when we lived in Sudan and took a bag of marbles to distribute to the kids. We got the same reaction you did – beaming smiles – and they had to work together to play a game! ~Terri

    1. Thanks so much, Sylvia. The kids are endlessly fascinating, and so interesting from culture to culture. I’m so glad that I wasn’t alone in the request for a few coins in Peru. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. I definitely love kid tales. During my trip to Vietnam, I taught the game card game “concentration” to a young, disheveled Hmong girl. I let her win at first, but then she caught on so quickly that she beat me every time. I’ll never forget her endearing smile — her two front permanent teeth had come in and they looked so oversized next to her baby teeth.

        Also, I’ll never forget this very young Greek boy who reprimanded my friend, Indira, and me when we showed up to a church in shorts. He pointed to our legs and shook his head. We quickly put on some burlap “skirts” provided by church employees. Acting like a bouncer, the little boy stood by to make sure we were properly dressed. Indira said “hello” in Greek, and his stern look dissolved immediately into a smile. His two front teeth were missing and he then scurried to hide behind a female relative (who had the tiniest of mini skirts on). He would peek out and look at us with his beautiful smile.

      2. Steph, what wonderful kid tales! And isn’t it interesting that they both involved 2 kids missing/getting their 2 front teeth! That’s when kids always seem to be at their best … and goofiest! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your stories. ~Terri

      3. You are so right, Terri, and I didn’t really pick up on that until after I had written the response. I agree — kids are so endearing and goofy when they are missing teeth. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Kids make the world go round. These are all terrific pictures. We also love the kids we meet on our travels. “Bacteria on your brain” is the best yet!

    1. You totally nailed it, Darlene. Kids do make the world go round – as you well know! 🙂 James and I have found that “puling the you-have-bacteria-on-your-brain card” is the fastest way to end any disagreement we might have – because we end up laughing too hard. ~Terri

    1. Thank you, Shelley. When we moved to Khartoum, Sudan we were fortunate to find a wonderful tutor, Salah, a retired college professor. We spent many fun hours learning beginner’s Arabic from him. We always joked that we could speak as well as any 4 year old. 🙂 ~Terri

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s