Sites Unseen

Growing mounds of research stress the importance of building confidence and a strong sense self in our kids. So what role might travel play in building confidence and self-worth?

Traveling to countries with different cultural and religious ideas, different customs and even different food, can be a hugely enriching experience. It can help kids to know themselves better, and become more tolerant and less fearful of people and situations different from their own. It can also be liberating for kids to experience different cultures and realize that their own culture is respected and admired by people in other countries. 

Travel provides children with opportunities to continually try new things, to experiment with different ways of living, and to bond with people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. As kids experience success in each of these new experiences, their internal sense of trust and curiosity expands and gets played out in everyday life.   

This month’s post describes a moment that built my kids’ confidence.  Enjoy!

Sights Unseen

We arrived at the crystal blue bay through a populated area of the reserve, the beach speckled with B&Bs and hostels.  Although inhabited, the hostels appeared abandoned. This uninhabited vibe was part of the allure of Puerto Viejo, our first stop on a 13-day trip through Costa Rica. 

As the young and zealous tour guide led us on a hike through the rainforest, he reiterated the importance of protecting nature: “Watch where you walk,” “Don’t leave any trash,” “Ask before you touch.”   I sensed he didn’t believe that tourists would respect the area, at least not as they should.

The kids spotted their first family of monkeys, swinging through the trees, babies on backs, curiously and knowingly waiting for one of us to drop something they could inquire about.  Raegan pushed herself closer to them while Braeden slid his shoulder behind my hip. I took the opportunity to hold him a little closer, as we gave each that familiar smile—no words exchanged.

In the midst of our zealous guide’s ramblings, we stopped to admire an ant farm and the shell of a cicada beetle who had recently emerged from its shell and was sitting on the tree to dry.  We intently watched an orb-weaver spider, the size of my hand, expertly spin her web from tree to tree.

When we reached the end of the forest, where the land met the sea, we were greeted with fresh pineapple. We took our time to savor it, allowing it to drip from our fingers. In this moment I felt deep appreciation for the simplicity and pace of Costa Rica. I made a silent promise I would bring some slowness back home with me. 

As we moved towards the weary snorkel boat, faint hints of paint chipped away by the sea and sun, it rocked loosely from side to side. Braeden gave me another look—the one that said, we got this, right?  I smiled and reached for his hand as he climbed in.  

Raegan, who had promptly seated herself next to the guide, introduced herself wholeheartedly, making the other passengers laugh.  Soon she was chatting with travelers to her left and right, determined to know where each of them came from and how they ended up here.


I mindfully breathed in the fresh air, equally appreciating the blueness of the water and the chatter of the group.

Sean geared up first. Snorkeling is one of his great passions, something he loved long before we met.  Fearlessly, Braeden quickly followed, jumping to his dad. They swam off toward the reef. 

Raegan, with her usual confidence, jumped in as well but just as quickly called out about her sinking body and water-filled mask.  I reached in to pull her back onto the boat.  

“Honey, you have to make sure all your gear fits and works before diving in.”  


I laughed, appreciating the differences between my kids.  

After a second try at selecting and positioning her gear, including a vest she could float on, we slid into the water.  


Holding hands, we swam towards the reef, our masked faces skimming the surface of the water.  Squished up between the mask and the snorkel, her smile was as big as I’d ever seen it.  

Our bodies floated effortlessly as the sun warmed our backs. We took turns pointing to the colorful fish and chased schools to see where they’d go.  

After an hour we headed back to the boat. I pulled her up, wrapping her in a fresh towel, squeezing her gently.  

At that moment, I said a silent prayer: “Thank you for this child of mine, for the sights we have shared and the many sights still unseen.”

Renee DineenComment