Meeting Mother Earth

One St. Louis Park family is spending a year traveling the world with a mission to learn more about the environment—and to share their experiences with others back home.

For many parents with young kids, even an outing to the grocery store can seem like a daunting adventure—let alone a road trip or a weekend getaway. But for one St. Louis Park family, traveling together is what they do best.

Larry and Lauri Kraft and their two kids—daughter Jamie, 9, and son Jason, 7—packed their bags last summer and have spent the past school year exploring the globe—literally. The Krafts have visited dozens of countries, learning about local ecosystems and cultures as they go. This August, they’ll finish the last leg of their trip in Svalbard, a chain of Norwegian islands in the Arctic Circle.

“We’d been thinking about doing this for a number of years,” Larry explains during the family’s brief visit home last November. “I’ve traveled solo around the world, and after we got married, Lauri and I spent nine months backpacking in Central and South America. We’d talked about doing it with our kids.”

Logistically, international travel can be tricky even for one person. So what’s it like to venture out with kids? “It’s a lot of fun,” Larry says. “You learn so much about other cultures and about yourself. It was something we wanted to expose [Jamie and Jason] to. We also decided that we wanted to make it about more than just travel,” he adds. “We’re both quite concerned about environmental issues and the path the world is on.”

“All four of us are!” Jamie interjects.

Lauri adds, “Even though Larry and I have traveled before, it’s a different experience traveling with children. We’re seeking out learning opportunities, so that’s been a nice part of the trip.”

jason
Jason stands by 3.5 billion year old Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, one of the last places on earth where they can be found.

The Krafts researched different ways to continue the kids’ education—and share their own experiences—during their year-long adventure. They connected with the Wilderness Classroom, an organization that creates environmentally focused content for more than 85,000 kids and schools. As the Krafts travel, they share educational posts and photos online and connect with kids all over the country.

During the school year, Jamie and Jason even had the chance to video-chat occasionally with their pals back at St. Louis Park’s Peter Hobart Elementary School. “Our school district and the administration have been phenomenal,” says Larry. “We’ve been sharing our experiences with them.”

Though Internet access has been hit-or-miss, the Krafts are thankful for a few important pieces of technology—like cameras and laptops—that allow them to stay connected and share their once-in-a-lifetime adventure. “The first time we traveled in the ’90s, there was no Internet and nothing digital,” Larry remembers. “And now we’re posting online content as we go.”

“And it would be impossible to carry the books we’d need for reading and school,” Lauri adds.

The Krafts have needed to be flexible as they’ve traveled, often staying with families in the communities they visit, eating lots of new foods and traveling by any and every means of transportation: “Water taxis, buses, boats, cars, trains, walking, small ships,” Lauri says with a laugh.

tuktuk
Riding a tuk-tuk.

Overall, say the Krafts, their year abroad has gone smoothly. They miss a few comforts from home (Indian rice for Jason and cold skim milk for Jamie), but mostly they’re having the time of their lives.

“I want our kids to have an understanding of the world, and of how different people live,” Larry says. “The other day we were talking, and Jamie asked me, ‘Can we stop climate change? Can we do something?’ And I said, ‘Yes, we can.’ And they’re going to do it. I want all kids to feel empowered to do it, because they can.”

“Over the course of a long trip like this, we learn that we can’t always control everything that happens,” says Lauri. “Our kids are learning tolerance and an understanding of other cultures. We’re always asking, what lessons can we bring back from other places?”

angkor wat
Angkor Wat

Dear St. Louis Park Magazine readers,

Traveling with children—especially when we’re responsible for their education—motivates us to seek out learning opportunities as we go. We wanted to share a few experiences: encounters with nature, inspiring people we’ve met, and lessons learned from other places.

On the west coast of Australia, we snorkeled at Ningaloo Reef and saw dolphins up-close at Monkey Mia. In Peru, we spent a week sleeping in an open-air cottage in the Manu rainforest, meeting scientists from the CREES organization who study butterflies, birds, monkeys, snakes and more. In the Galapagos, we saw sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, iguanas and loads of birds. … And in Costa Rica, we visited several rainforests, including Drake Bay, where we saw sloths, monkeys, a peccary, tropical birds and coatis.

We’ve learned about animals and biomes, but have also tried to branch out from there …. In Peru, we learned how important it is to protect secondary rainforests … and we discovered we could do pretty well without electricity for a week!

We’ve also learned habits that we plan to bring home. Nearly every country we’ve visited so far uses compact-fluorescent or LED bulbs almost exclusively. Almost everywhere we go, people dry their clothes on a clothesline (our friends in Australia even have one in the garage; they use their clothes dryer about twice a year). Jason inspired us to “go veg” for a month in India. We learned about the negative impact meat production has on the environment, and plan to try and make vegetarian meals the norm at home rather than the exception. And we plan to travel more often, when we can, using buses, trains, bicycles and our feet.

Seeing Jamie and Jason soak up these lessons (and try to impose them on unsuspecting grandparents) has been worth the trip. So has the chance to experience new cultures and enjoy quality time as a family.

We wanted to draw attention to the most significant environmental issue we’ve encountered: climate change. We’re seeing firsthand how it’s affecting people and ecosystems around the world. Our world is incredibly complex—it’s impossible to predict exactly how it will respond to global warming. But if we continue burning fossil fuels at current rates, even conservative predictions include the possibility of dire consequences for humanity—not for far-off generations, but for our own children and grandchildren.

As we travel, we’ll continue looking at things with an eye toward how people impact the environment. We hope that we’re teaching our kids to be good global citizens. And we also plan to bring home lessons that we can share with others and implement in our own backyard.

-Larry and Lauri Kraft

home
Home sweet home at Osprey Bay.

Where in the world is the Kraft family?

Check out their impressive itinerary.

Fall 2013

  • Costa Rica
  • Peru
  • Galapagos
  • Thanksgiving in Minnesota

Winter 2013-14

  • Australia
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • India

Spring 2014

  • South Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Zimbabwe
  • Zambia
  • Botswana
  • Namibia
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • France
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway