The Simmons family — Jeremy, Carrie, Nathan and Seamus — takes Mother Teresa’s, (St. Teresa of Calcutta), famous line, “Spread love everywhere you go,” seriously when they develop itineraries for their Travel With Kids Family Adventure trips.
Born from the television show they host on PBS and on demand, Travel With Kids, the trips incorporate family education by immersing participants in history, culture and nature while including plenty of time for family bonding.
“One way we promote family bonding is through volunteer projects,” says Carrie, an alumna of Xavier College Preparatory. Her husband graduated from Salpointe in Tucson. “In each destination we set aside a day to give back to the community we are visiting.”
Last summer, that involved giving shoes to kids in a small village in Cambodia.
“These kids were all walking around barefoot and there were construction materials like nails around, so we know the shoes made a huge difference for their safety,” says Carrie.
“It was amazing seeing them walk in shoes for the first time,” says 14 year-old Seamus who created the project. “They kind of shuffled along until they got used to it. I felt very honored to see that moment.”
After Cambodia, they met a group of families who joined them on their Travel With Kids Family Adventure tour to Thailand. There, in addition to going white water rafting, zip lining, perusing markets and more, they visited colorful Buddhist temples and saw churches and mosques.
“Growing up Catholic, I believe it’s important to show the kids how different people practice worshipping God around the world,” says Carrie.
The group, which included four families from Ss. Simon and Jude, Xavier College Preparatory and Brophy College Preparatory, spent one day caring for injured and elderly elephants in the jungles near the Burmese borders. The kids learned about the animals and about conservation efforts.
“Volunteering at the elephant sanctuary was a highlight of our trip to Thailand,” says Kathy Castro Prebil, a Xavier alumna. “They are such gentle giants and a beautiful reminder of our responsibility to respect all of God’s creatures.”
The second volunteer project in Thailand was a day visiting a local school as part of the Re-Pack Project, a project started by Nathan and Seamus after visiting Africa in 2012.
“We noticed the kids there did not have the school supplies they needed to get a good education, which means they would not get a good job, which means they would not break the poverty cycle,” says Nathan, who graduated from Ss. Simon and Jude last year.
“At the end of the school year here, many supplies get thrown out as kids clean out lockers and desks. So, we thought, we know kids in developing countries who could use those supplies. So, we started collecting them. We collected over 15,000 items last year!” adds Seamus. “And we took backpacks filled with supplies to kids in a rural school in Thailand.”
The kids going on the Thailand trip, and many of their friends and other volunteers, collected the items from seven different schools.
“The Re-Pack Project has opened my eyes so much that when I am older I want to go on many missions,” says Taylor Nislen, an eighth-grader at Ss. Simon and Jude. The kids are so amazing and grateful for all that they have. It is a blessing to be part of something so big that helps so many children.”
The second Travel With Kids Family Adventure tour of the summer took them to Ireland where they met families from Ss. Simon and Jude, St. Theresa, Xavier and Brophy. In addition to visiting castles, going coasteering, learning to fly falcons and kissing the Blarney Stone, they met up with the Loreto Sisters.
“The charisms of the Loreto Sisters – Freedom, Justice, Sincerity, Joy and Truth – are a foundation at Ss. Simon and Jude and have inspired many of the service projects there, so we wanted to see where the sisters came from…what life was like for them back in Ireland,” says Carrie.
A visit to the Loreto Sisters convent in Navan immersed the families on the trip into Irish Catholic culture and while they were there the kids did a little giving back of their own.
“All the sisters were so welcoming and made us feel at home,” says Allison Vanderwey, a who graduated from Ss. Simon and Jude in 2014 and in a junior at Xavier. “It helped me realize how deep and giving the order is and appreciate them even more after seeing their roots and working with them.”
The group also got to meet up with Msgr. Michael O’Grady and see his village as well as witness the Irish devotion to God in action at Reek Sunday on Croagh Patrick. On the last Sunday in July, thousands of people climb the mountain to honor St. Patrick who spent 40 days fasting and praying there in the 5th century.
“It was mind blowing to see the faith attended to in this way,” says Lisa Fowler Foster, a mom who graduated from Xavier. “The devotion of both the Loreto Sisters and all of these people who were climbing – some of them in bare feet – was inspiring. And being a small part of it by giving back to the Loreto Sisters was humbling.”
“Travel can be life-changing,” Carrie Simmons says. “The family bonding that comes with experiencing a new destination, a new activity together as a family and the new found appreciation and empowerment to change the world when you volunteer together is priceless. It’s why we always include cultural immersion and volunteer projects on all our TWK Family Adventure trips.”
Want to join a Travel With Kids Family Adventure Tour?
They have three already filling up for next summer.
- TWK Small Ship Family Cruise to Fiji (July 25 – Aug. 1, 2017) guests will attend a chorale service mass
“The Fijians have breathtaking voices,” says Carrie. “It makes mass feel otherworldly.”
Families will also enjoy participating in a kava ceremony, learning to meke (dance), visiting remote villages, snorkeling, hiking and more. Info. Video preview.
- TWK Family Adventure in Peru (June 27 – July 7, 2017) guests will witness the soaring churches built by Spanish colonists and learn about the Incan Empire. “It’s such an interesting blend of cultures…to see Spanish churches built right on top of the Inca walls…you can actually see the history in layers in walls and roads still being used today,” says Jeremy. In addition, guests will spot animals and meet tribal people in the Amazon, peruse colorful markets, peek at the Andes and discover the world wonder of Machu Picchu. Info.
To find out more, visit www.travelwithkids.tv/travel-kids-family-adventure-tours/