Any late-summer Target trip would have confirmed that digital devices and backpacks were ubiquitous back-to-school supplies. They were also essential for friends Larry and Lauri Kraft and their 8-year-old daughter, Jamie, and 6-year-old son, Jason. But the Kraft family of St. Louis Park won’t just be using them for the school day. They’ll also be essential at night, on weekends and during holidays as the clan embarks on a year abroad, traveling to 13 countries on six continents.

Their story, chronicled in companion parents’ and kids’ blogs, is a testament to how technological transformations can be a force for exploration, education and good, all during a time when it’s understandable that many see the world (let alone the World Wide Web) as a dangerous place.

There are two main reasons for the trip, Larry said before leaving. Recalling previous global trekking, he said that he and Lauri “found the experience of other cultures incredibly enriching, and we want to expand our kids’ horizons. And we have a lot of concern for sustainability issues that the world is facing, so we wanted to make the trip more than just about us. We want to study climate change and water availability and environmental issues and blog about it and see if we can have an impact.”

To amplify that impact beyond individuals, the Krafts created partnerships with organizations like the Wilderness Classroom, the Will Steger Foundation, the Climate Reality Project and the Center for Global Environmental Education at Hamline. (They also bought carbon credits to keep the trip’s footprint green).

They’ll not only share their learning by blogging and collaborating with these eco-organizations, but also with the kids’ classmates and teachers at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park.

All of this is possible, of course, because of rapid advancements in technology, which made connecting with the advocates — as well as becoming advocates — possible.

“The connections we were able to make with media would have been impossible beforehand; we wouldn’t even have known about all of them,” said Lauri.

It’s not that the Krafts aren’t tech-savvy. They met while working at U.S. Robotics, after all. And Larry was most recently an executive at Digi International.

But the way the Web has opened the world is striking, even to these seasoned travelers.

“The media changes are mind-boggling,” Larry said, reflecting on his first extensive international travel in 1990. “The first time I did this, I put a backpack on my back and traveled solo. My prime communication was postcards and ‘tissue-mailer’ airmail. I would call home about once a month and talk for about three minutes, because it was so expensive.”

Now the family’s backpacks will be bulging with digital devices that were sci-fi stuff for previous generations of travelers: iPads for blogging and school, Kindles for voracious readers, two phones and a digital camera.

“My first trip, the only electronic thing I had was a watch,” Larry added.

But even when the couple took a long Central and South American trip in 1997, just at the cusp of today’s infinite Internet era, they still had film in the camera, no cellphones and could only check e-mail by finding then-innovative Internet cafes that were sprouting up.

“When we traveled in ’97, we carried around a ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook,” Lauri recalled. “But now we already have met so many people online even before even going.”

So far, it’s working. Reached deep in a Costa Rican rain forest on Wednesday, Larry said via e-mail that “Media can make very remote places feel much less remote.” Yet even new media can be undone by an old global scourge: power outages. “You have to realize that they can become remote again in an instant.”

And there are benefits beyond the planet not seeming as lonely as the old guidebook’s title seemed to suggest.

“For the environmental movement, media making the world seem smaller and less remote is a good thing,” Larry wrote. “If people can learn through media about faraway places, it helps us realize how interconnected we are.”

For most of us, this interconnection increasingly seems to come from wired connections. And great things can happen when Facebook supplements face time. But for the Krafts, and many others, there’s still the thrill, discovery and learning of experience-expanding travel, which now can be better amplified.

“You can’t always talk about things,” said Larry. “Sometimes you need to go do them.”


John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:20 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.