Learning on The Road: What My Daughter (and Me) Learned on our 10-day Family Road Trip

Learning on The Road: What My Daughter (and Me) Learned on our 10-day Family Road Trip

About the author: Dr. Harijanto Tjahjono, Head of Educational Psychology Department at Universitas Surabaya (Ubaya). A fervent traveler, passionate advocate of diversity with an endearing sense of humor,   we were truly touched by his deeply personal account of witnessing his daughter’s challenges in adopting Indonesia as her new home and how through the road trip through several Java’s cities has helped he and his daughter rebuild their relationship and created new common grounds between them. The article has been shortened with the author’s approval to fit the limitations of our website’s blog. The original article is posted on All copyrights belongs to the author.





My daughter carefully tried to pronounce the names of Javanese dishes that we would encounter on our road trip the best that she could with her still-thick American accent. We were getting ready for a 10-day road trip, and I had told her that we would make this an “educational” road trip. She was not too delighted about that decision because she knew that “educational” in this case translated to more studying, reading, and memorizing for her. No, we are not the kind of parents that think that children should study all the time.

We had just moved to Indonesia the year before after living in the US for 13 years, and my US-born-and-raised 11 year-old daughter had had a tough time adjusting to life in Indonesia. After we settled down in Surabaya, Indonesia, my daughter continued to struggle with learning so many new things and adapting to a new world. It was challenging for her in so many levels that one night on her bed she burst out crying and asking us to go back to the US. It broke our hearts to hear her crying that night, and I remember thinking that night that I must have been the worst parent in the world for taking her away from the only world that she had been familiar with and friends that she had loved so dearly.

So that’s the story behind our decision to do the road trip. I saw road trips, especially the long ones, as a chance for families to bond. The other factor was our desire to introduce Indonesia to my daughter.

So before the road trip started I gave my daughter one assignment: she had to study about all the towns and cities on Java that we would pass on the road trip. I showed her on the map the route that we were going to take. I asked her to study all those cities and towns, all the local quirkiness that she deemed interesting in those places, the places’ cultural significance, and even famous local food in those places. My daughter, who had just moved with us from the US to Indonesia a year earlier, had to memorize and study all those names that must have sounded strange and new to her American ears.

“Dad, what is lo-tek?”

“Dad, why is Prambanan a Hindu temple, while Borobudur a Buddhist temple?”

“Dad, what is na-si-bo-ra-nan?”

I tried my best to facilitate her learning by prodding her to go on and asking her to report back to me what she had learned from time to time. I was delightfully surprised to find out that she was learning new things that I had never known about towns and places in Java.

She learned about Jogjakarta and its famous food scenes.

She learned about the story of the king who built Borobudur temple and the religious tolerance between the Buddhists and Hindus at the time it was built.

She learned about Prambanan Temple and how different the architecture is from Borobudur’s.

She learned about the origin of gudeg (young jackfruit stew) and the uniquely named sate gajah (literally, grilled elephant meat on skewers)

….. And so many other things…..


When the big day came, my daughter was more than ready for the road trip. Armed with her notebook, she dispensed all the knowledge that she had learned about the towns that we were passing through. What interesting places can we visit in Lamongan? What local dishes are famous in Bojonegoro? What is different about Sate Ayam (traditional grilled chicken on skewers) in Blora compared to Sate Ayam in Surabaya? Every time we passed through a town on our road trip I asked her questions about the towns. And she answered those questions to the best of her knowledge.

But most importantly, we talked. It started with questions and answers about the towns that we passed through or interesting places that we visited. Our conversation then shifted to other topics. I explained to her how small towns in Java are different from small towns in the US, and how driving in Indonesia is so different from driving in the US. I talked to her about all the food that we ate on the trip. We chatted. We discussed. We laughed together.


After a few days driving we finally reached Jogjakarta, a city famous for its cultural and tourism attractions where we had planned to spend four days. There were so many places to visit in Jogjakarta that even four days are not enough. These are the places that we visited in and around Jogjakarta:

  • Borobudur Temple. Technically Borobudur is located in Magelang, a small town next to Jogjakarta. But it is so close to Jogjakarta and the temple is so magnificent that Borobudur became Jogjakarta’s de facto number one tourist attraction. As the biggest ancient Buddhist temple complex in the world, Borobudur temple was very large and consisted of nine stacked platforms connected by endless numbers of stairs. Exploring the whole temple compounds meaning walking up and down many stairs under the burning tropical sun. My daughter complained about the walking and the heat, but she soldiered on because the whole temple was interesting for her due to her having read about the temple previously.

  • Prambanan Temple. Prambanan is the yin to Borobudur’s yang, no trip to Jogjakarta would be complete without visiting these two great temple compounds. Prambanan itself was built by a Hindu king in the 9th century as an act of devotion to Hindu deities. Because Prambanan is a Hindu temple and Borobudur is a Buddhist temple, the architectures and the visiting experience of the two magnificent temples are very different. Borobudur is more spread out and the architecture was designed to resemble a lotus flower. The whole temple was full of carvings on the topic of the life of Buddha and “wisdom panels” that depict wise teachings of Buddha about how to live. Prambanan consists of eight bigger temples that are characterized by their tall and pointed architecture. Borobudur provides an ambience that fills you with an idyllic and meditative religious experience, while Prambanan gives you a sense of awe and devotion seeing five majestic structures scraping the sky, not unlike what you experience when you stand in front of Catholic cathedrals.

  • Keraton is what local people call the old King’s palace in the heart of Jogjakarta. The area where the king actually lives is closed to the public, but there is a part that is opened to the public. This public area is divided into sections or buildings, and they are full of paintings, royal chariots, statues, and other art objects and mementos that give us commoners a glimpse of Javanese royal lives. Unfortunately I think some parts of the keraton need renovation and some good old routine cleaning programs. But even in its present condition the keraton is a great place to visit to learn about Javanese royal family and its history.
  • Malioboro street is a famous street in Jogjakarta’s downtown area that is lined up with street vendors and shops, and therefore is a perfect place to buy cheap souvenirs for your friends and families. Two suggestions, though: Consider taking taxi to go there instead of driving by yourself as parking is very hard to find in the area. We learned that the hard way on our first day in Jogjakarta as we were forced to go back to our hotel after looking futilely for a parking space there. My second suggestion would be to NOT buy any food from the street peddlers without first asking for the prices. Some of those peddlers hike up their prices to an exorbitant degree to get more money from tourists.


Learning on the Road: Club Sandwich

Learning on the Road: Waffle









We were lucky to find a hotel in Jogjakarta that my daughter, and us the parents, like.  When we got tired in the evening after a day spent visiting interesting places around Jogjakarta we like to wind down in Gaia hotel’s cafe.  I found that the ambience at the cafe was great for relaxing with your family after a long day full of activities. And my daughter quickly found her favorite food and dessert at the cafe, both of which she could eat for breakfast, lunch AND dinner (or all three at the same time): the cafe’s club sandwich and waffle! We, the parents, gave both the sandwich and waffle our stamp of approval because first of all they tasted great (hey, we ate them too under the guise of “making sure that the food is nutritious”). But more importantly, at Rp. 35.000 and Rp. 25.000 (respectively) they cost less than the prices at those supposedly “street peddlers” on Malioboro street who sold their food at astronomical prices.


My daughter really enjoyed the four days we spent in Jogjakarta and the whole road trip. Having read about those places gave her a new level of understanding and enjoyment about them. It is one thing to read on Google about Borobudur and Prambanan Temples. Nothing, however, compares to visiting the majestic temples and experiencing the grandeur of Borobudur and Prambanan by yourself. No amount of book reading and Google browsing could replace walking up the stairs of Borobudur’s temple, exploring the inner sanctums of Prambanan’s temples, and seeing and touching the statues of Shivas and Ganeshas inside those sanctums.

History. Food. Culture. Geography. Respecting other people, different faiths, and different cultures. Those, and many other subjects, are what my daughter learned on our road trip. But more importantly, the road trip changed my perspective about my relationship with my daughter. I started the road trip with the hope that it will somehow change her. But the road trip actually changed me as well. I now see relationships, and life itself as a road trip. McMahon from Smarter Travel commented that,

Travel, like a relationship, is a bumpy, winding road. The lows teach you just as much as highs, and the best of both challenge you to experience new and exciting things.

Instead of hoping to fix her, maybe I need to see our relationships as having natural ups and downs. No matter if she will hug me tomorrow or not, no matter if she has outgrown the “huggy and kissy” phase, I will continue to love her and provide her the best support that I can. The ups and downs of our relationship, just like the bumpy road on our road trip, will only make us closer. I love you, Precia, no matter what.