In my essays about travel, I mostly reminisce on present day trips or about ones not too distant in the past. Having said that, I want to tip my hat to my parents and other parents from past generations or currently who have encouraged their kids to travel whether it be to spend a week with a friend during their family’s summer vacation or maybe spend a summer abroad before college or a semester overseas during college. Travel transforms you.
I hadn’t spent time away from my folks except for a short Girl Scout camping trip until I was sixteen. My best friend invited me to spend a week in Cape Cod where her folks always spent a month during the summer. I rode a bus up and back. That made me feel very independent. There, I spent a week with her family, and though I knew them, you learn that all families aren’t exactly like yours. Her dad watched volumes of football on TV. My dad never did. Her dad took us out in a catamaran, an ocean adventure. My dad took us to Belmar in New Jersey to go crabbing in the summer in a very unscary rowboat. Her folks took us to Provincetown where we saw a street festival, and I saw hippies. This was in the 1960s. My folks would never have done that!
The next summer my best friend Kathy, the one whose family I spent a week with on the Cape, joined me on a Foreign Language Program. I was a Francophile. Kathy liked an adventure. We flew overseas to Villard-de-Lans where we attended classes in the morning and did what we wanted during the afternoons. For Kathy, that was smoking Gauloise cigarettes and drinking. We made friends with the other kids in the program and also with our Mormon chaperones from Utah. I’d never met Mormons before so that was a new experience. Returning home from across the pond, we sailed on an ocean liner. I was seasick the entire trip. We landed in Canada and took buses home. Figuring out how to exchange money for francs is something kids don’t do anymore. In fact, the Euro now makes it easy for foreigners to travel between European countries. Yet, I felt my math improved a lot when I was 17 and had to convert dollars to differing currencies: francs, marks, pounds, lira, etc.
In college, I spent a semester abroad with the Vanderbilt-in-France program. My university didn’t have its own program. Self-confidence is a by-product of travel. Using your Euro-rail pass to scoot around Europe at the end of the semester teaches you how to be independent. You not only learn savoir vivre, but you also acquire savoir faire.
Not everyone has parents who can or will financially sponsor their kids’ trips. Not everyone can cope with homesickness. Not everyone can adjust to adversities and unfamiliar mores that one encounters when one travels to foreign countries. So, if that’s not for you, consider taking trips to other states. Our country is so large and so varied that many of the insights you develop from crossing frontiers you can do here. Arizona is nothing like New Jersey. Maine is not like Texas. Alaska and Hawaii don’t have much in common except that a lot of Alaskans go to the islands for vacation!
Don’t go into dotage with regrets. Make life deeper. Intentionally travel. No matter your age! If you are alone, find a friend to join you or do as my widowed dad did for almost twenty years – he took a different grandchild with him on each trip. Six of his seven grandkids accompanied him, three trips each with him – except for the youngest grandchild. Dad said she was too young at four, and he was too old at 81. He said he needed someone watching him at that point. Dad still traveled but not with grandkids!