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Travel Transforms

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!


  1. “Beam me up, Scotty!” and “Shiver me timbers!”
    It’s not only interesting how much we are transformed by travel and how much travel itself has transformed over the years.
    From checking-in at an airport to trekking in search of your gate feels a journey of its own!
    Finally landing in your seat is like the arriving at your final destination! And the plane hasn’t even lifted off the ground.
    Are we there yet?!

  2. Loved this story. I must show it to my 21 year old granddaughter when she visits next week. Erika’s slices of life stories always bring stashed away memories to the forefront. Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Erika for reminding us to live life to the fullest.
    No better way than to get out of our bubble and travel!

  4. I traveled with a friend to Florida when I was 15. We went down on a Trailway bus and flew back to Greensboro. Everything you say about travel and independence is spot on! I had not thought about that trip in decades.

  5. I was fortunate to have parents that encouraged travel! I enjoyed and agreed traveling from Erika’s perspective! Traveling when young truly teaches and develops independence! Whether it’s by land , air or sea travel where and when you can at all ages!

  6. Well said,Erika. Good insights that a varied audience of readers can learn from and enjoy.
    Lots going on in your publishing life right now! Congratulations!

  7. Yes, travel does transform. Luckily I grew up in a family that believed in immersion of different cultures. Thanks for the reminders of by gone days Erika.

  8. I heartily agree with you, Erika. Many years ago my teenage daughter and I volunteered to go to remote villages in the mountains of the Dominican Republic to serve on a medical missions trip. It was her first trip abroad and it was transformative on many levels, for her and for me. We all learn and grow through travel.

  9. The title says it all: travel transforms. The interesting part is that it transforms each of us in different ways. For me, a person who spent her pre-college years going to the same schools with the same kids, travel opened my eyes to diversity and forced me to make decisions on my own. Travel provided lessons I would never have learned in the classroom.

  10. Erika, your travel experiences are rich and plentiful. I’m envious of the college students today who have so many opportunities to study or summer in another country. Not so true when I was growing up even, though I loved to travel. At 82 I’m ready to embark on a full calendar of overseas jaunts to broaden my outlook on life.

  11. I would encourage everyone to step a little out of their comfort zone when traveling. Whether stateside or abroad try new foods, take in a local history museum, sit and have a drink and a chat with a local. I promise it won’t hurt and you will come away with an amazing memory.

  12. Erika, these are wonderful memories and great advice! It brought back the memory of my first experience as an eight year old farm girl – going for two weeks to summer camp sponsored by a church, living in tents with other girls, learning to swim in a lake and getting my Red Cross designation, evening gatherings in the forest with bonfire and worship, daily activities …what a great experience! From then on, I have always enjoyed traveling, seeing all the historic places I read about, cultures and places different from mine…it’s mind expanding and adventurous, especially riding camels! So glad I have had the opportunity and still thrill when thinking of the next one.

  13. So many things can be learned through traveling. I encouraged our children to attend church camps when they were young, traveling by bus with other children to a different state. Each one of them gained a thirst to see more of the country – and for one son, more of the world. The people they met and the places they visited became a big part of their education and independence. Wonderful insight from this author. I walk away from this story with the encouragement to live and experience life! Don’t be afraid. And I did something right as a mom to encourage adventure! Thank you.

  14. Erika,

    Great job exploring the joys and transformative benefits of travel. I agree completely, and have experienced both domestic and international jaunts, and hope to continue doing so, as long as I can! We just returned from back-to-back trips to the British Virgin Islands (sailing with grandkids) and to Egypt. Wonderful.

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