My brothers and I were never given an option. Every summer, my mother would throw her five children in the back of a Plymouth station wagon and head out to a predetermined destination in the United States. Distance didn’t matter. Seattle, Los Angeles, Colorado, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., were all in her sights. My father claimed the crops on the farm required his attention but he would still occasionally fly up and join us. By the time I left home, my brothers and I had checked off 35 states. After my mother was widowed at 46, she began to explore the world. In 1969, she planned a ten-week tour to Europe for the family, complete with the purchase of a Volkswagen van delivered to England for us. Long before faxes, cheap telephone calls or the internet, Mom used Europe on $5 a Day and the mail to reserve hotel rooms for every stop on the itinerary. We skied in Switzerland, rode into a salt mine in Austria, swam off the coast of Sorrento, Italy, and visited East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. That summer we added ten new countries to our list of places visited and I was hooked.
The tradition continued with my family. Our children did not get the traditional trips to Disney World or the beach. They bargained for panchos and backpacks in the Indian markets of Ecuador and zipped through the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Each took advantage of the Rotary exchange programs, one to Spain and the other to Japan. Family conversations today still include debates on where the next trip should be.
This will be a column on traveling but its emphasis will be on every day life, not on a day to day description of a trip with hotels and restaurants. It may cover cooking lessons in Hong Kong, or one day’s experience in the art world of Buenos Aires or even a report of immigration issues from the viewpoint of a Spanish teacher in Guatemala. Since I don’t travel on tours, I often read extensively prior to a trip. Guide books are helpful, but memoirs and literature give a greater perspective. And with the internet, you can even read local papers for the hot issues in that country. Hopefully, I can occasionally liven the column with tidbits, such as a dog poisoner is on the list of Hong Kong’s ten most wanted or that there is no word for diet in the Vietnamese language.
Through the years of traveling with my mother, we learned the world was to be enjoyed, not feared. Different is not a synonym for bad. The worst travel experiences become the best stories to tell. And travel will cure any ambivalence about the pleasures of your own home. But regardless of the length and enjoyment of our ventures, we need to return to our family and friends where a trip can be most enjoyed in the retelling. So, until the next column, remember “always pack your swim suit.”