“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.” I am fond of this quote from intrepid explorer and travel writer Freya Stark.
I wanted my daughter to feel it, too.
More than that, I wanted my daughter to experience the challenges of travel and to figure out ways to overcome them. Doing so would arm her for other challenges in life, whether in her career or in relationships or in taking trains in India or subways in New York City.
I have had life-changing trips. In some instances, I was overcome with the beauty of a vista or the generosity of people. I have also had horrific journeys (funny only in retrospect), ranging from my stint as a tour guide in Europe for teenagers committed to escape to discovering that rats populated my room in Nepal. Challenges like these were overcome — some more easily than others, but I’m here to tell the tale.
Not that I want those experiences for my kid, but I do want her to be able to take off and find a wondrous place at a moment’s notice. And I want her to feel, as I did, that travel is oxygen and affords us a world of inspiration, adventure, gratitude, and possibilities.
Travel was my sustenance during the 1960s and ’70s, when I was in my 20s and 30s. I needed to get up and go, and often.
There were reasons for my urge to fly. The first was my experience at Newark airport as I was waiting to board my first flight to Europe: “If you’re not home in six months, my death will be on your hands.”
That’s what my mother said to me as I stood, aghast, in the airport line.
Her panic may have been understandable — if I had been mature enough to think about it. My mother underwent a horrific trek through Europe during World War I to reach the U.S., followed by the death of her father and, later, the death of two sons from polio. She did not want to go anywhere and tried to stop me when I wanted to travel. But I went anyway, inspired not only by my years as a romantic kid who read fantastic books, but, in retrospect, also perhaps to overcome my own nightmares — one of which was that I would be called upon to fear the world along with my mother.
Although she lived to be 100 (probably because she wanted to see where I would end up next), I learned my lesson. I would be the kind of mother I had heard about and dreamed of on my travels, one who gave her child wings to follow her dreams.
Was My Mother Wrong?
These days I think that my mother may have had reason to worry. Fifty years ago there were not many young women in their 20s traveling alone through Asia, North Africa, and South America. This was all unfamiliar to her, and Stone Age means of communications didn’t help.
Traveling alone was not easy then, nor is it now. I think that I reached the nadir when I was doubled over with stomach cramps in Indonesia, trying to get to the airport and asking for help from a group of missionaries, who refused me. And yet, the feeling of accomplishment I had when I returned home — the joy I felt when realizing what I had done — nothing in my life compared to that.
Taking The Solo Leap
My daughter shares my desire to travel and also sees a challenge in finding friends with similar interests and timetables. As I told her, you can’t wait for someone to share your travels: When you really have a destination in your sights, either you go alone or not at all.
I sold the joys of travel to my daughter from the time she was a tot. When she was two years old, my husband and I took her to France, then Ireland, then Poland, then Mexico. She enjoyed traveling, and when she was in college she took a semester abroad in Prague. She has traveled alone, just not in the way I did in my day. She lived for a year on the opposite coast and has produced documentary films in many different countries with a crew in tow. Last month she moved to Europe for a year and plans to travel whenever she can.
I worry about her when she is away, but I trust her intelligence and wisdom and always support new experiences for her. I can see how she has blossomed from every trip, every new country, every opportunity to talk to people and to see for herself what the world is like. Travel changes people; it did me, I am sure. Overcoming fears, taking a chance, trying new things — they all expand our understanding of ourselves and of the world.
Many friends and social media pals have shared with me their stories about how their children love to travel. One of the stories I love most came from Judith, who I met on a ferry in Hong Kong in the early 1970s. We quickly found that we were kindred travel souls. We ended up wandering together through Thailand, and I’ve followed her journeys throughout both our lives.
We completed the circle when I brought my daughter to her home on the other side of the country in 2016, more than 45 years after we first met. I realized that we shared our vision of the future when she said, “Both of my children are adventurous, leaving home to live abroad from time to time. It makes me happy to know that they are trusting of this crazy world.”
Want more travel inspiration? Read about how one of our writers faced her fear of heights to cross Carrick-a-Rede, an iconic swinging bridge in Northern Ireland.