ambush 1990

The fat little man ambushed us, limbs and appendages flailing as he stumbled toward us, his breathing labored from the effort, or perhaps nerves. In his hand was a 10-franc note, the pretty one with the cartoon drawing of the Little Prince on it. He waved it in our faces. “Regardez! Regardez comme il est beau,” he huffed, gesturing at his shriveled penis. His clothing lay in the bushes a few yards away. We saw the thing unrolling in slow motion—his progress out of the brush and onto the path in a wooded area of the Bois de Boulogne where we had taken a shortcut on a perfect summer afternoon; his brandishing of the bill in our faces; his chubby hand reaching out to grab my small, still-developing breast. We walked at a clip, our pace having increased as soon as we’d seen him out of the corner of our eyes, but it didn’t occur to us to run; in his nakedness, he somehow seemed less of a threat.

As we left the woods and re-entered the open expanse of the park, we giggled nervously and incredulously over what had just happened. We thought of the clever, biting things we would have said or done, if only we’d been quicker-witted: stealing his clothes; telling him “C’est beaucoup trop petit pour moi.” We didn’t feel scared or upset particularly, even though something far worse could have taken place. We were in that bubble of teenage-hood where invincibility trumps reality, and in the end, secretly savored the thrill of a brush with danger and a crazy story to tell our disbelieving friends when we got home.

traveling companions part 3: family

It’s pretty inevitable that you’ll end up traveling with family at some point, whether by choice or obligation. If done right, it can be a great bonding experience. If not, it can make you feel like a screaming teenager again.

Growing up, pretty much all of our family trips took place in and out of cars. With four kids, there was much of the typical bickering/ whining (“mom… she’s touching meeeee!!!!”) and parental threats of pulling over to administer punishment for said bickering. But there were also lots of fun moments of games of I Spy, 20 Questions, and sing-alongs (where I learned how to rock a harmony with my mom singing Beatles or holiday songs).

Since then, family travel has mostly consisted of a bunch of us converging on or around someone’s house, whether it be my dad’s lake house or my mom’s place near Hilton Head. The key for me in these situations (or really anytime I’m in large groups) is the ability to get away and have a little quiet time each day, especially if there are kids around. Usually this means getting up early to read, write or take a walk before everyone else is up, or just disappearing into a bedroom for some down time. As social as I am, I find that I get cranky if I don’t have these opportunities to recharge.

Of course there have been other family trips where we meet somewhere and do more of a tourist thing. In the last 13 months I’ve been on three trips with my mom and her husband- twice in the Blue Ridge mountains, where I brought a friend each time, and just this past weekend to San Diego for a family wedding. In general my mom is great to travel with. She likes to be active, and is usually up for any type of activity we suggest. The only problem is when she starts complaining, usually about service or food at restaurants and/ or about driving and traffic related issues. I’m not sure if it’s a function of her age and being set in her ways, or if it’s just her personality, but it always puts a damper on things. I think the more you go elsewhere and experience other ways of being, the less you have an expectation that things “should” be a certain way, and maybe it’s easier to adjust or accept differences. Or perhaps certain people are just more rigid. My mom didn’t really do much of any traveling until later in life, so I try to cut her some slack. When I do encounter this kind of behavior, in her or other people, I try to diffuse it by saying things like “Just be glad that we’re able to be here!” or other statements that focus on the positive.

When I started traveling on my own, I reveled in the fact that I was out in the world without my parents, discovering things for myself and figuring out how to be independent, so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to include them in my travel plans (not that they would have wanted to… they didn’t even make it to France the whole year that I lived there). My first voluntary trip with a family member was in my mid-20s when I went to Italy with my sister B- there was a February sale on tickets that happened to coincide with her college spring break, so we went to Rome for under $300 each. I’m five years older than her, and I’d say this trip marked the beginning of our relationship as peers. There were a few bumps in the road, mostly due to our age difference and level of experience as travelers (I’d spent nine weeks backpacking through Europe and was accustomed to staying in youth hostels and eating on the cheap; ironically, although she was younger, she had slightly more upscale standards) but overall we had a great time and I was so glad to be able to share that with her. We’ll always chuckle about the night in Florence when we dined and dashed because the food was so horrible and we waited 45 minutes for a check that never came.

Once all my siblings were adults, I’d hoped to be able to take more trips with them, but it seems like things never line up. My sister N had young children for several years. Now, her kids are old enough where she could leave them, but B just had her first baby. Meanwhile, my brother J and his wife are child-free for the time being, but don’t have the financial freedom to do a lot of traveling. N wants to do a girls’ weekend this winter for her 40th birthday though, so who knows. I’ve always wanted to go overseas with J, because we have a lot in common and I think we’d enjoy the same destinations, activities, etc. But at this point, it’s looking pretty unlikely that we’ll ever get to go anywhere just the two of us.

My mom, who’s in her mid-60s, is planning a trip to Ireland with her sisters for this fall or possibly next spring. I really hope that down the road, after people’s kids are grown (or even before), my siblings and I will plan some trips together. Although we all have different travel styles, I like to think that we’d have a ton of fun wherever we went. And who knows, maybe they’ll get me out of my comfort zone to try something I wouldn’t normally do, like a cruise or all-inclusive resort. You never know, stranger things have happened when family is involved.

traveling companions, part 2: the best friend

This post is the second in a series about various travel companions; go here for part I.

hilary-noelle-1The very first trip I ever took without my parents was with my high school best friend, H. One of my uncles, a priest who researches our family genealogy in his spare time, had organized a three week trip for us to France, where we were to stay with distant relatives in Alsace. He accompanied us for part of the trip, but most of the time was spent with my friend bouncing around different homes in the French countryside. I’ll write more about this trip down the road (or check out this related post from my old blog), as there were many formative firsts worth recounting. But H was a great companion, especially given that we were just 16 and full of all the teen drama and emotions one would expect at that age. H and I had a connection such that any and everything could be turned into an inside joke funny to no one but us (“Albert? C’est toi?” Mort de rire.). When uttered later, these would provoke the other person to giggling fits that would often end in tears of gleeful hysteria. I’m sure we got into some minor snits with each other at some point, but my primary memory of this trip is that we got on grandly.  (Sadly, the postscript to all of this is that we had a falling out when she tried to steal my boyfriend freshman year of college. We might’ve gotten past it, but she moved away the following year and we never reconciled until a dozen or so years later. By that time, we had grown apart too much to get things back to the way they were, and although we’re “friends” on social media, I haven’t seen her since. But I cherish the memories of that trip like none other.)

noelle amanda azoresThese days, I am so lucky to have a best friend, A, whose travel pace and preferences mesh almost perfectly with my own (and who’s never tried to steal any boyfriends). When we were younger, we didn’t have much occasion to travel together since she was still in school and/or working to pay off student loans. (An exception was one ridiculously fun weekend in NYC circa 2000… memories of dancing like crazy to Led Zeppelin in a divey Lower East Side bar…) In 2014, though, we were able to take two trips–one to Louisville and the Smokies, the other to the Azores–and both were pretty near perfect. I kept finding myself in certain situations thinking, “if I was with M, he would be ornery and complaining right now,” but everything was smooth sailing. It just confirmed for me that I was not the problem (well, at least not as much as he would have me believe), and I felt much better… I’m not the difficult one, I’m a great travel partner! Ha. And, we may be getting older, but we still have just as much fun… in Asheville, NC, we charmed our way into a “private” club and danced our asses off like it was 1999.

Of course if your best friend is crazy or has a completely different idea of fun than you or is just difficult in general then I can’t really advise taking that mess to another location. But assuming you get along (and if not, it kind of begs the question of why is this person your best friend?), no reason not to take that party on the road. A and I are already daydreaming about our next trip* and checking cheap ticket sites on the regular. Costa Rica is a solid contender, but we’re also considering mainland Portugal and a couple other spots. I can’t wait to find the next place where we’ll dance with all the abandon of our 27-year-old selves.

*Update– we booked a trip to Argentina in October 2018! Stay tuned for fun times ahead.