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.

traveling companions: the significant other

I know a few free-spirited folks who favor solo travel–setting off to parts unknown completely untethered, able to go where you please and when you please, and meet new people along the way. Personally, I usually prefer companionship, but it’s crucial to know who makes a good traveling companion. I’ve been fortunate to have had more good ones than bad, but the bad ones have unnecessarily ruined some trips that could have otherwise been outstanding, and wasted a ton of my money and time. In a series of posts, I plan to review the most common categories of traveling companion and evaluate the merits and demerits of each, as an excuse to revisit some old travels and lovers and friends.

Let’s start with the most common, the significant other. The significant other can make a great traveling companion if the relationship is on solid ground AND if you both have similar travel styles. I had wonderful trips to Montréal & Québec, New Orleans and Washington, DC with J, a pretty easygoing but adventurous guy who enjoyed a healthy mix of seeing the sights and spending time lounging in bars or cafés, with appropriate amounts of napping and sex thrown in. Long car rides were no big deal with this good-natured and fun-loving companion; we’d listen to music and sing harmonies and occasionally pull off onto a country road for a quickie. Oh, to be young and in love.

I went up north and down through Wisconsin and Chicago with a different J; that trip worked also, mostly because he let me dictate everything. Not as exciting or sexy, but a pleasant way to spend a week out of town. At the time, he was very much a homebody and this was pretty much the only trip we ever took in 5+ years of dating. Ironically, he now spends most of the year on the road, touring in a rock band. How times change.  We stayed in cheap up north motels and watched the leaves change color and stumbled on the “cool” part of Milwaukee by accident and went to Shedd Aquarium and had a generally lovely week.

M, however, was a different story. To start with, we had very different ideals of the perfect vacation… his involved being near-catatonic on a beach somewhere, preferably with a huge spliff in one hand and an icy pastel-hued libation in the other. I am much more on-the-go, preferring to rise fairly early to take in some sights, followed by a leisurely lunch, nap, a little more sightseeing and then dinner, drinks, etc. I feel that it’s also important to know how someone will react when outside their element. M hadn’t traveled much prior to dating me, and everything always seemed to present some kind of problem or issue. How much of this was innate vs. him just wanting to be cranky with me personally is a matter of debate; he subsequently traveled to some borderline third world areas and had a grand old time. My hunch is that his filters were set not to complain on that trip since he was with a business associate and not his romantic partner. But that just goes to show that those things are subjective and you CAN choose to overlook minor inconveniences rather than complain and spread misery. I will never understand that… I always feel so fortunate to get to go places and do things that a little discomfort is no big deal.

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