Saturday, 18 May 2013

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Things My Parents Taught Me About Traveling

I lost my Dad about five years ago. It was sudden, out of the blue, and really threw me for a loop. Until that day, anything I was ever unsure of or needed help with, I took to Dad. He didn't always have the right answers or advice for me, but he had a way of helping me think through problems and decide what needed to be done. Then, when I made the wrong decision, he was always there to help me correct my mistake. After he passed away I spent a long time thinking about all the things he taught me in life, and if I'd been authoring a blog back then I assure you I would have written at least a handful of posts sharing his great wisdom with all of you.

This week, I lost my Mom. 

This time it wasn't sudden or out of the blue but the process still seems to be the same, and I find myself once again sitting here reflecting on the things my parents taught me that shaped who I am today. In particular, whether or not they intended to, my parents taught me quite a bit about travel. Not in a "Sit down son I have something to tell you" kind of way, but more like general observations that I made while we were away from home. Some of the things I noticed have helped me to this very day. Some were helpful when I was younger, and others....well there always has to be some examples of what not to do doesn't there?

Here then, in honor of my Mom, are five things that my parents taught me about traveling:

#1 -  Camping with friends is great, just make sure you have a hotel room booked somewhere nearby.

When I was young, we used to spend every Labor Day long weekend in a place called Sicamous for my Dad's work baseball tournament. The first year we tried camping along with everybody else, but after that we always had a room booked at the local hotel. Once everybody started crawling into their tents for the night, we would drive back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep, making us the only rested players in the entire tournament on Saturday morning. Unsurprisingly we still came in last every year as apparently baseball success is based on more than just good sleep patterns, but I learned at a very young age that camping success is based on making early reservations at the Hilton down the road. 

Can we go back to the hotel now?

 #2 - You don't have to pay to travel

OK, they waited quite a while to teach me this one. I always thought that we must be pretty rich to travel, but when Lori and I got married my parents gave us 200,000 airmiles and told us to "go somewhere nice". Suddenly it became clear to me how Dad, who was always away somewhere on a work trip, was managing to fund our family vacations. It was a lesson well learned though as by the age of 10 all three of my kids had MVP status on Alaska Airlines and one of our kids would have had status at a hotel chain if we hadn't gotten in trouble for giving a minor an account in the first place. Did you know there's an age limit on those kind of things? 

#3 - You can't drive an RV down Lombard Street

What you can do however is turn onto Lombard Street, stop about ten feet down when you realize that this probably isn't a very good idea, then back your RV up to the top of the road and make a U-turn. You need a certain amount of skill, finesse, and an amazing ability to block out honking horns and yelling drivers, but you can in fact do it. 

Photo via Jon Sullivan

#4 - They really can't "Turn this thing around"!

You know that game siblings play where any drive over 15 minutes in length becomes an opportunity to see just how crazy you can drive your back seat co-passenger? My sister and I were masters of that game, but when we were young my parents could bring our teasing to a halt with the threat of "I'll turn this car around right now". I'm not really sure why this threat worked on us as most of the time we weren't going anywhere more exciting than the grocery store, but for some reason (perhaps it was the tone?) we always stopped fighting right away when the prospect of turning around was placed on the table. Of course, like any good parenting technique that actually works, my parents went to the well a little too often. One time during a flight to California my sister and I got into it and my Dad threatened to "turn this plane around!" The laughs from nearby passengers finally made it obvious to us that perhaps Dad had been bluffing all these years and that he really didn't have the power to follow through on his threat. Still, it was pre-9/11 so we settled down...just in case.

#5 - Just go. Worry about the details later.

This was simultaneously the best and the worst lesson that my parents ever taught me, but it's also probably the lesson that I grasped most fully. My parents were great at setting frameworks for our vacations, but the details were occasionally glossed over in the excitement. When I was younger, I was fine with driving around for hours at the end of the day with Dad claiming that he was looking for "the hotel". When I was older I realized that we were actually looking for "any hotel" that had a room available, but when I look back I don't remember the disorganization. I remember that we were a family. Short of a few marital lessons that have served me well over the years ("Just assume you're wrong son") this may be the best thing my parents ever impressed upon me. It's certainly the one that I hope my children learn from Lori and I, and their children from them. With any luck one day there will be multiple generations driving around the world realizing that they forgot to make a reservation or that they never looked up the address of where they were going. I know when that happens Mom and Dad will look down and smile and think "at least they're going". Or they'll think "I can't believe they still don't know how to make a reservation!". Either way, they'll get to smile.

R.I.P. Mom and Dad.

Written by Steve Pratt