18 March 2015
When I asked my 16-year-old niece if she had any concerns about traveling to Italy with me for three weeks, I typically got a ”no.” So far, few questions have issued forth. She seems to be taking this adventure in stride, as are her parents. I am not even sure they know where I am taking their daughter. Her family in Minnesota seems extraordinarily calm with few concerns. As for me, not so much.
My total 24-hour experience with teenagers has been several exchange students who neatly arrived at age 16, all possessions in a couple heavy bags. About a year later, they packed those same bags, plus a little more, and I put them on an airplane destined for “home” and “real” parents. It was a perfect opportunity to borrow children and play mommy. The experience proved fulfilling and fun. My present apprehensions come from practicing these rather tenuous parenting skills on a relative.
Holy mackerel! What if I misplace their kid?
My niece has flown before – to CA to visit Mickey Mouse and friends. She has a passport but not traveled out of the United States. What’s the longest she has been away from her parents, a hot shower, McDonalds, or text messages? Does she snore? Will I? Is she a morning person? Is she prepared to walk? How interested in the “new” or “different” is she? What of food? I know she doesn’t like tomatoes but thank heavens she likes tomato sauce. She is going to Italy after all.
Does she know that Italians did not invent pizza? (Yes, she does.)
I recently had dinner with my Swiss daughter in Mandalay Myanmar. When told of my pending plans to take my niece to Italy she kindly replied, “You know, you taught me how to travel. You were always so calm and easy.” She was 16 when she arrived at my California home tho she points out that she currently is just two years short of my age when I received her. “I don’t know how you did it,” she admits. She was less kind when I explained I was trying to show my niece how to pack light. With a look of horror, she pleaded “OH Pat, don’t do that to her, she can’t match your packing, can’t be done, please tell her for me you ask too much!”
Well, sorry, I did pass on the warning to my niece but I still expect a lot from my packing challenge.
In fact, I designed a dozen lessons on travel, ranging from how to book flights and rooms, how to use online mapping, how to plot a sight-seeing course, to lots more tips. And yes, the challenging Lesson Nine was on how to pack. She did a great job. But does she really know what she’s getting into? For that matter, do I?
During these lessons, my niece was able to choose destinations, sights to see, and hotels in which to stay. Why not? I have this opportunity to instruct a neophyte traveler. Being a committed world traveler since 1968, the year I learned of my travel guru Arthur Frommer, I want to pass on my experience and hope for the best.
For what do I hope? To instill a love for travel. To develop a fascination for new places and cultures, thus bringing pictures, books and history to life. I would want my niece to learn about herself and come away with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that is denied those who constrain their experiences to a narrow environment and limit their understanding of others.
Her style of travel will develop over time. But I hope she returns to Minnesota with a desire to research her next destination. Hopefully, she saved her lessons. And if her style becomes one of independence while carrying light luggage, all the better.
Now, I’ll just need to beat the Italian men off with my umbrella.