Why do we travel? Do the reasons change as we get older?
Years ago, as Young Marrieds, my husband and I mentioned to his Dad and Mom that we wanted to take a trip to Paris, a place we had never visited together.
JP’s Dad asked us:
“Why? Do you have friends in Paris?”
We told him we didn’t know anyone in Paris. Our visit to the famous city would be to sight-see.
He shook his head.
“Then why go there? We only go to places to visit people we know.”
I scoffed at my wonderful late father-in-law’s approach to travel. He and my mother-in-law came to the U.S. as immigrants after WWII when they were a young married couple and on the rare occasions when they left our country, they did so only for the purpose of visiting their relatives and friends in Northern Greece or Australia. The thought of booking a trip to go to a fascinating city where you knew no one was incomprehensible to my father-in-law.
I remember once seeing photos after my in-laws had returned from a three-week stay in Melbourne where many of their friends and family from Greece had emigrated. Hundreds of photos. All of people sitting around dining room tables filled with food smiling for the camera. Not a single picture of the city, a nature park or a famous winery.
Norm, if you are up there listening now, I finally understand!
Now – in my Empty Nester/Newish Grandmother Days/WeAreAllGettingOlderFast Days – I see my father-in-law’s point – sometimes it is the people, not the places.
This summer JP and I took two people-driven trips.
The first was a week in a circa 1962 rental house in a beach town on the Delaware coast, a place we have been to many times before, but never to stay together with our daughter, son-in-law, their near three-year-old son and 4 month old baby.
You may think that sharing a house with two little people who wear diapers, require frequent feeding and must constantly be watched is not particularly relaxing. And you’d be right. It was not relaxing.
Memorable instead. To experience all of the familiar seashore sights through the eyes of my oldest grandson. To introduce him to the big ocean waves (scary), to miniature golf (fun, but why couldn’t he keep the ball at the end?) and to chocolate ice cream with sprinkles (more, please).
And to walk the beach with the baby, to watch him nap in the sea air and to hold him every chance I could.
Sure I did my fair share of diaper duty, dish washing and laundry folding (it’s not really a “vacation” when household chores are part of each day, is it?) but getting in so much bonding time with the two little guys was worth it. Even if they won’t remember this trip we took together, I will. And for the people, not the sights.
The second trip – which we are still on – as I am writing this – was also people-driven, at least the first half of it. Luck comes in the form of having family who have a lovely house perched on a hillside above a small lake in southern Vermont and invite you to stay there for a few days.
My aunt and uncle’s house faces west to the mountains. We spent lots of time sitting on their deck. Enchanted by the changing moods of the lake, rippled only by the occasional kayaker or paddle boarder. Watching the sun set (I’m not awake when it rises.) Warm days and sweater-wearing nights. Lovely.
We did do a bit of sightseeing – to places I remember from childhood ski trips – to the Vermont country store, snacking at a dairy bar and taking the chairlift to the top of the mountain – and then down via the alpine slide (the slow track.)
But like our week at the beach, the best part of Vermont was the people.
Listening to my aunt and uncle’s stories. Enjoying my uncle’s puns and my aunt’s good cooking. Hearing updates about my cousins and their families. Laughing at familiar foibles.
We stayed for 4 nights – seemed like the right amount of time – and then drove south to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts for a few nights. More mountain views, lakes, charming little towns.
The Berkshires are quite lovely – there is art to see (highly recommend Mass MoCa, contemporary art in a re-purposed factory), nature to enjoy (JP hikes, I read and wait at the bottom of the trail) and places to find with good coffee and interesting food.
But gorgeous as the scenery is in the Berkshires, the second part of our trip after being with family in Vermont seems a bit hollow. Minus the time to spend with relatives, the sights lose a bit of their luster.
My husband and I are having a wonderful time, don’t get me wrong. Any chance to get him away from his hard-charging office to sit in the morning sun on the porch of a bed and breakfast and admire the gardens is welcome. And I particularly relish – as the Empty Nester who stays home with a Still-Working Spouse- spending weekday time together.
I now appreciate my father-in-law’s view of travel. Choosing to fly thousands of miles to visit with family instead of to see kangaroos in their natural habitat. The top ten sights of Paris will always be there (I hope) but family and friends won’t be.