I’ve learned that all of these people that we lose — and this is what I mean by experience — they’re all within us. They become part of our DNA. They become part of our blood. You know sometimes still I’m scolded by my mother. I’m seventy years old, my mother‘s been gone since 2001, and she is still scolding me. She’s still helping me, she’s still counseling me.
– Patti Smith
Since I became a grandfather two years ago my granddaughter has grown from a tiny infant to an active and engaged little person, and that has greatly increased my appreciation for family travel. Becoming a grandparent brought into focus a new aspiration in my life, a powerful desire to provide a meaningful legacy for my grandchildren.
As a grandparent I may be fortunate enough to be around for a third of my grandchildren’s lives. After that I will be only memories. I wonder what kinds of memories I will leave for them. It seems that the natural role of the elders is to try to leave something of value from our experiences and hard-earned lessons of life. So I began to ask myself, what is the best way to do that?
Becoming a grandparent brought me into a new intimacy with my own grandparents, ironically because they passed on decades before. It gave me a new perspective from which I could better understand my grandparents, a new window through which I could look back through time at their actions towards me. Though they continue to slip farther into the past, I actually felt closer to them, a renewed presence of them in my life.
It impressed upon me a comforting fact, that all of the people that we have loved are part of us. Now I must determine what part I will play in the lives of my grandchildren.
The clock is ticking, time is precious. As quickly as my daughter’s childhood passed, I’m sure my grandchildren will grow up even faster. I want to figure out how to plant seeds in my grandchildren that will come to fruition over time so that when they are grandparents they may remember me as fondly as I remember my grandparents.
Seize the Day
My wife and I have been busily engaged in providing opportunities such as music, art and swimming lessons for our granddaughter. It’s gratifying because at her age, she absorbs everything “like a sponge,” as they say, and you can watch her grow and change as she assimilates whatever you present her. But when I sort through all the possibilities and distill it down to basics, it brings me back to travel.
Travel has been my greatest source of education, fascination and joy, so it follows that it would serve best to provide a meaningful legacy to my grandchildren.
For me travel always delivered more education, entertainment and enrichment than a classroom. When I travel everything is new. I am constantly presented with things I have never seen or thought about, stimulating my imagination, adding new impressions and ideas to my memory bank that I will be able to process and draw on forever. Travel engages all your senses, and continues its enrichment around the clock, not just for a few hours of the day.
But what’s the best way to approach travel for a family?
Many Shapes of Family Travel
Obviously family travel has always existed, but it has evolved through many manifestations. In our period the popularity of family travel has soared. After 9/11 there was a tectonic shift in American values, pushing “time spent with family” to the top of the list, creating a boom in family travel that continues.
There are many ways to take a family vacation. When I was a kid we piled the family into the car and drove maybe as far as to another state. It was simple, not very ambitious. But it doesn’t take much family travel experience to realize that there are difficulties with trying to take a family around, working through all the logistical details of getting from one place to another and having a meaningful experience that is not fouled by the difficulties that are inevitable with travel. It’s a big job and someone has to figure out how to handle all those details. The more ambitious the vacation, the more difficulties can be expected.
For many American families a theme park vacation is standard. At a theme park you are in a controlled environment. Finding ways to occupy the kids is no problem. But I’m not impressed with the value of the experiences in such an artificially constructed environment. In a theme park the logistical issues are minimized, along with the authenticity and the potential for enrichment.
Many resorts cater to families by providing places where parents can drop off their kids for a few hours and know they will be supervised and hopefully entertained so the parents can enjoy a few carefree hours behaving as if they were still singles dating.
All-inclusive resorts that brand themselves as “family friendly” often provide a similar kind of babysitting for kids. That minimizes the logistical problems by not going anywhere, just staying in a place that is isolated from the world around it. These options are not very appealing to me.
If I want to provide something that meets my standards for providing a quality experience for my family, I will seek professional help from tour operators who have developed practices over generations for organizing travel experiences that will wring the greatest possible value out of a few days at a great travel destination.
Tour operators have evolved their practices for family travel along with the changing tastes of the traveling public. Family tours started with the assumption that what is a good vacation for a child is very different from what it is for an adult. They tried to design itineraries that accommodated the different needs by providing separate tracks of activities for the different generations.
Then gradually it became apparent to some that the segregated approach to tour planning was missing the most important purpose of family vacations. Maybe families are not seeking to be entertained separately, but rather to share experience and discovery. And this gets back to questions about building a legacy.
I recently visited the Grand Canyon and discovered why no one was ever able to prepare me for that experience. What you see at the Grand Canyon is visually shocking and profoundly beautiful. And it is indescribable. But although you cannot describe the experience you can share it with someone. And it can be one of those memories that stay with you forever, and bind you to a loved one.
So, if travel is the best way to create monumental memories for my grandchildren, then I need to choose what I hope will be the most powerful travel experiences to share with my grandchildren.
I want to share all the places that have meant a lot to me, such as London, Paris, Rome. Aren’t the inexplicable monuments of Egypt essential? How about Greece? Certainly one of my most profound travel experiences was to Antarctica. That changed my conception of the planet I live on. The Amazon jungle was the experience of the primordial earth, unaltered by humankind. Traveling to Asia transports you to a whole new world within human civilization.
Given the dizzying swirl of possibilities, I need to compile a family travel bucket list. I can put all these things on the list and sort out the order later. The only thing I really have to decide is what is on top, what next? If I could only choose one trip, what it be?
If I had just one trip to take my family on, I think I would take them on an African safari. I would choose that because I think that trip may have taught me the most about life. It showed life in the raw, the struggle for survival in the world outside of civilization. By showing life in a pre-civilized wilderness, it shows clearly what civilization really is.
That provides the basis for understanding everything human beings have built upon that primordial wilderness. I hope it helps them to appreciate what we have.
Your humble reporter,
A. Colin Treadwell