February is the most romantic time of the year — at least if you believe Hallmark and FTD Florists. I’ve traveled to many places around the world that I would consider to be very romantic, but I’d like to share another type of love story that involves my three Valentines: my beloved daughters. And while this post isn’t specifically about romantic places, it is about love, creating memories, and sharing the love of travel with those whom you hold closest in your heart.
When my girls were very young, I made a deal with them that if they graduated from high school with an “A” average, I would take them on an international trip with just the two of us; a “B” average would get them a trip within the (contiguous) United States, and a “C” average would get them a trip to somewhere in our Great State of Texas…and so on. When my eldest daughter was a senior, she reminded me of my promise, so I put my money where my mouth was and we started looking at maps and dreaming of where she’d like to go.
I’ve always struggled when planning trips. Should I go somewhere I’ve been before — maybe even more than once — because I love the destination, or strike out to someplace new and exciting? To this day, I still find myself in this dilemma each time I plan a trip. Luckily for me, this has not been a problem for these trips; it was up to each daughter to decide where they want to go! Last month, I wrote about the thrill of traveling solo. These trips are different. When you’re traveling alone, you only have yourself to blame (or embarrass) when you make silly mistakes like going the wrong direction on a one-way street, missing a turn, or choosing a hotel that isn’t exactly as listed on their website. When you’re traveling with your teenager, you’re a constant target for eye-rolls, exasperated sighs, and frustration with not having everything exactly perfect. After all, they see us as all-knowing, all-powerful beings, right?
For my eldest’s graduation trip, Darling Daughter (DD) wanted to go to Italy, so off we went to Rome, Florence, and Venice. I had been to each of these places twice previously and was excited to show my daughter all of my favorite spots. In addition to showing DD around some really interesting and beautiful places, I wanted to teach her HOW to travel as well. We’re not rich, so I thought it was important to show her how to see the world without breaking the bank. Most people travel by taxi straight from the airport to a standard hotel and, in my opinion, only scratch the surface of a place. I like to travel in a different way.
In Florence, we stayed in a hostel that was exactly like a hotel but at a fraction of the price. Although hostels have a reputation as “only for young people,” they are really for adventurous travelers of any age and are a great way to stretch your travel dollar. I’ve stayed in hostels and pensions all over the world, and I think they are an underrated alternative. In Venice, we did end up staying in a hotel, but only grudgingly after a fruitless search for something more interesting. Now that Airbnb is in existence, that is also an attractive option, even in the remote hills of the Amalfi Coast, where we stayed a few years later.
In Rome we stayed at a lovely convent where I had stayed ten years earlier. It was comfortable, centrally located, and was a great price. The only drawback was the (adorable) nuns who lock the doors at 10 p.m. Not a good choice for people looking to stay out late. Fortunately, that wasn’t us, so it was perfect! We arrived in Rome after dark and took the bus from the main train station to the area near the convent. I got us on the correct bus and remembered where to get off at the stop closest to the convent, but everything looked different after dark. It took 20 minutes or so of asking around and getting lost before finding the place, tucked behind a corner that I had not remembered. It felt like 20 hours under DD’s unforgiving glare and sulking, but we finally found it and our trip was back on track! I don’t mind admitting to using the guilty pleasure of gelato after literally every meal to manage the moodiness; hey, whatever it takes!
Since that first graduation trip in 2010, I’ve taken DD and her sisters on trips to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I also took all of them on a trip to Spain and Italy to celebrate a milestone birthday for me. Other than Italy, I had not previously been to any of these countries, so we were learning the terrain together. This was a great way to teach the girls how to make mistakes and learn from them within the safety net of Mom’s reach. Two additional trips are in the works for when the world is back to normal. College graduations are a cause for celebration too, and although that wasn’t part of the original bargain, I’ll take any excuse to go on another trip–something my daughters have learned from me as well!
Each trip has been a great experience and an opportunity to bond with each of them in a new and meaningful way. I can’t say there have been any fewer eye-rolls or sighs, but I have learned to accept (and treasure) each expression of frustration because I know that we’re building memories, and that I am instilling in them curiosity, resilience, and a love for adventure. I may have created three monsters. In fact, I’m sure of it, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope they have lifetimes of adventure and excitement, and I hope they create similar traditions and memories with their own kids when that time comes.
I hope you will also get to experience the love of travel soon with your own Valentine, whoever that may be. Do you have any family travel traditions? Tell me about it so I might be able to start something new with my family!