Travel Theories: Part One of Two
Okay, so I've been really, really lucky to get to travel around the world as much as I have. For those of you who haven't known me forever (I'm lookin' at you, sisterfriends who went topless on a beach in Barcelona with me, and sisterfriend who, perhaps wisely, did not ;) I first ventured abroad in 1994 with the People to People Student Ambassador program on a group trip to New Zealand and Australia when I was 15. I got the international travel bug and have been hooked ever since.
Prior to that, my family traveled all around the U.S. and parts of Canada on long road trip vacations. Our vacations were always a combination of camping, first in a tent, then in a pop-up camper. Both my parents were teachers and/or worked in schools, so we had all summer to go to Rehoboth Beach once or twice, then meander down to Memphis and back; or head up through New England, into Canada, back down into Maine through Boston and home; or to Disney World and back via Stone Mountain and Ebenezer Baptist Church.
My sister and I would always ask, "Where are we sleeping tonight?" The answer from the front seat was: "Don't know yet" or "In the camper." Of course, we also bugged them with, "Are we there yet?" but more importantly, "Where is THERE exactly?"
My parents would plan our trips around a combination of educational, recreational and/or genealogical pursuits. It was always, always expected that we would go to college, so starting at around age 10, we'd usually stop at, say, Duke University for lunch, just to see the campus. We'd take a break from being herded around historic Governor Mansions with other families making precious, precious childhood memories to buy sweatshirts at the College of William and Mary.
Mmmm, CoIonial Williamsburg. I know my parents were annoyed with my sister and I for being obnoxious little snots while we were there. But twenty years later, I stand by my belief that shuffling through a blacksmith shop while wearing a rain poncho that stank like mildew and lightly rolled condom does not hold with commonly held definitions of 'fun' by anyone's standards. Sorry. No.
Of course, getting herded through a blacksmith shop by a chipper but wilting 20-something in a hoop skirt (Look at all the drama majors, everybody!) and trying to remain cheerful with two obnoxious tweens in tow can't be much fun either, but as the keeper of car keys and credit cards, THEY TOTALLY COULD HAVE BAILED AT ANY TIME. CAN WE PLEASE GO TO IHOP NOW?!?
Heh. I say that, but truthfully, it was the times that we changed tack at the last minute and the unplanned adventures (IHOP in a thunderstorm, then bunking in a Super 8 hotel and watching the amazing two-part Vietnam episode of Quantum Leap the night it originally aired as a family) that constituted the best of times in my memories. You can't plan that stuff. Must remember this when I spawn and all my carefully plotted plans for Precious Childhood Memories go to shit.
But I wouldn't be in India stalking water buffalo with a telephoto lens had I not been corralled into petting oxen at Sturbridge Village. I wouldn't have opted for the full 44-room tour of the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna if my dad hadn't turned around from a will call window with a booklet of ticket stubs at Graceland and said, "We're gonna see the bus! We're gonna see the plane! We're gonna see the car museum AND Elvis' gravesite AND the personal effects museum AND the Jungle Room." I wouldn't have kept my shit together while getting arrested without my dad's steady example: "Don't panic until I do."
Of course, this is the same man who attempted to keep us all on track and moving forward with the gruff instruction: "I'll tell you what to do and when to do it." on our first big family vacation when I was 7. That shit did NOT fly with my mom, and while I can't say for certain that the Great Gaul Girl Disney World Mutiny of 1986 set me on a path to academic feminism, it certainly didn't hurt. One minute you're standing behind your mom with your hands on your hips as she verbally tackles your dad before a character breakfast, the next thing you know it's twenty-five years later and you're wandering around thinking critically about global feminism and issues of race, class and gender in a Third World country where widows are abandoned by their children in the city of Lord Krishna's birth to await death in isolation and squalor.
These journeys, they change you. Say it with me, fellow members of the station wagon/minivan generation, "Are we there yet?" But the more important question, both now and then, is: "Where is THERE, exactly?" The answer is, "Don't know yet," and thank God for that.