Are we having fun yet?! Photo: GraceFamily

Contributor Steven Roll reflects on travel as a kid…and travel as the parent of a kid.

As our camper rounded a curve on a mountain roadway somewhere in the U.S. Rockies, my parents called back to me to look at the snow-capped peak that had come into view. The white mountain top on that summer day must have been a captivating sight.

But it paled in comparison to the installment of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy I was reading. “Cool,” I shouted over the din of rattling pots and pans as I tried to focus on a paragraph that would reveal Frodo’s fate.

“As an adult, I’ve developed a decidedly different attitude about travel than my parents.”

I was 11 or 12 years old and we were making our annual trip from New York to California. During the months my brother and I were in school, my parents rented a cottage with a stunning view of Long Island’s Hempstead Harbor. When summer arrived, the landlord moved back into the house and we hit the road. This arrangement worked for my parents because they were both professors and classes didn’t start again until after Labor Day.

During the three or four years we lived this way, we visited nearly every state in the U.S. and all the provinces in Canada. We saw many of the major tourist attractions in both countries.

Forced Exile

Photo: Amir Fathi

But much of this was probably wasted on me. Instead of looking at our annual trips as an adventure, I saw them as periods of forced exile from time spent playing with neighborhood friends. This semi-nomadic lifestyle wasn’t my idea. I had to go along with it because I was a kid.

As an adult, I’ve developed a decidedly different attitude about travel than my parents. For one thing, I’ve sworn off driving anywhere in a camper. Much to my wife’s chagrin, the idea of visiting most places within U.S. seems mundane.

I’ve always felt guilty about my ambivalence toward my childhood travel experiences. But that’s begun to abate now that I have kids of my own. It seems almost certain they’ll reject many of the core elements of my travel philosophy.

This evolutionary process reminds me of the book The Corrections, the 2001 critically acclaimed novel that depicts the lives of three siblings who are bent on living an entirely different life than that of their parents. In doing so, they each make an opposite set of choices with even more disastrous consequences.

Travel Philosophy

Like the siblings in The Corrections, my parent’s attitude about travel has always been a foil for my own, with both good and bad results.

During my college years and young adulthood, I shunned the idea of traveling almost anywhere. I took comfort in the predictable routine that comes with staying at home. When I did go somewhere, it was usually a short trip to the beach or a visit to a friend’s house a few states away. For most of this period I focused on my career and young children. But looking back, I regret the missed opportunities, especially when I was in college.

Now that I’ve reached my 40s, I’m more interested in traveling. This is partly because it’s easier. My kids are older and my wife and I are more settled in our careers. In the past few years, we’ve taken two great trips to Costa Rica and Mexico.

Our kids will likely have their own set of “corrections.”

The Next Generation

Photo: Beard Papa

Before our trip to Mexico a few weeks ago, our eight-year old son worried about whether it would be safe and fretted about missing two swim meets. Our thirteen-year old daughter seemed excited about going to the beach in Puerto Vallarta, but was less enthusiastic about spending time in landlocked Guadalajara.

As expected, they complained the most while visiting the plazas, churches, and museums in Guadalajara. Our son liked the “Mexican rodeo” we saw there, but our daughter–an avid horse lover–could have done without it. They both liked spending time on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. But they were far less enthusiastic during our evening walks into town.

A few days after returning home, I overheard each of them telling their grandparents how much fun they had throughout the whole trip.

Whether they realize it or not, my kids are in the process of developing their own travel philosophies. For better or worse, what they come up with will likely be decidedly different from their parents’.

Community Connection:

If you’re a new parent considering traveling with your infant for the first time, read some knowing advice in “Backpacking After Baby.”