this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on May 31, 2012.
Prochain arret. Proxima estacion. Proxima fermata.
Anyone who’s ever been to Europe will probably remember these three phrases garbled over the metro or bus speakers, telling passengers about the subsequent stop—and let’s face it: Most stops after graduation day would be the wished-for graduation trip. Like many fresh graduates who were fortunate to have their wishes granted, I recently found myself in France, Spain, and Italy, the top three destinations in Europe. Unlike most travelers, however, I served as both travel agent and tour guide for my family of four, because I had the advantage of studying in France for a number of months during my junior year, and thus was presumed to have significant knowledge of European travel.
Let me start by saying that anyone who claims to have arranged family trips alone must be believed with a grain of salt. Traveling to English-speaking countries is quite doable, but doing literally all logistical preparations by oneself, and troubleshooting the problems afterward, in countries where heavily accented English is spoken (if at all), is another story altogether. This was no ordinary trip, for I wasn’t just a passive participant; I was actually the ringleader. I booked accommodations in hostels and hotels and passage in trains and airplanes, and not a lot of people can say that. As early as January I received dubious responses from relatives when they found out I was doing everything with no professional help. But I just turned 21, after all.
I took it upon myself to prove I could make the trip a success as a legal citizen of the world.
It both pains and amuses me how, save the occasional workers’ strike, hardly any major trouble happened during my study term abroad in 2010. But everything that didn’t happen then sure did during our trip. Despite my best efforts, our flight to Barcelona was cancelled, we missed our train to Lourdes, theft occurred, and we almost got left behind by our return flight home via Emirates. That’s a transatlantic flight we’re talking about, all because we mixed up our gate numbers. Murphy’s Law was practically screaming that our luggage get lost somewhere along the way, too.
The thing is, when traveling, rule No. 1 is to never harbor any illusion that everything is going to turn out peaches and cream. If, like some people, you see the world as a half-full (and not half-empty) glass, one can say that things actually become more memorable because of the sh-t that happens along the way. You learn how to laugh the frustrations off, and down WTF moments with a significant amount of wine. I’ve always loved traveling, and I thought this graduation trip of mine was as good a chance as any to spread this love with my family. I just didn’t think that frustrations would arise almost every day, and that even the mundane weather would work against us.
Aside from the life skills of navigating maps accurately, or learning how to keep a second stomach for the 3 Ps of Italy (pizza, pasta, panini), perhaps the greatest lesson I will cull from this adventure of ours is to respect my parents’ need to go slow. Growing up, we always thought of our dad as Superman and our mom as Supergirl, but on this trip my brother and I found ourselves walking a bit slower to keep up with our parents’ pace. Sometimes, the need to go out and make the most of Rome or Venice would get the best of me, and I’d thoughtlessly badger my parents into eating breakfast faster just to be able to squeeze in more sights.
Chalk it up to wanderlust or plain selfishness, but we don’t want to think of our parents as weak travelers. Doing that means acknowledging that they’re truly getting old. My dad even joked repeatedly that he was happy he didn’t book us a tour. As it was, he said, he had enough problems trying to keep up with my itinerary, and how much more inconvenienced would he be had he stuck with an agency that fed its members of its contingent Chinese food in Spain, and woke them up at 3 a.m. every day?
Summer is as good a time as any to see the world. Chances are, most families found themselves in the same situation as I was in. Thus, I implore my fellow travel junkies: Let your parents get their afternoon naps and just explore your new surroundings on your own while they get their rest. They may be young at heart, but their bodies just aren’t what they used to be. Traveling with friends may be the in thing now, but let us never neglect the families who first took us to places beyond our archipelago.
Let us always try to remember that when we grow up, our parents grow old. That it’s all right to stop and smell the flowers, especially when our asthmatic mothers are having trouble climbing the steep stairs of the Sacre Coeur (or whatever sight that’s on the to-see list of the day). It’s entirely up to us to make sure we give their arthritic joints the same patience they gave us when our chubby little legs couldn’t carry us fast enough to wherever we were going.
We owe it to our parents who are getting older, and our grownup selves should know that much.