When was the last time you spent two weeks on vacation with your parents? When I was younger, of course, I could count on my yearly trips with my parents to see Mickey Mouse in Florida and my grandparents in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Once I went to college, though, my choice in traveling companions changed, and I opted to travel almost exclusively with friends.
That changed in 1994. I had graduated from college with my engineering degree in 1990, and although I’d promised myself I would use my precious two weeks’ annual vacation to go somewhere exotic every year, four years had passed without a single trip. I was “too busy” and “way too important” (aren’t we all at that age?) to consider taking time away from the office for something as trivial as a vacation.
My then-supervisor at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis brought me to my senses by informing me that no one wins prizes for turning in unused vacation time. He also pointed out that the company had survived for more than 175 years without me and would continue to survive while I was out of the office on vacation. After getting over the shock of this revelation, I decided to go for it and test his theory. Thinking “Why wait?” I booked my time out of the office for one month out and planned my first trip to Italy, which had always been at the top of my list.
Unfortunately, none of my friends could get vacation time approved on such short notice. Nervous to travel by myself, I had the crazy idea to ask my mom if she was interested in going with me. I call it “crazy” because as adults none of my friends or I had ever traveled anywhere alone with a parent. In fact, the thought of doing so hadn’t even crossed any of our minds!
Although since graduation and moving out on my own, I’d been more interested in establishing my independence than in traveling with either of my parents, in 1994 I was too much of a wimp to go to a foreign country by myself. My brother was long gone from the house, and my dad was a pilot whose work took him away from home much of the time. That left my mom as the only readily available traveling companion.
I was racked with anxiety at the thought of traveling with Mom. Since I had moved out on my own, we had never spent more than a weekend together. Spending 10 days together in a foreign country sounded as crazy to me as taking time off from work. At the same time, though, I wanted someone to go with me. So I bit the bullet and invited her—and she said yes.
At the time Mom (then 64) had one requirement for coming along: prebooked hotel rooms in Rome, Florence, and Venice (she was okay with figuring out everything else on the fly). Although I was originally miffed about having to book rooms ahead of time (rather than wing it—my preferred option, which Mom wasn’t comfortable with), after the trip I realized that the prebooking was the best decision we had made, because during the trip I had enough adjustments to make to Mom’s style (and vice versa, I’m sure!) without also having to worry about where to lay our heads each night.
During that first trip, I found out that Mom requires a minimum of an hour and 15 minutes to eat any meal (including snacks or coffee and dessert), that she cannot skip meals (something I frequently did), and that she must have eggs for breakfast (a meal I typically skipped). On our last morning in Venice, we got into a huge fight because after sleeping late we couldn’t find a place that was still serving eggs. After we had been searching for almost an hour, Mom started crying because she was upset at me (for being mad at her) and fatigued (because I had run her hard up to that point). I remember being so angry at her inability to compromise—and at my inability to find a restaurant that served eggs.
As I leaned against a post to take some deep breaths, I noticed that the restaurant two storefronts down had a sign advertising quiche, even though they’d told me they weren’t serving eggs when I asked a few minutes earlier. The server at the door was surprised and delighted to see us return to his restaurant, and in true Italian fashion he couldn’t help but be charming to two women traveling by themselves.
After lunch (and a few glasses of wine), I asked the waiter if he knew that quiche was made with eggs. His surprised “No!” seemed genuine, and in fact he insisted on verifying this with the chef (and owner), who set him straight. He then sat down with us for an additional glass (or two) of wine. Although our lunch wasn’t the fanciest meal we had in Italy, it was the most hard won—and one that established a baseline for our travels ever since!
Twenty years later, my first mother-daughter trip to Italy remains one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. For the first time in my life I saw my mom as a person, not as a tormenter who existed solely to question my choice in both men and lipsticks. Our travels together these last two decades have increased my respect for her and strengthened the overwhelming love I have for this person who has become a friend in addition to being my parent. Mom still doesn’t like my lipstick choices (though at least she’s pretty much fine with any man I introduce her to now), but travel has brought us together in a way that no number of phone calls could ever equal.
Stay tuned for details of our trip later this week!