Traveling the World With My Dad Helps Open the Borders Between Us
Growing up, family vacations meant one of two things: another trip to the Caribbean island. My mom was in charge of selecting our destination, and she alternated between appeasing me and my younger brother or appeasing her; our vacation of choice was (obviously) riding a shit-ton of roller coasters in the hot Florida sun, and hers was drinking on the beach in the hot Caribbean sun. My father, who preferred exploratory trips full of museums, monuments, and other historical sights-but not as much as he preferred avoiding conflict-gave us what we wanted time and time again, even though he was footing the bill.
In college, I studied with a program called Semester at Sea; while many students spend their semesters abroad, getting to know each other, I spent mine living and taking classes on a large ship that traveled from Russia to Ireland, Spain to Morocco, Brazil to Cuba and many countries in between.
Desperate for a way to repay my father for this incredible, inimitable, and undoubtedly expensive experience, budget at Semester at Sea's end-of-semester auction : I bought a weeklong stay at a house in England. It was going to be our first vacation, just the two of us.
I did not tell my dad about the England trip for weeks, instead of it, Christmas. He was only a few times before-to Switzerland, once to visit his sister who lived in Bern, and to the Caribbean Islands. wanted to travel most. Plus, I'd been a notoriously bad. gift-giver, and I hoped this present would be worth years of immense gratitude, respect, and love.
My dad was both shocked and excited when he realized what I had done, and we immediately set to work. This was the first of seven trips we'd take together over the next three years-the birth of a new kind of family tradition we'd come to hold dear.
Though my dad and I had traveled together many times before, our dad-daughter London trip was a completely different experience. Traveling with the whole family, a lot of at home with the whole family; the day-to-day is more exciting, but it's still punctuated with the same small quarrels and pet peeves. Subtracting my mom and brother from the equation gave our trip a different energy-one that was quieter and less overtly dramatic, but still a little tense.
When I was younger, I was, in many ways, daddy's little girl. My relationship with my mother was tumultuous; we were both loud, argumentative, and stubborn-explosive when combined. She was always gotten along better with my sensitive, accommodating younger brother; when we rode roller coasters at Disney World, my mom and brother would sit in the front, and my dad and I in the back.
But almost a decade later, when it was just the two of us, our father-daughter act was much less coordinated. Having never been on vacation, we were not sure how different our travel styles were. He wanted to wake up early and pack his days with historic sights; I preferred to sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast at a nearby cafe, and wander until I found an art museum to check out. We had to work to strike the balance between making the most of our time abroad and being respectful of each others. 'Wishes.
Before we started traveling together, my dad and I hadn’t had an honest conversation in a long, long time. He’s the kind of buttoned-up father who puts up walls around his sadness, fears, and vulnerabilities, guarding them so his children never see them. And over time, I’ve become an increasingly anxious daughter; I feel overwhelmingly grateful for the many things he and the rest of my family have given me, so when I’m upset by something, I tend to hold my tongue—rather than risk appearing unappreciative or hurting them in some way.
But there are so many things I want to say.
When I was in seventh grade, my mom lost her father. She had a long struggled with the drug and alcohol abuse, and after losing him, she fell deeper into her addictions-her moods swinging more severely than they had before. She began threatening my brother and me, throwing things at us, and otherwise terrorizing us. I once locked in the bathroom to get away from her, and she threw in heavy things at the door-laughing each time she heard me scream from the other side of it.
I want to ask my dad how he let it happen. How he sat by while he heard things my mother used to yell at me and my brother. How he let us continue living in that house after I was crying the day my mother grabbed me by my neck and threw me to the floor. How he did not force my mom to get the help she was so desperately needed, and how she ended up dead because no one did.
These are things we never talk about—probably because they’re too hard, and because there’s nothing we can do now to change the way things happened. But they’ve created a rift between us that tempers our relationship in ways we can’t ignore, no matter how hard we try to.
Travel has not magically mended these fissures. It has got us to have some bad crampons. What it has done, however, is to give us something to communicate frankly about.
When we were in London and my dad decided for a marathon of sightseeing for two days straight, I went with it. And by Day 3, we'd all but run out of things to do. That was my opportunity to express the way I prefer to travel: I like to take things slow and experience cities more like a local might. So I spoke up. And on our next trip-a weeklong cruise to Italy, Croatia, and Greece in October 2016-we came closer to finding that middle-ground, spending our mornings sightseeing and our evenings unhurriedly walking around until we found somewhere interesting to eat.
On our next trip, a long weekend at a cabin in the Catskill Mountains, we were forced to address my propensity for introversion and his for extraversion. While I wanted to spend my days reading books by the fireplace until I felt like doing something else, he craved some kind of social structure. We realized this conflict existed years earlier when I'd come home from college; he'd create packed itineraries for my brief breaks from school, and I'd grow incredibly stressed, grasping for any free time. I could find. At the cabin, we were able to more clearly identify each others' needs-and find a way forward that worked both on vacation and at home.
After that, we went to Iceland (a trip we agreed was way too packed with activities); Prague, Budapest, and Vienna (another trip we thought was a little too busy); Las Vegas (a trip that well blended activities and relaxation, though we might have the credit for destination for that one; and Southern France (a trip that forced me to put on my undergraduate
Each of these trips brought unique adventures—as well as unique conflicts for us to navigate.
We're still getting there. We're both learning to be less reticent, and figuring out how to relatively express what we want without worrying about upsetting each other. We're coming closer to the place of the honesty and compromise-one where we can see all the historic sights on his list and we can fully time out. 're not saying all the things we want to say-and probably not all the things we
No, we’re not saying all the things we want to say—and probably not all the things we should say, either. But we're talking, and we're doing so honestly. And taking these trips together has helped us get there.