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Author note: This piece was originally published in the Vancouver Sun in 2017. Having just set my son off at the airport for his 4th trip to Europe, and third time doing it solo, I am struck at the vision I had to travel as I did with him at the time of writing this article. Memories are precious and we need to create them with purpose while the opportunity exists. I will be taking my daughter to Europe this summer too, in order to offer a similar experience for her, and to evoke that desire to explore on her own with confidence in the future.
It’s been said if you can travel together, you can live together.
I’m sure the irony of that thought and the resulting forced confinement, has crossed the mind of many parents travelling with broody teenaged kids tied to their electronic devices. My 17-year-old son was the 2015 IDF (International Downhill Federation) World Junior Downhill Skateboard Champion. Over the last year we have visited seven countries and three continents attending races, and we’ve had ample time to drift, discover and explore during over 60 days traveling together. That’s a lot of one on one time and stinky socks.
As a child I denied him Heely’s, those shoes with built in wheels, dismissing them as too dangerous. He now races at speeds topping over 100km on a skateboard wearing leathers and full-face helmet in four man heats similar to Olympic snowboard cross. We don’t get to choose what our kids get good at. I readily admit that watching him race is exciting. But it’s the chance to travel, having achieved a level of competence to avail him self of sponsorship to cover the expense, that has proved the unforeseen opportunity. While he has made some North American trips on his own, my husband and I have accompanied him on all international adventures.
Travel can be a magic way to connect or it can strain a relationship. As a parent and teenage child, making decisions based on values, likes and dislikes, dealing with finances, and relying on each other while navigating a foreign land can present a challenging power relationship, or pave the way for an adult bond.
Together we have toured New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont. We’ve driven the Washington, Oregon and California coast and climbed the highest mountain in Colorado. We’ve explored the city history and countryside beauty of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. And we’ve gone down under to Australia and New Zealand. We’ve camped in the rain, slept in youth hostel bunk beds, but also sipped fine wine and attended the Opera. While my goal during this past year of travel was to instill an independent responsibility to launch him into traveling solo in the future, the hidden gem was the pleasure in experiencing this journey together.
The cobble stone streets and historic walking tours of Prague charmed us, but it was the willingness to serve a 17 year old without question that made the pursuit of the best Pilsner truly memorable. And who better to be travelling with then a carb craving teenage boy when searching for great Czech pork and dumplings?
Travelling with a teen is a wonderful excuse to remain youthful. Exposing my son to hostelling, and engaging conversation with young adults from all over the world, was a treat. Of course a credit card to punctuate the road with some accommodation luxuries and a few fine meals was the bonus of having Mom along. While a recent trip in February found us bungee jumping and later bathing in the natural hot springs of Taupo New Zealand on an epic day, lounging on the endless beaches of Australia and reconnecting with friends from my 20s was pretty awesome too. Of course all these experiences were punctuated by the thrills of IDF racing, with an accompanying overdose of testosterone and youthful defiance of danger. I’m sure had I been travelling with my husband, I would have happily been sipping my way through the vineyards in Krems, Austria rather then driving a standard shift car down narrow hillside roads with a GoPro mounted to the hood capturing a skate sequence. Such are the opportunities to be embraced.
Travelling with a teen requires a tender balance of parenting and letting go. When he went out in Prague to some dance clubs with British hostel friends, it resulted in several tense hours and frantic 3am texts until his safe return. Had he not left his cell phone on the roof of the car, while we were in Australia, we never would have met Fred from Wollongong, who not only retrieved it from roadside, but answered our desperate call looking for it several hours later. And locking the keys to the rental car in the trunk at the 14,000 ft level of Pikes Peak in Colorado as the sun was setting was a test of my parenting patience. I now know the true value of an AAA auto membership, and count the tow truck driver from Denver who rescued us as one of my more memorable stories.
My son told me recently about his last night on Mt Ruapehu, a volcanic mountain in Tongariro National Park NZ, an evening where I had given him the freedom to be on his own. He spent it under a full moon with the Southern Cross sky, hanging out with friends from Brazil, Australia, Europe and the US. Four continents were united on the mountain that night, after a fierce day of competition, sharing stories and breaking down language and cultural barriers while realizing a new found network of couch surfing now available to them.
Travel has given me the opportunity to solidify a parent child bond while supporting him doing something he loves. The conversations in the car alone would be something many parents can only long for. But I realize our recent Australia trip together is likely our last big adventure. He is ready to embark this journey on his own. There is a brief window of opportunity to travel with your children as young adults and it is precious. Buddies, a girlfriend, pursuing education and life responsibilities becoming more complicated soon close that window.
We’ve covered a lot of miles together, and the priceless memories will now last a lifetime. Thanks for the journey Alex.