Family Travel: The Time Is Now.
Here’s the World, and How to Improve It.
Just got back yesterday from a 5-day spring break to Paris with my
12-year-old granddaughter. She chose the destination. Last year she
picked London. Kids have bucket lists, too.
When we reached our turn at US Customs & Immigration at the airport, the
agent asked me where we had visited. “Paris,” I replied in my
post-airplane stupor. Then he turned to Jackie: “First time in Paris?”
“Yep.” Kids have stupors, too.
you like America better than Paris?” he pried.
could see on her sophisticated tweener face that Jackie smelled a trap.
She knew this guy was a USA official with the keys to the door. But
she’s a brave traveller and an independent American. “No. I like Paris
Then the surprise: “I like it better overseas, too.” This from the US
Customs agent. “I go often. Mostly to Britain. I really like it there.”
of conversation. We were home, Jackie to her family, and me to my wife
and business and the new baseball season.
* * * * *
This morning I woke
up rehashing the last five days in Paris. They had been fun days, a
tonic for both of us aged a half-century apart, a real
vacation-vacation, as Jackie, her sister, and her mom would say. We went
to the Eiffel Tower three different times, Notre Dame twice, Montmartre
and the Louvre once each, Eurodisney not at all. We ate breakfast in our
apartment, grabbed lunch on the go, and had dinner in a different
restaurant each night. We window shopped daily, and carefully bought
less than $150 worth of souvenirs — the usual stuff Americans buy: a
cheap snow globe advertising Paris, two cheap T-shirts advertising
Paris, a cheap fashion carry-bag advertising Paris, a cheap coffee cup
advertising Paris, three cheap fashion scarves (no writing or images),
and a small, expensive bottle of French snake oil promising magical skin
rejuvenation for my wife who drew the short straw and had to stay home.
I went over the
trip in my mind in detail as I got ready to return to work. I think I
was shaving when my thoughts returned to the minor incident at US
Customs at the airport on the way home. Why would this federal official
confess his rather unexpected opinion to my granddaughter? Americans of
a certain political bent would doubtless consider his expressed
preference both improper and unpatriotic of a uniformed US Customs
officer while on duty. Not me. I was surprised at the time. After a good
night’s sleep, I was impressed.
The officer was
a young man, probably in his early thirties, but old enough to be a
family man. He could just as easily be a bachelor. Young people today
tend to marry late, if at all. And, if he has kids he might travel with
them, or not. A young man who has traveled “often” to Britain might not
be able to afford taking the family with him, even if he wanted to. I
didn’t notice a wedding ring, but the absence of a wedding ring means
little. I haven’t worn one the last thirty-five years of my 43 years of
marriage. All this is speculation of course. Fantasy. But, this much I
know: this young man took an interest in a 12-year-old’s reaction to
overseas travel, and his interest was sincere enough that he chose to
share his own — possibly controversial — opinion with a little girl to
let her know that she isn’t alone in preferring her travel experiences
to the usual humdrum of home.
* * * * *
We were in Paris
during spring break, an important but ill-defined vacation that has
evolved since I was in college forty years ago. A slew of low-budget
Hollywood films — noting the commercial successes of the
much-lower-budget “Girls Gone Wild” series — has painted the holiday as
specifically for collegiate undergrads needing a break from partying at
their universities who agree to meet their friends to continue partying
at a beach resort on the Gulf or the Caribbean. But we all know that
anything aimed at a college-age market produces collateral damage among
younger kids aspiring to become college-age. Today, thanks in large part
to the film genre that includes “Girls Gone Wild”, “Porky’s”, and
“American Pie”, even 12-year-olds are planning spring break vacations.
Don’t get me
wrong. I love vacations. I love travel. And I love the idea that my
grandchildren love travel vacations, too. Lined up at the Louvre,
picnicking in the park in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, passing by the
Musée d’Orsay at noon, watching the street performers at Sacre Coeur,
and dining at café restaurants on every night, Jackie and I were
surrounded by American college kids on spring break. We saw a fair
number of American high school groups, too. The young Americans filled
our airplane in both directions. My granddaughter said to me at dinner
one evening, “Pop-Pop, I’m coming back to Paris with my friends when I’m
in college.” I hope she does.
* * * * *