Travel is Good for the Mind, Spirit and the Global Economy

Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 7/8/2010

My husband, Laurry, and I love to travel, and our adventures have ranged from a 5,000-mile, three-week trek with four kids in the back of a minivan to a 16-day cruise up the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  But the last three trips have been with my mom and some of our (mostly grown-up) children.  I hope you will allow me to share my thoughts.  This was written in the thrid week of January 2010.

My mother is 85 and great fun.  We (Laurry, mom and I) are leaving for a 12-day Mediterranean Cruise this Friday.  I've learned much in the preparation about my mom and myself. 

I spend a couple of days each week with mom.  From early morning I work while she reads or files or cleans my office.   But I take an hour or so off each evening and we go home.  We cook, play cribbage, share our views on world affairs, do dishes, then she retires early and I go back to work.  I do far less exercise than I used to because I have that great “no
time” excuse and she does little more than garden and a     couple of flights of stairs each day 


With the trip in the planning stages, we talked a great deal.  We are terrifically excited to visit so many countries in January when the mid-west is buried in ice.  But Mom is concerned about her stamina.  We will have only 10 hours to see Rome, eight to do Athens and a 12-hour jaunt to the Egyptian pyramids--and all that, after a three-leg, 22-hour flight through Chicago then Amsterdam to Barcelona.


She is worried that she will dampen our fun.  She knows that Laurry and I will do 10-12 miles buzzing about a new city if on our own.  On our last trip to Alaska mom could only walk short distances without a rest and we struggled standing in long lines getting on and off the ship, buses and trains.  Toward the end of the vacation we had an especially difficult time in Victoria, B.C.   There were miles of pathways with steep inclines and, even though mom had reluctantly agreed to use a wheelchair, it was tough pushing her up hills and fighting gravity on the way down.   In retrospect it wasn’t a trip highlight.


When we suggested renting a wheelchair for this cruise she vehemently rejected the idea.  Mom has always admired Laurry's daily exercise regime and my less frequent but rigorous routine.  I have actually gotten her to begin short stints on a treadmill. She is quite proud that she is managing 15 minutes while we watch the nightly news.


On our weekly trip to the grocery store I noticed she "Bogarts" the cart.  I asked if she found the cart comforting.  She said she did, "It gives me something to lean on."  So, our next conversation was about how sad it would be to make her first trip to Europe and then sit on the ship.  What could we substitute for a cart and a bench?  She became increasingly comfortable with the idea of a walker (one that rolls with a small seat).  Her rationalization is that it also has a basket and if any of us make a purchase she can carry it for us.  So like my mother. She got a bright shiny red model.

Another fear that I uncovered is the confusion that she experienced with cruise ship phone systems and floor and room numbering.  We typically get a small suite, which serves as the family living room.  We try to get rooms in close proximity for the family but it depends on the ships configuration and availability at time of booking.  We have never been able to secure adjoin rooms.  On the cruise around the British Isles, mom had grandchildren on either side of her cabin.  But in Alaska, she was one floor below us.  I had no idea that she was anxious about getting lost.  After all, this is a woman who hooked four king salmon in Juneau.  To me, she has always been fearless. She hides her trepidation well.

Cruises are ideal for us. We pack and unpack only once and the ship serves as a base. We no longer opt for the more formal venues and Laurry usually packs only one sport coat and tie.  Mom is no burden.  If she is tired she simply stays on the ship, people watches, goes to the movies, reads or finds a “pick-up” cribbage game.   


Armed with my new insight I sought specific accommodations on the Mediterranean trip.  We really hadn’t planned to travel but the Norwegian Cruise Line seduced us with several level upgrades just as the weather turned cold last fall.   We could get a two bedroom arrangement within our usual budget and thought Mom would be delighted.  No, she confided that she snores and with the open room arrangement wouldn’t think of disturbing our sleep.


But the cruise agent was able to book two adjoining rooms on the ship with nearly 1,000 square feet of living space and 400 square feet of deck.   The largest cabin we had ever occupied was about half that size.   But as the sailing date approached, and the ship was sparsely occupied, the deals got sweeter.  Last week we were offered an upgrade to one of two  "Owner's" suites.  It has three bedrooms, three baths, a stocked bar and more than 5,000 square feet of living space and 1,000 square feet of deck on two levels with our own steam room, hot tub and two dining rooms.  But they wanted an upcharge.  This was getting interesting. 


I called Erik Hastings.  I’ve appeared on his Sunday travel show on WABC radio in New York.  We met  while he was mixing business with pleasure.  He was doing an NCL video for his website while on his honeymoon in Hawaii.  He gave me great advice and I was able to negotiate a fabulous deal.  Mom and I are positively giddy.  I keep trying to imagine a room on a cruise ship that is slightly larger than our home.

Mom has been packing for two months.  Each week we go on a hunt for a scarf, a piece of jewelry or sensible shoes for the trip.  I've noticed that mom has become a bit fearful this past year.  
The onset of winter’s ice is of greater concern as she hears of friends with broken hips and long recoveries.  But she seems to have a fear of the world in general. Some of this is attributable to her voracious consumption of TV news channels, several news magazines and at least one newspaper each day.  It has given her a broader world view but the constant references to war, terrorism, bombings, abductions, and pirates have taken a toll.  I so look forward to sharing the people of Europe and Egypt with her. I suspect the experience will calm her fears.


She has been reading travel books, watching educational travel channels and has viewed the entire Rick Stebe's Europe collection (twice).  The anticipation - some four months - has been great fun.  We've make frequent lists as we chat and have made several trips to malls, markets and pharmacies for this or that.  We have watched the global forecasts  and worry about how to dress as our temperatures will range from 30 to 80 degrees.  Although we are terribly hopeful we know we will encounter rain. 


In our planning we have been thorough.  Mom was careful to pre-order medications, check her passport expiration and I helped her set aside a special travel bag for the plane.  She has a bad shoulder so it needed to be light but roomy enough to hold her necessities and a couple of changes of clothing for our one day stays on either end of the cruise.  In these planning sessions we have shared past passenger reviews, Fodor recommendations and personal preferences and made painful cuts in itineraries that were simply too full for the most fit traveler.

As much as I long for the trip to begin, I think I will miss the "wait."  There has been an intimacy in the planning that I savor.  As we live longer, in better health and further apart, travel becomes a necessary part of being a family.  I’ve taken particular notice of families of three and four generations on planes, trains and ships of late experiencing the world and each other.  Multigenerational travel can be grand or disastrous.  It takes more work to prepare and execute but the results can be irreplaceable memories.

I'll be working half days while we are away.  That is the beauty and the bane of the Internet. Two weeks is a lot of togetherness - especially for three people who are fiercely independent.  I know that love, patience, respect and an appreciation for each other will guide us

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In the years has been online, we’ve received hundreds of e-mails from visitors asking questions about legal documents, how to start retirement planning in their 50's, as well as advice on traveling with grandpa and the kids and making everyone happy.   We’ve also received personal stories of triumph and tragedy including the creative, often humorous ways people cope with stress, relationships, balancing career and family, 70 hour work weeks, job loss and the "agony and defeat" they encountered starting a new company.   In our newsletter, I periodically share stories about my glorious 86 year old mother and have named a collection after her.  This is YOUR SPACE.  Ask for advice.  Share stories.  I love your e-mails. It's simple.  Just click here!