Tag Archives: Travel

Our Passion and Priority

I’m writing this on the Marine Atlantic Ferry from Newfoundland to Cape Breton, having just spent an eighteen day vacation with my family.

Soon I will return home and I will post an album (or two or three) on Facebook sharing our adventures. These photographs will be incredible memories of our time together – they will be filled with breathtaking scenery, smiling faces and new adventures. They will be many and they will be irreplaceable. Our family’s history, I often say, will not be written – it will be viewed.

But these photographs will not depict any of the “reasons” I purposefully choose to travel with my family as much as I do.  

In fact I can’t think of one of these photographs, from any of our 17 trips (wow!) that will show you why Craig and I work so hard to put travel near the top of our family’s priority list.

The following is a list of 15 reasons we are so dedicated to travelling both near and far with these human beings we happen to share some chromosomes with:

(1) So they can feel what it’s like to be a minority – even if it’s just for the shortest of moments.

Whether it’s a visible minority, a language minority, a cultural minority, or other examples, they each have had opportunities to experience both – if not for long periods of time, at least in situations in which they would not have had the chance to experience at home.

(2) For them to learn and practice compassion and confidence.

I remember being in Montreal when a gentleman with a probable mental health illness approached Mark and started talking to him. Often when we travel they are also learning how to confidently and compassionately interact with everyone in life.

(3) To understand how blessed they are.

Whether it’s travelling the villages in Cuba or the outskirts of Los Angeles, they have seen, walked through, and learned how lucky they are. No lectures or words needed.

(4) To learn new skills and foster strategic thinking.

While in New York City, after a few days, we made them each find our way back to our hotel by themselves – once with a map and once without, just learning how the city is laid out, learning to navigate, learning to think in a spatial manner. Learning to not rely on lazy digital fixes.

(5) To sit in the uncomfortable for awhile … and finally, maybe, become a little more comfortable there.

Period.

(6) To see, touch, and stand in history. 

They will learn so much from books as they go through school. But nothing can replace being there – digging for dinosaur fossils in Drumheller, standing where the Beothuk stood in Newfoundland, touring the many museums of the Smithsonian, sitting in the House of Commons while in session and watching the Prime Minister and opposition leaders debate. These experiences trump the written word for them.

(7) To make the world seem both small, and big, at the same time.

I want both for them. Equally. For the world to be grandiose but at the same time for them to feel its accessibility. 

(8) To experience wonder.  

“Wonder” is a funny thing. It’s not joy or happiness. It’s different for everyone, but you know it when you feel it. For me it’s that feeling when I stand at the peak of a mountain top and see the clouds below me. For my kids it will be something different. But chances are they have/or will come across it in their journeys.

(9) To build their relationship as siblings.

It’s difficult to describe the way in which they bond when they travel. The way they interact and count on each other when they’re together 24 hours a day, 18 days in a row, with no one else their age around. You would think they would fight. A lot. They don’t. It’s so much the opposite.  

(10) To spend true uninhibited time as a family.

There is nothing, NOTHING, for me, that compares to the conversations, experiences and laughter we share while on the road for an extended period of time. It is magical. It was part of the reason we upped the ante on the number of trips we make a priority to take.

(11) To laugh. 

The laughter that comes from their cottage bedroom. Because they always have to share a bedroom. The things they find hilarious. The things we all experience and then laugh for days about until they become “part of the trip”. That is the soundtrack to my life I love most.

(12) To create memories. New unforgettable memories.

Life is short. You are always guaranteed one thing when you choose to make travel a priority for your family – the memories will last forever.

(13) Trial runs for life.

Someday they will spread their wings and be off on their own. Hopefully these adventures will take them far and wide. Learning to read a subway map, or getting yourself from the airport doors through the logistical hoops until you board a plane, or managing the security at a sporting event in the largest arena in North America … all of these are trial runs for when they are doing these things on their own in the world.

(14) Nurturing passion.

There is a theory that ‘desire’ is goal orientated and controlled, while passion is wild at heart and free. Travel as a passion is a gift – one I want to nurture as their mother.

(15) To open their minds, and their hearts, just a little bit more.

Their lives can be so narrow as teenagers – the next soccer practice, the next performance, the next party, the next test. Travel shows them there is more in this life than the over scheduled days in a week. There is much more. And it can be never-ending. Near or far. As long as its a priority.

Sometimes I look at the money we spend on these adventures (as hard as we work to keep them reasonable) and I think – wow – we could have had the house paid off by now. Or that brand name wardrobe. Or that cottage. But no. Instead this is our family’s priority. And I’ve never regretted one moment of it. Nor do I think do they.

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Delaying Reality

My family and I just returned from a two and a half week vacation.  Everything about me whispers thank you for the ability to have done this.  To have experienced this.

I’m thankful for a job in my field that happens to compensate me well. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that, but I worked hard to get there. I’m thankful for the support of teachers who don’t bat an eyelash when I tell them we are scooping up the kids.

I’m thankful for neighbours and friends who looked in on our home and plow snow … a lot of snow … while we were gone. I’m thankful for family who take and care for our most important furry loved one.

I’m so grateful to return to a home that’s safe and sound.

I’m thankful for friends who leave amazing messages for me to return home to and I’m thankful for our safe journey after 2000 miles of driving and five plane rides.

And after all of that. After recognizing all it takes to make something like this come together, I find myself always wanting to delay reality when I return.

I don’t want to return to the real world. At least not just yet. I know what’s waiting there. The responsibility and the to do lists.

Just a little while longer of just the four of us in paradise please.

So I come home and I try and stay in “this place” for 48 hours. Just 48 hours more. Let me ease back into this thing called life.  I don’t want to have to be “on” quite yet.

And life seems to be cooperating with me this time.  Because on our first day back wouldn’t you believe school is cancelled. That means no stack of papers coming home to go through, no homework to be on top of and even basketball practice is cancelled. The universe is being kind to me.

I do go to work, some things can’t be delayed, but I close my door.  I never close my door.  But I need just a little while longer.  Just a little more time.

I stay off all social media.  Turning it on after 2 1/2 weeks will feel like a rushing wave of reality.  Just a little while longer let it be “just us”.  Let me be selfish.

I don’t open any of the big stack of mail sitting on my table.  With the exception of some birthday cards the rest of it can wait.  Just a little while longer.

I don’t call or text anyone except those who have reached out to me, because I know they will be there tomorrow … and they know me well enough by now that I need a little more hibernation.

But now it’s Wednesday.  We have been home our 48 hours and there is a slew of extra curricular kid activities on tonight.  So I guess it’s time to put on my big girl panties and wade into that reality.

It won’t be so bad really.  Truth be told right now I can’t wait to find out what my friends and family have been up to.  I can’t wait to see those basketball Moms and make a lunch date with a few particular girlfriends.  And I’m just about aching to hug the stuffing out of a few people when I see them.  I desperately need that long chat with my BFF and need to find out how her son did in the hockey tourney.

Yes.  It’s Wednesday and I guess it’s time to get back in the game.  And honestly there is no better reality to return to than the one I get to live right here.  I’m pretty damn lucky.  There is a lot to whisper thank you for … both on the road and at home.

So 1, 2, 3 … here we go.

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

And Then I Met Two Girls

Once Upon a Time.  We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life.  They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales.  Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.

But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.

You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.

For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”.  It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.

When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada.  My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom.  We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us.  It was the best gift I ever received from them.  I will carry it with me forever.  I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.

The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself.  After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.

I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one.  As in nobody.  I was 18 years old.  I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.

And then I met two girls. And that was that.  I wasn’t alone anymore.

Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world.  They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.

We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally.  I mean come on.  We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup.  We had the world by the tail.  And we knew it.  We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.

There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations.  There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.

But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.

Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.

Because there I was.

This past weekend.

Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.

And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.

But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much.  Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’.  Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.

Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.

Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it.  What a gift that was.  How rare it is now I realize.  There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years.  I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.

Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.

And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.

Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.

And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.

They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do.  But this past weekend we didn’t go back.  We went to Amherst Shore.  And it was such a gift.