Why Mom Makes The Best Travel Buddy
From a son to his mom on Mother's Day.
It starts the same way every year. A series of one-word text messages from my mom in the form of a question, but with the impact of a declarative statement. Thailand? Tuscany? Rwanda? It’s the beginning of the annual brainstorm for the next chapter in Carol and Nate’s misadventures. In recent years, life circumstances have made us the most unlikely of travel companions. My younger siblings are handcuffed by responsibility: My sister spends her time studying for physical therapy exams while also tending to a one-year-old; my brother confines himself to a dark corner of a college campus library. Then there’s my dad, whose idea of intrepid travel is a lounge chair in Hawaii, icy drink with a plastic umbrella in hand. So me – a 32-year-old Brooklynite who spends his weekends trimming his beard and dancing to deep house DJs – and my mom – a yoga-loving, mountain hiking therapist from Salt Lake City – have formed a globetrotting alliance of sorts.
Our partnership is a little like Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand’s in the mother-son travel flick Guilt Trip. There’s never a dull moment. We’ve taken photography workshops in Tuscany, explored the small boutiques of Provence, devoured empanadas at the lively parrillas in Buenos Aires…. We like to think we’re a worldly duo, yet, we have a sensational talent for serious travel blunders. They follow us like the raincloud that stalks the eternally gloomy Eeyore.
There was that time in Patagonia, when my mom left her just-purchased, high-tech camera in a cab with more than two-weeks worth of photos. I raced to the taxi hub to retrieve it, found the driver and unleashed a torrent of angry broken Spanish while pointing a menacing finger at his eyeball. Needless to say, the camera was long gone.
On the first day of a visit to Paris I lost my glasses at a Grand Palais exhibition. For the rest of the trip, I had to wear prescription sunglasses at night so I could see, which elicited those famous snobby French stares that screamed vous êtes une douche. My mom, of course, found it endlessly entertaining. Then there was the time at the Naples train station where, somehow, my mom’s luggage was stolen from right under her nose while I was in the bathroom. It was a solemn cab ride to Positano, but by the time she hit the town’s linen shops, she could barely remember which clothes had been lost.
Once, at the end of a five-day trek in Machu Picchu, we reserved a few nights at the Inkaterra Hotel to spoil ourselves with some well-earned luxury. But days before checking in, my mom realized she had booked the wrong date for her flight home, so I finished the trip alone, in this massive villa.
Sometimes we shake our heads and snicker at the sheer stupidity of it all, and there’s the occasional tear, too. But we always bounce back and figure it out. Overcoming the bad stuff has become part of our story.
Truth be told, the funny moments outweigh the travel mishaps. Without fail, every time we check into a hotel in Europe the maître d confuses us for a couple. (You still got it, mom!) And that always leads to the dreaded question—so Nate, dating anyone these days? One time, when hiking across the Perito Moreno Glacier, I was chastised by the guide for letting my mom carry our daypack. We quickly enlightened him to her frequent slot canyon hikes in southern Utah and rock climbing triumphs in the Grand Tetons. Meanwhile, my man vs. nature cred involves walking from the 8th avenue L train station to my office in west Chelsea. On that same journey in Argentina, I learned just how bad my mom’s Spanish is, especially her pronunciation of the word “gracias,” a fact that I took no qualms in continually pointing out to her.
That we embark on these epic journeys together so often is all the more surprising considering how different we are. My mom and I are yin and yang. She grew up a modest and reserved bookworm type who excelled in school but didn’t much care for the social ecosystem. I, on the other hand, gravitated to the social aspects of the teenage experience. I never cared for the school part. Frankly, I wasn’t good at it. (My mom will tell you I didn’t apply myself.) But we always shared a passion for travel.
Travel can do what a cross-country phone call cannot. Everyday life doesn’t give us the space to walk around aimlessly for hours, take long bus rides, or trek through the wilderness completely cut off from technology. We’ve learned a lot about each other and ourselves from our many conversations, from the mundane to the profound.
And traveling with a parent once you’ve entered adulthood is a challenging affair. For one, in my mom’s eyes I’ll always be the little boy screaming from the bottom of the stairs, pleading for a plate of nachos. I’m 32, but that feeling never changes. Here’s another inimitable truth: At a certain point, your savvy surpasses that of the people you once believed to be the smartest on the planet. Buying metro tickets, navigating the streets, hailing a cab—all part of my job description now. It requires a high threshold for flubs, gaffes, and misinterpretations. Like any healthy mother-son relationship, we want to kill each other three times per day, but between that there’s conversations that strengthen our friendship. We don’t need a 5-star hotel or a James Beard-nominated restaurant to bring us closer, we just need time and new horizons. At the end of every trip, we say our goodbyes. I go back to New York, she heads to Salt Lake City. We arrive home and my phone lights up with a message. Where we going next?
See you in Vietnam, mom. Or did we say Cuba?