Visiting London has been on my short list for at least three years. I needed to go, but I put it off. There are challenges that come with international travel when you are single. Well, mainly one for me, can I do an international trip alone? Should I?
I travel within North America alone regularly whether it’s a road trip to Canada, a weekend in Asheville, or a work trip to Seattle. But I have never traveled overseas by myself. I have a dear friend that I travel internationally with from time to time, but we haven’t been able to coordinate our destinations and timelines since our Ireland adventure in 2010. And she lived in London years ago and is not so hot to go there. As you have read here and elsewhere, many of my friends are married and have children. Therefore, their travel priorities and vacation time are often spoken for well in advance. My single friends, while willing are not always able. So, I was left to find another travel partner or go it alone.
I found another travel partner, sort of. Last fall I decided, Sister and my brother-in-law permitting, that I would take my oldest niece, The Princess, to London with me. She is sixteen, very smart, and has plenty of domestic travel under her belt, including 30+ trips to Disney World (true story). Also, I really feel blessed by what I have and want to share things that I enjoy with people I love. It is very charming isn’t it? Just like a movie – I am taking my niece on a trip of a lifetime so we can experience travel and a different place together. A time that will bring us back home changed for the better. Dramatic, yes, but it’s fitting or a 16-year-old.
I asked, she agreed and her parents acquiesced.
London was fabulous. We had decent weather, only a couple of days were rainy and cold. We worked the tourists experiences like they were a job: we took the Tube everywhere, saw the changing of the guard, visited Piccadilly Circus, British Museum, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, The Globe Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, Harrods, took walks through South Kensington, Chelsea, the West End, visited Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dover, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, had tea at Fortnum & Mason, ate fabulous meals at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & The Ledbury, and a cruised up the Thames from Greenwich. We did not do it all, but we did a lot.
Did we come back changed for the better?
I was told years ago, and still believe it, that we learn more from traveling than we do from anything else. So, while I cannot say that I am changed forever, I can say that I learned somethings.
I’m now tough like my parents were tough.
I remember traveling with my parents as a kid and thinking – wow, they are tough. Of course, I had good reason to think so. My parents are the kind of people who consider long-distance driving without stops or breaks a sport. My Mommy dragged, er, took Sister and I to Washington, D.C. alone and walked us like soldiers from monument to museum all day. They are the kind of people who drive from Iowa to the panhandle of Florida non-stop, just to say that they did it. I suspect my Mommy suggested stopping and my Daddy would have none of it, but either way, that is how they have always rolled. I would get tired and wonder how they continued to walk. I would get bored with the beach and wonder how my Mommy could stay out on the stand from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (not an exaggeration). Age makes you wise and tough.
This trip reminded me of that – I spent the entire trip about three steps ahead of The Princess telling her to keep up or three steps behind making sure she got where she was going. I could not get tired, wimp out, or stay in (even if I was or wanted to) – I was in charge. I wanted her to get out of it everything she could. I became my Mommy. I get now that my parents were tough for our benefit. They were tough so we could learn, experience the world, and have fun. My enjoyment was their job. They walked longer than they wanted to so that we could see all the sights, stood up at the park all day so that we could ride all the rides, and stayed on the beach so we could swim and play for as long as it took to wear us out. I’ve haven’t given birth but I have become like my parents and for 7 days I felt like I was someone’s mama.
I am more practical than ever.
Everyday The Princess had a nicely coordinated and chic outfit to wear. She was perfectly layered, mismatched, and draped with just the right color scarf. Me, well, it wasn’t nearly as cute; I was most often wearing Keen sandals, a comfortable skirt, and a series of layered shirts that may or may not have matched. Seriously, I brought three skirts, two pairs of shoes, five shirts, and two jackets. I appreciate The Princess’s disregard for comfort, but when the limping started I was reminded that I am now old and wise – a solid color skirt, layered t-shirt/sweater, and comfortable shoes carry the day. I can be super cute at home.
I am no longer a mademoiselle.
This was a sad revelation. I am the first to accept and admit my age. I’ve always been older. According to my mother I was “30 at 15.” It is who I am. So, I get that at my age I could biologically have a 16-year-old child. In fact, I have high school classmates who have 16-year-old children. It is possible. Knowing and understanding this reality, however, is not enough to prevent the shock when someone points it out. The very fabulous and cosmopolitan host at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay approached our table and looked first at The Princess and greeted her as “madamoiselle” and then turned to me, paused, and said “madame.” Really? Madame? Yes, really. Then, at the end of the meal one of the charming, young, and handsome wait staff kept The Princess company while I was in the restroom. He politely asked her if the jacket in the coat check was “her mum’s.” Oh, yes he did. That cute little fella immediately thought I was her mother. It still hurts a little.
There is a reason that parents want to hit teenagers.
“Sit up straight.”
“Have you thought about how _____ feels, or why they did that?”
“Don’t be so negative.”
“You should go to sleep.”
“Take off your sunglasses.”
“Do you know where we are?”
“You have to talk to people.”
“You look miserable.”
“Are you having fun?”
What you just read is one-side of the daily conversation during my 6.5 days with The Princess. The other side of the conversation was much simpler. It consistently included the following: “okay,” “I don’t know,” and most often silence. So, there were a lot of one-way conversations.
The good news is that I did not hit The Princess. But, I now have a better appreciation for people who must live with unimpressed, too cool, self-absorbed, scared, confused children that look like adults (i.e. teenagers). You people have my deepest sympathy. I’m told that they grow out of it.
I can travel anywhere alone.
I satisfied myself that I could have easily made the London trip alone. If I can manage 6.5 days with a minor in my charge, I can do it alone. I’ve turned the last of the traveling alone corners. It is a nice bonus to fun trip with a cool kid.