This week, my grandmother died at the impressive age of 100. I’m not sure she really understood what I do for a living, as computers and the internet were really not a part of her life, but I do know that we shared a love of travel. She also taught me something about the value of travel memories.
We traveled in very different ways, she and I. As much as it rarely occurs to me to consider traveling with others, I don’t think it really occurred to her to travel alone. She and my grandfather took many trips when he was alive, and she traveled at different times with other family members as well.
We were of different worlds, in a sense.
Although solo travel might not have been something she considered, my grandmother possessed perhaps the most valuable characteristic of a great traveler: curiosity. She was always interested in people, followed what was going on around the world, and was fascinated by other cultures. Had she been born in a different time, I am certain she would have been an accomplished solo traveler.
A couple of years ago, I stopped in for a visit. As we sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee, Grandma seemed a bit sad. She was frustrated by the challenges that age brings with it. She had lost much of her ability to see, she could no longer drive, many of her friends were gone. She told me that the best part of her day was when she went to bed – but not for the reason you might expect.
When her head hit the pillow, her travel memories came alive! Every night before she fell asleep, she would relive her journeys. She would pick different trips at different times. She said it was like watching a movie, her memories were that vivid. She remembered everything. She recalled each day’s itinerary, where she had gone, what she had seen, the stories she had heard, and the historical significance of churches and other architectural marvels.
She might not have been able to remember that she had put a chocolate cake in the oven that day (until the smoke detector went off) but my grandmother could tell me more about her travels to Europe decades ago than I could tell you about my most recent trip.
I’m not telling you this story only because I am reminiscing about my grandmother today, but because I think there are a few lessons for all of us in her story.
Take the Trip
I have watched many people put off travel for another time. In too many cases, that time never arrived. Whether it was due to a change in financial circumstances, health, or responsibilities, their travel dreams never materialized. Don’t let that happen to you. If my grandmother hadn't traveled when she was younger, she wouldn't have her beautiful memories to look back on when travel was no longer possible for her. Seize the opportunity to travel whenever you can, because the ability to do so can be taken away at any time.
Eat the Cake
After clearing the smoke from her kitchen and assessing the baking catastrophe, my grandmother refused to be defeated. “There was no reason to throw the whole thing out. I just cut off the burned parts and ate the middle!” Apply the same philosophy to travel. Don’t let expectations of how a trip “should” be prevent you from having any trip at all. Work with what you’ve got and enjoy the opportunities you have.
Savor Your Travel Memories
Whether you keep a journal, take photographs, send postcards, or document your trips online, savor your travel experiences. When I visited my grandmother that day, she was subdued and melancholy. Until, that is, she began telling me stories of her European trips. Her face lit up, her energy lifted, she smiled and laughed. She truly had made travel memories to last a lifetime and by sharing them with me, she was enjoying them all over again. And she would savor them again at the close of her day.
Sweet dreams, Grandma.