On Growing Up with a Mom Who's a Human Travel Guide
Most kids want to go to Disneyland. The first trip I remember taking—at my mother's behest—was to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was just shy of seven years old, ill-equipped to survive a long car ride, let alone a 20-plus-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The days that followed were long, tiring, and fascinating. With my mother leading the charge, my two older brothers and I were shepherded to countless museums and temples, remote hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and even an hour and a half north to the famed Củ Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong soldiers hid during the war. According to my mom, it was a must-see. "You never know when we'll be back," she would say.
After Southeast Asia came Europe, then the Caribbean, then Africa, then South America. As I got older, weeks before takeoff, my inbox would be hit with an iron-tight itinerary, detailing everything from flight times to dinner reservations for the duration of our stay, along with a backup list of restaurants in case one of our top choices fell through (pro tip: Google's listed hours of operation are seldom accurate). Even with her full-time job, my mother would pore over this document for weeks, exhaustively researching what to see, do, and eat, ensuring that we checked off everything on our agenda before departure. (My father likes to joke that she suffers from a serious case of FOMO while traveling.)
When I was little, these trips were the bane of my existence. I know that sounds spoiled and ungrateful, but hear me out: Schlepping to the Eiffel Tower at the butt crack of dawn was not my idea of a good time. It was usually peak tourist season, the lines were long, and I suffered dreadfully from jetlag. At the public bathrooms in Bangkok, you had to pee standing up—and BYO toilet paper (you can imagine how this might be a struggle for an elementary schooler). In Rome, I recall being dragged to no less than five museums in a single day, which, if I didn't have my trusty Tamagotchi in tow, would've been enough to make me spiral into insanity. At one point during that trip, my eldest brother even coined a sibling chant: "We want a vacation, not an education!"
I look back on this now and want to slap myself. I was clearly way too young to appreciate what my mother was generously showing me, and too immature to step out of my comfort zone. After all, I was raised in a one-square-mile suburb of Manhattan; she grew up in Egypt, India, Morocco, and Jamaica. (My grandfather was a Korean ambassador to the aforementioned countries.) She spent her sweet sixteen in Kabul, Afghanistan; I celebrated mine at a local hibachi restaurant. It's become apparent to me that she had already been everywhere—she just wanted us all to have the same amazing experiences she had. Because of her inherent love of travel, I was afforded the opportunity to see the world before I had even left home and gone to college.
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I'm eternally grateful to my mother for taking me to the Mayan ruins in Mérida, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the mosques in Marrakech, among myriad other attractions. She instilled in me not only a love of travel, but a curiosity for other customs, cultures, and ways of life (and, it goes without saying, unrivaled organizational skills). Her computer is a veritable treasure trove of recommendations from trips past, which she'll dole out to friends and family members on the regular. Her social media profiles are replete with photos of her in far-flung destinations, nearly all of which are taken by my dad—the ultimate Instagram Husband—and feature Frommer's-level captions.
And despite my youthful protestations, it's no coincidence that the last few trips I've taken without her were accompanied by extremely lengthy itineraries. My friends may have recoiled upon receipt, but they all thanked me later.