Discovering the world together can provide parents and children with memories to cherish, strengthening the bonds of love and respect—or not. Here, Hemispheres contributors share tales of family trips that didn’t quite follow the script, along with tips to help others avoid familial woes in far-off lands.
A bored child can be a difficult travel companion; a bored dad can be worse
When I was 14, my parents were seized with a desire to visit Amish country. So we loaded up the car, enlisted my cousins and their parents, and traveled from Massachusetts to Lancaster County, Pa., to investigate a way of life wholly distinct from our own. The problem was, this wholly distinct way of life also happened to be very slow.
So, during the four-hour bus tour we’d signed on for, my father started inventing games to alleviate the boredom. The first was inspired by the fact that, even though the guide repeatedly reminded us that the Amish enjoy no modern conveniences, we kept seeing Amish-looking people pushing gas-powered lawn mowers and eating Doritos. Each time my father pointed this out, he’d get the same answer: “That’s a Mennonite.” The resulting game consisted of Dad scanning the landscape for transgressors and repeating, idly, “That’s a Mennonite. That’s a Mennonite.”
The second game dawned on him when the bus stopped to allow a teenage Amish girl onboard to hawk her crafts. Keenly attuned to my withering adolescent discomfort with members of the opposite sex, even ones that looked as if they had been churning butter since childhood, my father glanced at me and took a deep breath.
This was around the time that “America’s Funniest Home Videos” premiered, and the winner of the first season featured a dog that could sort of shout-scream, “I love you!” My dad loved that dog. Thus, in front of the confused and possibly frightened girl, the startled passengers and the mortified son, my dad announced again and again, in the dog voice, that he loved me.
Minutes later, quiet was restored. The girl was gone, the validity of her lifestyle confirmed beyond any doubt. I sat there, contemplating the possibility of burrowing into my seat cushion. Dad, deeply satisfied, leaned back. The bus jerked into motion. “That’s a Mennonite,” he said. —JOE KEOHANE
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My wife and I were flying from New York to San Francisco with 9-month-old twins, and we were worried. We’d practiced stroller disassembly until we were as slick as a pit crew. We’d classified toys by the level of distraction they provided. Then there was my wife’s masterstroke: Following instructions she found on the Internet, she’d purchased bags of good-quality chocolate and printed up index cards with photos of our smiling twins. “Hello!” each card said. “This is our first airplane trip and we might freak out a little bit. Our parents seem to have brought every toy in the world to keep us busy and happy, but just in case, here are some sweets and earplugs.” It didn’t stop the kids from screaming, of course, but at least it kept the dirty looks to a minimum. —PAUL FORD