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.
Having spent three decades living in the Middle East, my dad always liked to think of himself as a transplanted nomad. So on weekends he’d load the family into our old Land Cruiser and head out into the deserts of the U.A.E.
If Dad had a flaw as a desert guide, it was that he tended to overlook the fact that not everyone was as equipped to deal with this environment as he was. Our trips often took on an edge of added excitement when a human or a dog would go missing. One time, Dad let my brother and me take the jeep on a joyride—which taught us important lessons about the relationship between velocity, gravity and pain.
I get the feeling now that these trips might have had an element of danger about them, but at the time we felt perfectly safe. A military helicopter pilot, Dad handled every emerging crisis with reassuring efficiency. On one of our apparently aimless afternoon desert strolls, a helicopter landed just ahead of us. “I recognized your bald head,” the pilot said to Dad. So even if we had gotten lost, there would have been hope.
Even after I grew out of childhood, I loved going into the desert with Dad. In the evenings, we’d find ourselves a wadi, or dry riverbed, where we’d have a few drinks and sleep under the stars. One night, we stayed awake to watch for Halley’s Comet, but the sky clouded over and we missed the show. Although Dad grumbled in those low, gravelly tones of his, there was a sense that it didn’t really matter whether we saw the comet. We had everything we needed right there. —HELEN ROSS
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During the run-up to our recent Quebec City trip, people kept saying we should go to Disney World instead. We scoffed, convinced our 3-year-old girls would love Quebec—different culture, different language, different cuisine.
Dad and I spent most of our vacation gazing longingly at sidewalk cafés while trying to keep the girls from tumbling down L’Escalier Casse-Cou (“The Breakneck Steps”). While other vacationers shopped for art in the Rue du Trésor, we were either at a local playground or holed up in our rented condo watching Elf.
But we developed a strategy: Before venturing into a restaurant, we’d stop at a candy store and load up on maple drops for the girls. This allowed us to make it through our crêpes au fromage in relative peace. Afterward, we’d let the girls run the sugar off on the Dufferin Terrace, which essentially meant that diners at the Château Frontenac got a front-row seat as our children reinforced American-tourist stereotypes.
There were some pleasant surprises, though. During one of our final candy-fueled restaurant visits, our daughter Audrey turned to the approaching waitress and said “bonjour” without prompting. As far as souvenirs go, that beats mouse ears any day. —STEPHANIE TYBURSKI