“This is not how it’s supposed to be done,” I opine in the driver’s seat to my passengers as we approach the U.S.-Canadian border. Real travel — as opposed to this silly middle-class ritual in which we are engaged — isn’t about sad “continental” breakfasts in grubby motel chains or holding to a grim agenda of pre-fab expensive fun. Real travel involves a dash of danger, I declaim. It involves depending on strangers, being roused by security personnel (or, better yet, wild animals) in the middle of the night. Real travel involves eating unfamiliar, potentially disgusting things. It does not involve typing in the address of the nearest Trader Joe’s into your GPS so you can have your favorite packaged spinach salad thousands of miles from home.
One of my passengers has one ear bud dangling and the other fastened to her ear, the universal signal that says, “I’m listening, but I don’t really want to, so don’t expect a response, much less a conversation.”
No one wants to hear my adventures of hitchhiking in seedy areas, waking up face down in the sand, having breakfast with the Dalai Lama (OK, that one’s not technically true, but it underlines the point I’m making). My kids are hip to my hypocrisy. I’m trying to tell them that the reason that their mother and I are not hosteling across Asia Minor with nothing but our backpacks and a train schedule instead of pulling into Customs with a bag of Trader Joe’s goodies in a RAV4 is because we have children who demand comforts and safety. The truth is, of course, exactly the contrary. Well past 40 now, I’m obviously romanticizing the freedom of being without a credit card and custom-made insoles. Privately, I know I’m doing this for their own good, that one day they will be hosteling with backpacks and rail passes, regaling strangers with odd accents stories of the misbegotten family vacations of their youth. There comes a time in the life of a parent when the light bulb goes on — you model not what you hope they’ll do, but what you hope they won’t do. My kids are the rebellious sort, you see. The best way to make them vegetarians, to take one example, is to order the rib-eye and enjoy it in front of them.