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Traveling with My Son: My Teen is My Favorite Travel Companion

Never [go] on trips with anyone you do not love. — Ernest Hemingway

After 24 hours of travel, my son and I finally sunk into the back of a cab, ready for the beds awaiting us at our hotel, only a 20 minute drive away. It was pitch black outside, almost midnight.

Given how early we had started our journey, and how many hours we had spent on a darkened plane, our exhaustion was the only way we could tell how much time had elapsed. We had experienced every travel evil on our trip—traffic getting to our initial airport, the new bureaucracy surrounding COVID screening, moderate turbulence, rude passengers, surly border control agents, and delayed connections. And in that final stretch I was nursing a nascent migraine caused by those evils. I was done.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my 17-year-old gazing out the window of the taxi at the city skyline. Just as tired as me, if not more so, he didn’t complain, he simply sat back and enjoyed the ride. That was the moment when I realized just how much I love traveling with him. I am not talking about sightseeing, I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of getting from one place to another, the necessity from which was born the plaintive cry, Are we there yet? And there was no one I would rather go through it with than him.

I realize admitting your teenager is your favorite travel partner may not be the most popular opinion.

And I mean no offense to my husband, who is a rock star when it comes to navigating the world, but how could I not love being with someone who thinks that a good donut can offset the worst airline flight cancellation fiasco? 

For the record, my husband and I have done our best to make our son’s travel experiences something to anticipate rather than dread. He was born into a family where travel is a must, not just a luxury. He’s logged more miles in his 17 years than most people do in their entire life. At the same time, he and I spend a lot of time going on mom and son jaunts. On these trips, I do my best to make the hardcore travel parts interesting and fun, which may or may not have included bribes during his toddler years. But after our most recent journey, I have to admit those early bribes seem to have paid off and now, in my more tired middle-aged years, I am benefiting from them.

I have a teenager who steps into an agonizingly long immigration line and starts cracking jokes. Jokes that make me laugh so much I’m sure I’m going to be flagged by the stern-faced border control officials. He makes a game out of watching planes take off during a long layover when what he really want to do is sleep—which I know because it’s all I want to do too. And then there are the times when he rests his head on my shoulder after another delay, no longer the giant that towers over me but the sweet boy he has always been. All of those little things melt the stress out of my travel-weary body, reminding me to make the best of the situation. Just as we’ve always taught him.

Entering our hotel room at the stroke of midnight, we both flop onto our beds, happy to have survived yet another long journey. 

“Oooo, hamburger,” my son says, looking at the room service menu on the nightstand. 

I am so tempted to say yes, to act on his late night impulse, but I resist. “It’s too late,” I say. “We need sleep.” 

Then, because I can’t resist indulging a kid who has become such an awesome travel companion, I smile and add, “We’ll have burgers tomorrow.”

Cowgirl turned nomadic Navy spouse, Julie Tully writes about life, culture, and the places where they intersect. She currently lives in Italy with her husband and son. You can follow Julie’s adventures on Instagram @dispatchesfromthecowgirl and Facebook @julietullywriter.

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