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There was always a photo that hung in our house, black, white and grainy. You had to squint to see the details, allowing your eyes to blur the pixels. It was a vintage photo from sometime in the 70s. An old pick up truck was sitting in front of the towering mountains in Alaska. Four young adults, with long hair, big beards and oversized sunglasses, true hippies, were taking a break from exploring the Last Frontier. These four individuals were my parents and two of their best friends, pioneers of travel in Alaska and of the National Parks in United States. I always looked at that photo and admired my mother for going out and exploring the unknown.
Here we are 35 or so years later and I end up on the phone with my mother constantly saying things like, “I’m moving to Germany,” or “I’m going to Brazil, alone.” She remains in awe of my reckless travels as I take off around the world on my own. Little does she know, it was her, those vintage photos of wild North America and the travels we took as a family that inspired me to continue traveling, probably for the rest of my life. Here is the ode to my mom, the woman that inspired me, and made it possible for me to travel.
Her traveling career is broken up into four categories, child, young married adult, mother of two and mother of two adults.
Family Travel in the 60s
You know how people say my generation spends too much money on travel and not enough money education? Well, it looks like my family has been prioritizing travel since the 60s and 70s, so it’s not just my generation, thank you very much. My Grandpa, (mom’s dad) despite being fairly well off, was bit by the travel bug and when he would start to itch he would march down to the bank and take out a $5,000 home repair loan. Instead of repairing their perfectly livable house he would pack up the family and drive. Now mind you, my family lived in Alaska, so driving meant driving through Canada, down to Arkansas or Texas to visit family. My mom, her brother and their foster sister would sit in the top of the camper as they drove the bumpy Alcan road. I asked her how many times she drove that road and her response was, “too many to count.” When they would reach the lower 48 my mom said she was just constantly awe-struck. Growing up in Alaska, she had never been in a place that was both dark and warm at the same time and she would go out at night and just sit in the dark, listening to the crickets in the warm summer air. (In Alaska if it’s warm, there is 24 hours of daylight) Her love for the open road and family trips became part of who she is and how she raised her family.
Meanwhile, my dad was growing up in Saskatchewan Canada (I know this is a mother’s day post, but my dad has some pretty cool stories too and had a big impact on my mom and our family travels.) He had never seen a mountain, been to the United States, eaten a Big Mac, or gone on a vacation. His only “vacation” was driving 100 miles north, as far as the road in Saskatchewan would take him to his cousin’s farm. He and his brothers would spend their vacations, running wild and free and that was as close to a vacation he ever got.
After he moved to Alaska, he met my mom. According to my mom, he got cold feet when their relationship was starting to develop and took off on a wild road trip without even telling her! According to my dad, three of his friends decided to pack up a small car and drive from Alaska to New York. My dad, still had never been to the lower 48 and asked if he could join. I get it dad, I had to get my wild travels out of the way before I could ever settle down. Sometimes you have to let the wind blow in your hair and see the world to really know yourself. So, four dudes crammed in a car and drove from Alaska to NYC in 3 days. In total on that trip they drove 30,000 miles in 6 weeks. I don’t really want to get into the details of what happened in that car in three days, but four guys, taking shifts driving, peeing in cups, you get the idea. It was the ultimate bro-trip. My dad ate his first Big Mac and saw sights he never dreamed of seeing, growing up in Saskatchewan.
It’s funny when I ask my dad about this trip, he always focus on the Big Mac and how good it was. Welcome to America, Dad. He grew up pretty poor in Canada and a Big Mac was always just something he heard about, but never thought he would ever eat. He still loves his Big Macs today. They eventually made it back to Alaska and I guess he decided to take the leap and him and mom married and started their journey traveling together, one that still continues to this day.
Young, Married, but still Wild at Heart
On any given weekend, after their marriage, my parents were hiking in Alaska. They were true pioneers of the Alaskan hiking trails, blazing their way through wilderness, hippies at heart. It wasn’t enough though, and two of their best friends decided to hit the road and invited them along. My dad built a camper with his own bare hands and hooked it up to their truck and an epic road between four best friends began.
I asked my mom if they quit jobs or school to take this trip. She said she took a leave of absence for a little over two months and school was never on their list of things to do.
“Academics weren’t really a thing in Alaska at that time, going to college was not a particularly important thing in anyone’s life that I knew. There was corruption, protests and they just seemed to be a little messy.”
“Do you regret not going to school?” I ask.
“Sometimes, I think I missed out on a real life experience I should have had by going to college.”
“It’s funny, I went to school and sometimes I think I learn the most about life through traveling and sometimes wonder if school was pointless.”
“Well, I think it’s good to have that balance the smarts and the global experience.”
“You’re smart mom, you don’t need school to tell you that.”
During those three months my mom said she was constantly pushed out of her comfort zone. The group always decided to take the road less traveled and the path that wasn’t marked.
“A lot of these photos we got in the Parks no one else has, like this photos of me kissing George Washington. We found trails that don’t exist anymore or you’re not allowed to go because of overcrowding. Back in the 70s not very many people went to the parks. We were often alone, exploring. The parks themselves haven’t changed much, except for water levels and animals numbers (and stuff like that) but as someone who has been going to National Parks since I was a young teenage girl with my parents, they definitely are a lot more crowded. That’s maybe the biggest difference I notice. It’s good though, that more people are making the time to see these, but it does take away from that raw nature. I’m glad they’re protected parts from the rest of the U.S. They’re so beautiful.”
“I hope they stay around longer,” I say, “they’re cutting a lot of funding.”
“You know, you’d have to be really stupid to sit by and let these parks disappear. If funding is cut in the next four years, I think it will either come back or we will find a way to fund them. They can’t go away.”
My mother’s optimism is something I need in my life. I worry too much they will soon disappear.
She said that her and my dad were just along for the ride, while their two friends mostly decided where to go next and what to do next. Even in my carefree travels I don’t think I have ever traveled with that amount of reckless abandon and I admire their true hippy spirit as they explored North America and the National Parks.
“Did traveling like this at a young age, help your marriage or spark the romance?” I ask my dad.
“Of course it was special for our marriage, but there have been times you mom and I have traveled alone, like the time we drove from Alaska to Washington in 2007 and that was one of the best trips for our marriage. Your mom told me she would join the road trip and sleep in a tent in her old age, if I got up every morning made her coffee, bought her a queen blow up mattress and a tent she could stand up in. So every morning I would leave the tent before she was even awake, and make her a cup of coffee. Those were the things that made our marriage stronger.”
It was on this trip my dad saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. He had trouble finding words to explain the canyon to me, just that it was so amazing to see the earth fall away into breath-taking beauty. My mom was partial to Yosemite, it’s her favorite park. That and the Redwoods. It’s crazy how much she looks like me, sitting there, looking so small under the trees.
“You know I look back at these photos and I see them, but sometimes I don’t remember it. It’s like all this happened in a totally different life. I know I was there, writing in my journal and my journal was so important to me, I know that looking at the photo, but it’s hard actually recall the memory. So much has happened since then.”
Three months on the open road, traveling from Alaska and Denali National park, to California and the Redwoods, to Wyoming and the Tetons, Montana and Glacier National Park they went, before they returned back to Alaska, only to continue their never ending hiking adventures.
Traveling Mother of Two
Then my sister and I came along. My mom, thinking of her days where Grandpa would take out a loan and pack up the family, or traveling the open road with my dad, carried that reckless abandon to raising my sister and I. Living in Alaska we got a PFD, or money from the state oil revenue. It’s basically “free money” for living in Alaska. A lot of parents choose to blow that money on a new TV, car or house or maybe even save it for college. My parents however, took that money and we went on an amazing vacation every few years. This money took us to the East coast when I was two, Grand Canyon when I was 6, Hawaii when I was 8, Florida when I was 10, a massive road trip from Alaska to around the U.S. when I was 12 and many, many more.
“The thing about traveling as a family, is it takes you out of the normal every day stuff and you’re free to enjoy each other’s company on another level. I felt that way when we traveled, as a family, we connected on a level that we never did at home. It sets you into an experience together. When you experience a lot of things while traveling like I did as a kid and young adult, to be able to share those experiences with your kids, you get to see them through your kid’s eyes all over again and it’s just amazing.”
My dad’s favorite vacation we took as a family was to Hawaii. We would boogie board our hearts out. My sister and I also imprinted on a nomadic sand artist. I think that bond we had with Mary, the artist, brought joy to my dad. To be able to see my sister and I bond with a nomadic adult and see her for the beauty in her art and in her smile meant a lot to him, as a father. He loves to tell that story of my best friend, Mary. I would wake up, run to the beach and help her build her sand mermaids.
My mom’s favorite family trip was our massive road trip. Seeing all the National Parks that she saw with her parents, then my dad and then with her kids was really something special to her. However, she always tells the story of the long road back through Canada to Alaska. With two wiggly pre-teens in the back it could have been a nightmare, but she just remembers my sister and I entertaining ourselves with silly jokes, games and laughter.
We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we had an amazing life though at home and on the road. At home in Alaska, I remember I was free to roam around the woods and the mountains whenever I wanted. I think this was a major contribution to my love of the outdoors. We would go on ski trips and hiking trips as a family. Staycations were something we did almost weekly. On the road, looking back at what my parents sacrificed, so my sister and I could see the nature around North America brings tears to my eyes. I will forever be grateful to the life I had.
“Do you regret us not saving the PFD money for your college?” My mom now asks me.
“Not at all, those memories we shared as a family and the spark it ignited in me to see the world is something that money or education could never buy or take away from me. I cherish that family time with every fiber of my being. Thank you for that, mom and dad.”
Traveling with Adult Children
I grew up and I went to college. I was the first in my family to graduate. My parents worked hard to help support me through school, but I graduated and immediately wanted to travel. Thus began an era of giving my mom heart attacks, traveling alone to Brazil, backpacking Europe and taking off on a whim to Bali. As a natural worrier, I know it stressed her out.
“Mom, when I look at all the wild things you did in the 70s and 80s I am baffled as to how my adventures scare you, you were so brave!”
“I never went anywhere alone, I never left the country. I still have a natural fear of the unknown sometimes and I admire you, Susanna for doing it all on your own.”
I don’t believe her, she’s more brave than she thinks, because recently my mom, sister and I went to Zion National park together and at the age of 60 my mom hiked up Angel’s Landing like a total bad ass. I had never been more proud of mom or my sister during that trip. She still has that young woman, there inside of her fighting to explore and hike.
Traveling as an adult with your parents, you really start to learn about how they are as a person and not just as your parents. It seems that stories of their past don’t come out when you’re a child growing up. The focus is always on the child or the here or now. I treasure these adult family trips to learn about my family and bond with them in new ways.
Even after all this travel, my parents had never left the country.
Leaving the Country for the First Time
Remember that quote earlier on? “Hey mom, I’m moving to Germany.”
Well, I moved to Germany. I wasn’t sure if my parents would come visit me or not. Other than Canada my mom had never left the country. Maybe it would be my job to visit them. Them my mom told me she was going to do it. My mother who hated airplanes was going to fly to Europe to see me!
My dad being the ultimate budget traveler decided to book the cheapest ticket possible. Using airline miles and the craziest layover sequence, he booked a 34 hour flight to Europe, but he only spent like $90. So you know. Worth it? hahah ask my mom, the one who hates flying.
Finally, they made it. My mom and dad were in Europe and they went from hiking the mountains in Alaska to the mountains in Bavaria and Cinque Terre, Italy. They fell in love with Europe, the ease of travel the new exciting Alps, just getting on a train and going. I wonder if it made them feel like back in the 70s just getting in the car and going. My mom says it was her favorite trip of all time though, because it was here they were able to meet the love of my life and the reason I moved to Germany. It’s funny, I never thought I would have that relationship where I could have it all, travel with my boyfriend and my family. But, you know what? Travel made it all possible, travel made my family what it is today.
Honorable Mention to My Grandma
She hitch- hiked, alone, from South Dakota to California, in what must have been the 40s, to start nursing school only to give it up to work to put her sister through nursing school. It seems like travel has been in my family for a long time.
So, heres to the brave daring women that traveled above all else. To every mother who put travel into their families lives. And most of all to the pioneers of the wilderness in North America. Heres to my mom, to my grandma and even my sister and my dad. Happy Mothers Day!
This is fantastic! Great reading about your adventurous family and really interesting to see what America and the parks were like.
This was such a great read! I’m so jealous of your family – I want my husband and I to be the kind of parents that yours are (and to have kids as awesome and close to us as you are with your parents)! My parents traveled a lot too… my dad backpacked through Southeast Asia and Europe and for the first few years of their (doomed) marriage, they were living in Europe, hopping around from country to country. Which is so badass and obviously something I inherited, but they don’t like to talk about it, so I don’t know hardly anything about it and when I ask about it I just get like, the most vague facts. And my grandmother, who’s 92 and the most badass woman in the universe, has been travelling nonstop for as long as I can remember … name a place anywhere in the world and she’s been there. But my family doesn’t have these kinds of conversations like you do with yours, where we open up about stuff beyond just …. facts, you know, “I went here and did this in this year. It was fine.” It’s impossible to get them to open up beyond that. My husband and I hope to one day have our own family who does communicate like this :) you’re very lucky.
It’s funny I was just watching this TV show called Masters of None and it’s about a first generation American Indian and there was a whole episode about parents and how frustrating it is that they never talk about their past. So, their kids just exist in a world where their parents are parents and not really human. After I was watching that show I called my mom and just started asking her questions. I felt like I didn’t actually know my mom or dad that much. So, she put herself and my dad on speaker phone and we talked for like 2 hours about their travels. There were times I had to encourage them to speak, they’re not really used to talking about their life. So, it was awkward, but I used my journalism skills and just created a conversation. My parents read the final product and cried saying, it’s so great to see our life through the eyes of our child. After this we decided that when we get together we will share more stories. It wasn’t always easy to get information out of them, but once the doors opened everyone got used to it and now I hear great stories all the time! Thanks for your thoughtful comment Lia, I’m sure you’ll be amazing parents!
Very inspiring travel. i wish i’ll be able to do that too when i started my own family. More blog post, please.
Whoa! What a travel loving family!
As I was reading yours my memories of travel journeys in younger days got refreshed. My parents too spent so much savings on travel alone and now I do the same for my kids. :)
This really inspired me to sew up my pieces of memories.
I would love to read them when you do! It good to see families prioritizing experience over money!
This is wonderful. I loved reading this and it brought back memories of times I went traveling with my family in the past. I loved seeing these pictures, wonderful
I absolutely love this post. How fabulous to have all that history in your family. I know how that can be so inspiring. As a child I would hunt through my dad’s tin of memories with beaten photos, an old passport and lots of mementoes of the time he travelled through the middle east as a teenager in the sixties. It really inspired me to travel.
That’s so cool! I bet he saw a lot of amazing things. I heard from a lot of people that their parents traveled in the Middle East in the 60s that must have been a poplar destination! I wish it was easier for U.S. citizens to get over there!
What a wonderful way of acknowledging the roots of your own wanderlust and honouring your parents, I bet they loved reading this :) What a lovely post.
My mother said that I glamorized her a bit, but she’s just being modest. Then she cried because it was so wonderful to see her life through my story telling. Thanks, Maria!
awwwhh what a moving tribute. I don’t know your parents but yet it brings tears to my eyes. I agree with you that as an adult, traveling with your parents brings out more stories of their time and you can learn a lot. Thanks for sharing this and I hope you get to travel together for as long as possible. Happy mother’s day.
Thanks Naomi! I hope we get to travel for a long time too! Right back at you and your mother!
I really love this post! Your mom and dad are awesome! I hope that one day I’ll be taking my kids all over the world.
I loved reading about your parent’s experiences traveling! And I love it that you carry on the tradition.
This is such an inspiring, lovely post1 It was very interesting to read about your parents and how they traveled. I wish I could talk so openly with my family about this stuff but we mostly don´t talk feelings…my parents used to pack us in a car and drive to Italy every summer, each time somewhere else. We used to mostly visit cities and ruins (and beaches) hence my love for history – I discovered my love for hiking rather at the side of friends and alone on my travels…
Really moving article.
You should read the response I left Lia, I think parents are programed to not talk about themselves and only to be there for their kids. So, they are just parents and not really human. You have to work at opening up the conversation to be about them and not about us. It takes time, but it’s worth it for the awesome stories they have. Thanks for reading, Karin!
Wow what a fantastic post!!! My parents took us traveling too and we went to Alaska in the early 2000’s and drove there twice. Your parents being pioneers of Alaska travel is really neat!
Driving to Alaska is the best way to get there! It’s such a fun road trip! Thanks for reading, Victoria!
What a sweet post and the perfect time. Travel is in your soul and in your blood. Thanks for sharing your story!
That’s a beautiful story…and it’s really nice you posted it on Motrher’s Day :) It’s amazing how cool your mom is and that she flew all the way to meet you in Germany…loved her hiking pic :)
I know I was so happy when she came all the way over! Thanks for reading!
A really interesting post and love the old pics especially the black and white jeep in Colorado. Looks like its only missing Woody Guthrie in the back. Your dad sounds like mine, ’34 hour flight to Europe for only $90′ mine would have packed his own sandwiches for the trip too.
Woww! What inspiring pictures! Such beautiful pictures too, analogue photography is so nostalgic. I hope to travel with my partner the same way!
What a great post! I hope my daughter looks back on all of our travels and continues to travel solo/with her family one day. I love the photos, your childhood was amazing!
This is such a beautiful and inspiring story! I can’t think of a better Mother’s Day gift. I hope my daughter feels this way someday about the love for travel we have instilled in her. I am not a Millennial, but I make travel a priority. I think you get much more of a complete education and experience going out and living, breathing, seeing, and tasting it, than just reading about it in a book, sitting in a classroom. Your parents passed on an amazing legacy to you. Thanks you for sharing it with us.
That’s so cool that your parents traveled when they were young! What great inspiration for you to travel the world. We’re trying to inspire our children to travel and explore new places and meet new people. I hope they look back on these years as fondly as you do!
I am so glad for you that not only did they have the experience, but that they also had a photo record to share with you. It seems that you inherited the same gene for exploration. I’ve always felt that some of my greatest learning experiences came outside of the classroom.
I love these stories! How special that you took the time to ask these questions of your parents and put this post together. They are true travel inspirations, and I love reading that their marriage become stronger because of their shared travel experiences. Thanks for sharing this!
This was a really enjoyable read and it’s great that your mum saved so many of the photos from back in the day, it’s great that you had these to add perspective to your post. Certainly, the ease of modern travel must be such a change from her day but nevertheless, it’s wonderful to see both your parents still going strong with an appetite to see the world. Really like the snap of your mum at Yosemite National Park… She looks very deep in thought
This is such a lovely mothers day post – I think imparting the gift of curiosity about the world and a passion for travel is the best thing any parent can do – love that they saved their PFD money for travel, these are the memories which stay with you for the rest of time! Love the vintage photos from US National Parks – thanks for pulling them out and digitalizing them for this post :) Hope you’re enjoying Germany!
I think this is one of the best posts I read all week!!!
So clearly travelling is in your genetic code. How cool is that? I got goosebumps when I saw the picture of the pick up truck after hearing you discribe the picture in the beginning. I think this is a fantastic way to honour you mother and father and continue you families travel legacy!!! Thanks for sharing and inspiring !!!
That’s such a beautiful post! Your mom looks incredibly beautiful sitting in the beach! Indeed she’s a wild explorer at heart! Just look at her standing atop and seeing the Grand Canyon!!!
My love for travel came from my mom and I should actually put up a post on her travels!!! Ages ago when she tucked me in her arms and took me all over India, to just see those photographs its just heartening…
Sounds like you have a great family full of adventurers. Such a great post.