In a matter of days, I’ll send my oldest to college 1,700 miles away from home. I may not be totally ready for that, but I know without a doubt that she is.
How? Because she just returned from traveling with a friend for two and half weeks in Europe, where they visited six countries and seven cities, and managed to make it on time for their flights and trains and to meet up with friends when and where they said they would.
We kept track of their adventures through occasional texts, posts on Instagram and Facebook and credit card transactions. They had to figure out the currency exchange rate and manage their budgets. They had to problem-solve and figure things out on their own — just as they’ll have to do in college, but without a safety net — or an R.A.
Only once did they reach out via text for advice. Throughout the trip, they stayed in youth hostels but had rewarded themselves with what they thought would be a fancy hotel midway through their trip, in Vienna. But what they booked online showed no semblance to their actual room. The hotel was in a neighborhood where they felt uncomfortable and the room was on the ground floor, facing an alley, with windows that didn’t lock.
So they texted me: What should we do? They had already paid but didn’t feel safe. We discussed their options via text, and they decided to reserve a room at a youth hostel, request a refund at the hotel, knowing they wouldn’t get it, then leave and dispute the bill later. Better safe than sorry.
It may sound as if I were so cool with this trip that it was easy to just drop them off at airport security with a hug and a wave. In the planning stage, the adventure, in the abstract, was a terrific idea. What a gift to allow them to grow and explore the world on their terms. When they pitched the trip to their parents, they included a seven-page itinerary that included everything from expenses, flights, train trips, lodging, foods they wanted to try and museums they wanted to explore. They would travel with backpacks to Amsterdam, then head to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Graz and Venice by train, and then fly to Copenhagen, explore the city during an extended layover, and head home.
Sounded perfect. Until the plane took off, and my brave, little girl flew off to see the world without me.
That’s when anxiety set in. It didn’t help that other parents could not believe we would let them go on their own. Even my mother, who, by the time she was my daughter’s age was married and already my mother, was worried her granddaughter was too young to travel without supervision.
I spent a lot of time refreshing Instagram and checking my texts for any word from her or her friend. Every picture brought relief and comfort (except for possibly the giddy look-at-us-we-can-drink-legally-here selfies), but it took at least a week to really embrace the idea that they were managing just fine and having the time of their lives. (Even then, I still eagerly awaited pictures. How did parents of traveling young people of earlier generations do it with noting more than the occasional thin blue airmail letter?)
By the time she was on her way home, I was fine and almost wished they had been able to stay longer. They had shown they could manage international travel and made us proud of their independence, confidence and adventurous spirits. But when they walked through the door at customs, I was still relieved it was over.
Less than three weeks after she landed at Newark, my daughter will board another plane, one that will take her halfway across the country to begin a new adventure. She can’t wait — especially since I’m driving her crazy with lessons and advice I’m trying to cram in at the 11th hour. But, no matter how much I wish she still needed me, the truth is, after this summer, I have no doubt she will manage just fine on her own.