James's Corner

I Know What I Did Last Summer

You might say it's trivial to talk about travel in a time of war, but I would disagree.

About this time last year, six months after the World Trade Center horrors, when everyone seemed to be ditching travel plans, the perfect summer trip materialized out of the garbage. I was rooting for a dropped pencil when I came upon a National Geographic Expeditions catalog. As I idly leafed through it, my eye fell on a Greek islands family adventure that seemed custom made for me and my family.

I'd been reading a lot about Greece but had never been there. I wanted to take my family somewhere fun and educational but felt time slipping away as summer approached. My wife and three daughters were working on a Greek myth board game. Our favorite travel companions, my mother and my aunt, were game to go anywhere. The NGE trip leader, Keith Bellows, was a fellow Dartmouth graduate and editor of National Geographic Traveler. His wife, Melina Bellows, was editor of National Geographic Kids. They would both be lecturing on the trip, and turned out to be terrific hosts.

But I'd also been thinking about getting another car, with two teenage drivers and another on the way.

After arguments between my Inner Accountant and Inner Wanderer, the trip won out—and we took our best family trip ever. It cost as much as the car would have, but we each have myriad memories for every dollar cast into the Aegean. I don't think I'd be saying that about the car. We breathed the air of Delos and Karpathos, Patmos and the Peloponnese, strolled the alleyways of Athens and Rhodes. We made friends on the trip and loved the Greeks we met. I swam with my mother in the seas of Odysseus, drank ouzo with my aunt on Hydra, and had phantasmagoric dreams sleeping under the Acropolis. The history I learned as a child is now a living part of me thanks to a fabulous NGE guide, Anna Marda. My daughters have seen the birthplace of Western civilization, and I think it will affect them for the rest of their lives.

A dear friend of mine likes to ask, "So what is your point?"

It's a simple one, really: if you ever think you have to choose between possessions and travel, choose travel. If you have to choose between the inertia of home and the relative risk of the road, choose the road. Travel weaves you into the cloth of history and the world and binds families and strangers together in shared experience. There is no substitute for it.

Don't let war and uncertainty get in the way! Not only are bargains to be had, but it is my firm belief that the good traveler is always part of making the world a better place.

As for the teenagers and the car? We share. We bum rides from friends. And it's about time to go somewhere else...do we really need a house?

About James's Corner:
James O'Reilly is the publisher and series editor of Travelers' Tales. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Palo Alto, CA, where they also publish children's art games at Birdcage Books.


Read more from James O'Reilly, James's Corner

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