20 years ago I went on an adventure. I was 17 and had just graduated from High School. My Aunt Mary had started a tradition of traveling with her nieces and nephews as they hit certain life milestones. Since me and my cousins Joe and Betsy were all graduating, she decided to share her love of travel with us and put together an adventure that was impossible to forget. When the final traveler list was set we had 7 of us total. The 3 graduates, 2 of my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother. I’ve spoken of it many times over the years, and I was going to do it again here, and I am, but I know pictures can be worth a thousand words, so I’m going to share some pictures I dug up to explain just how much of an impact giving the gift of travel can have.

Everything’s Different

Big Guy By a Little Car

From our arrival in Milan and our train ride into Rome, it was clear how different this World was then what we were used to. Voices all around us spoke in foreign languages, mostly what I assume was Italian but certainly many others as well. Everything looked different. The buildings, the signs, the roads, and the cars. I was amazed at the amount of tiny cars I saw all over the place, so of course I couldn’t resist posing in front of one to remember how funny I found it. It was eye opening for me to see how big the world out there is and to experience a culture and a location that was so much different then what I had known. It was a fun experience to change our money into the local Lira and see how colorful it was. We experienced dining options and food that were new, I thought I knew Italian food from Olive Garden, but I was wrong! I’ll never forget being in that new world and broadening my horizons.

Everything’s The Same

There’s One in Every City

As much as seeing how everything felt different, it was also apparent how much everything and everyone were familiar. We saw the influence American culture had on the world. Although many of us enjoyed trying the new cuisine, it was comforting to know that McDonald’s were seemingly as prevalent as back home, and when you went to the store you saw Coke, Pringles, and Oreos. The language was different but people smiled. We were confused by what seemed to be leaking fire hydrants on some corners, only for a nice older man to smile at us and show how when placing a finger in the right spot it became a drinking fountain. People made efforts to smile at us, help us, and speak our language. Yes some were rude, but that’s not so different from home. As much as seeing the difference of how people in other cultures live is important, seeing how much we have in common is as big a lesson.

Explore the Landscapes

A Three Hour Cruise

The world has a variety of climates, landscapes, and unique spots and sights that you’ll never understand unless you experience them yourself. Italy is a beautiful country. I remember seeing the rolling hills and trees as we traveled in between cities. But what stands out the most was our trip to the island of Capri, and the Blue Grotto. We took a boat there and spent the day in a resort location that went back to the time of the Roman Empire. The highlight was taking small boats into the Blue Grotto. Inside this cave the water is a bright blue and was one of the most beautiful natural sights I’ve ever seen. We experienced something few ever do and it’s stuck with us. What I also remember is that our boat guides entertained us by singing, and that they seemed to drag out letting us out until we gave them a nice tip! No it wasn’t extortion but a fun memory and we were happy to oblige. Whenever I see pictures or art of the Italian landscape, I remember my trip and smile.

Explore the History

The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Every destination and every culture has a history. Most of that history we will never know or think about or experience. We’ll hit some highlights in history class, but likely never truly understand the long and rich backgrounds of our current world. I had always had an interest in Social Studies and History in school, and since the movie Gladiator had just come out a month before my trip, Rome itself was a favorite topic. While there it was a whirlwind of history, right in front of me to experience. Our apartment we stayed at was right across the street from the Vatican. We saw the Forum, the Colosseum, the Catacombs, Pompeii. Everywhere we went we saw history. Sometimes we had guides, sometimes it was just us looking and staring in awe. This trip is what pushed me into my first career as a Social Studies teacher. Now in my second as a Travel Agent, my love and passion to experience culture and history continues. Even those who have less of an appreciation for history or may even have found reading about it in school boring, once seeing it in person can’t help but appreciate it.

The Rooftops of Florence

I’ll never forget my Aunt asking who would be interested in going to Florence for the day to see Michelangelo’s statue of David. I was the only other one who was interested, so we traveled alone and stood in line for an hour or two, just to see the statue and a brief glimpse of Florence. It was worth it!

Don’t Be Afraid to Get a Little Lost

Where Are We?

We had seen places that rented out mopeds for the day, and we decided that sounded like a great way to get around the city and explore. It definitely was, zipping around with cars honking at you because you didn’t know which way to go and were slowing down. It was a simple idea that has become fun stories we still tell. In a search for the Colosseum, which you’d think would be super easy to find, we would ask drivers with their windows down, “Where is the Colosseum?”. They seemed pretty confused at what we were talking about, and soon we shortened it to just Colosseo, which is our take on what we thought the locals called it. Finally someone pointed us in the right direction and we made it. By the time we needed to return to the rental shop, we were pretty turned around. We had a postcard from the place with an address, so we were making our way back but couldn’t seem to find it. So we showed the postcard to a passerby who took a quick look and looked at us like we were nuts, and pointed right across the street where the shop was. We made it back! Don’t be afraid to venture out and explore, and get a little lost on the way.

Have Fun and Make Memories

A Picture I Can Still Hear

As we were exploring the landscapes, the history, and soaking everything in, we just were always having fun. There are so many stories I remember and ones I’ve forgotten but get reminded of when the trip comes up. I’ll remember how special it was to experience this with my Grandmother at a time where she was still mobile and able to handle it. I remember going on a pub crawl with my mother, aunt, and cousins and learning not to mix hard cider and beer. We just had so much fun together. I think my favorite goofy memory came as we were relaxing in our apartment by the Vatican after having toured it in the days before. I had heard how the Pope sometimes addresses crowds in St. Peters Square, and with that as inspiration, a bedsheet, a pillowcase, and a Pringles can had me at the window waving to confused pedestrians below. I highly doubt any of them thought this was the beloved Pope, but it’s a simple impromptu thing like this that lives on for years in stories and laughter.

A New Pope
Delivering a Blessing to Confused Pedestrians

We’re Not Worthy

Showing Appreciation For Our Favorite Aunt

As I mentioned at the beginning, the idea and planning for this trip came from my Aunt Mary. She loves traveling the world so much that she decided that she was going to share that love with her family. I’ve received countless gifts over the years from her and the rest of my family members, but the ones that have been cherished the most and have impacted my life the greatest have been the times that I’ve traveled with them and experienced new things together. These memories cross my mind regularly, and definitely any time any of us get together. This is what giving the gift of travel to the children, and adults, in your life can do. We went to Rome, but the destination is flexible. The World is a big place with many unique histories, landscapes, and people, yet it’s more accessible then ever. So what will your next memorable adventure be?