Steve at Musee de L'Orangerie
I am following up on Judy’s answer to our grandson Sam’s question, “Why do we travel?”
Like Judy, my family did not travel much when I was young. There was a trip to California when I was 4, which I mainly remember through photos, and again when I was 8, when we moved to LA, but we stayed only a few months, before moving back in Chicago. When I was out of the house, my parents took some adventurous trips, including Europe, Israel and South America.
Like Judy, I had a formative trip to Europe after college. I took a cheap charter flight, and ventured out on a 3-month trek that started in London and ended up in Athens. The dollar was strong, and I made $600 last the whole 3 months. The sights, sounds and experiences were amazing. In London, I saw Lawrence Olivier (who was amazing!) on stage for a ticket that cost 45 cents at the exchange rate back then. In Paris, I was in awe of the beauty of the city. Two friends and I shared a hotel room in the attic of a left bank hotel that was steps from the Seine. Every morning, the owner, who was blind, carried breakfast up 5 flights to our attic room with fresh warm croissants, hot chocolate and wonderful coffee. Each place I visited was poorer than the US, but rich in traditions and history. So there wasn’t hot water in some of the hotels and hostels I stayed in. But there was a vibrancy in daily life.
For Judy and me, the trip we took to China in 1981 whet our appetite to travel more. Several years later when the kids were older and we were financially better off, we were able to take advantage of the opportunities that began to arise through my work for us to travel abroad.
The most important opportunity was the connection I made to the Gerontology Institute in Jönköping, Sweden. Boo Johansson and his family had come to State College for a few months in 1989—he and his wife Grazina were using some of the family leave time following the birth of their second daughter, Frida. This was an eye-popping idea—paying parents to stay home with infants, and so we decided to visit Boo and Grazina in Sweden that summer. With Matt, who was 7, in tow, we did a little Scandinavian tour, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, spending time in Jönköping. Boo and his colleagues showed us around, including taking us to care facilities for older adults and telling us about social policies from parental leave to preparing immigrants for the workforce, to 5 weeks of paid vacation every year. The Swedes clearly had a very different approach to wealth and welfare than the US, and I wanted to learn more about it.
Over time, I learned a great deal about the Swedish care system, and even taught courses there where American students could see for themselves how Sweden handled health care and old age care. Like everywhere, there can be problems, but I still believe it would be better off to be old in Sweden than in the US.
So Sam, part of the answer about why I travel is to learn about how people live in different places and how they do things. There are many good things about this country, but we have a lot that we can learn from other places in the world, about their culture, their food, and how they manage things like health care. It is perhaps clichéd to say this, but when we get to know people from different countries, we are less likely to have misunderstandings or conflict. It also makes it more difficult to live with myths like we can’t afford universal health care or can’t pay a living wage, or can’t provide decent care for older people. Or can’t give people 5 weeks of paid vacation a year!
Our travel has allowed us to feel comfortable and confident in other countries. Many people say they want to travel when they retire, but it can be formidable at any age to manage the complexities of international travel when you are doing it for the first time. So take time to travel when you are young, and then it will be easier and more fun when you are older.