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Real Life: Traveling with Dad makes for lifetime of (often embarrassing) memories

July 16, 2011

This summer my dad and I went backpacking together for six weeks through Argentina and Peru. When I say backpacking, I mean good old-fashioned backpacking.

Forget traveling like those Sheraton nomads with their designer bags and English-speaking guides to ferry them to and from tourist sites and overpriced restaurants. Instead we dragged our 40-pound packs with us to $5-per-night hostels, praying at every stop for flushing toilets with seats and hot showers.

Traveling like that can be taxing. Fortunately, I adore my father. Also fortunately: I have always had a high tolerance for public parental humiliation, as this trip pushed me to my limits. For example, there was the time a twentysomething guy from Germany dared my 63-year-old father to dive into an ice cold pool of water so he could swim to the wet rocks and stand under a 60-foot waterfall. Before I knew it my dad stripped down to his tighty-whiteys and dove into the water before an audience of other college students. I, of course, followed to make sure it was not his last hurrah.

On another occasion, my dad decided to climb up a tree in the Amazon to swing down from one of the vines. The result? The other tour members, much older than me, were horrified, expecting him to fall into a crumpled mess on the floor of the jungle. I found myself pleading with Rafiki to come down before he threw out his back — or worse. Such is life on the road with your dad.

At times I felt my only options were to crawl into a hole and die or push him into oncoming traffic. But, I slowly learned to accept him.

Yes, he could have been the grandfather of 97 percent of the other hostel guests but, you know, he’s my dad. And he did so much to make it work. In an effort to not slow me down, he trained to make sure he was able to keep up with the treks and other activities. Of course, this included doing awkward yoga poses in the middle of crowded hostel common rooms every morning. But it all paid off.

During a trek in and out of a canyon in Peru with three twentysomething travelers, a 25-year-old soccer player/coach suggested my dad take the burro to scale the canyon wall in order to meet a bus. Not only did he refuse the suggestion but he bet the guy he would make it out of the canyon before the bus arrived. My competitive and very focused father easily beat the soccer player out of the canyon and won the wager.

Hearing all this you might ask, “What possessed you to take on such an adventure with your father?”

After finishing an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador, I had planned to travel by myself for several months. Truth be told, I was just a naive college kid and, to put it mildly, I was terrified. The only person more terrified than me was my mother.

Having lived in Bogota, Colombia, during the drug cartel reign of the 1980s, the prospect of me traveling alone in South America shook her to the core. Unfortunately for her, I’m as stubborn as I was naive, so she did the only thing she could do: she insisted my dad go along with me for part of the ride.

Helicopter parent that he is, he was happy to oblige. And I was happy to discover some of the great advantages to traveling with a parent. We have similar personalities, so we got along really well, cooperated easily on the road, understood all of each other’s jokes and would say how we really felt. And when I got food poisoning, my dad took care of me just like when I was little, bringing me soup and tucking me into bed at night.

If you ever find yourself thinking about embarking on such an unusual trip, here’s my advice: Be clear on why you are traveling. It worked for us because I was less concerned with checking off visits to cool tourist sites. I traveled to have fun with one of the most important people in my life, and to grow as a person. Lucky me — I was able to do both.

Jenny Reich, a 2009 graduate of Acalanes High School in Lafayette, attends Arizona State University.


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