I just finished a 16-day trip to Asia with my son and it was probably one of the best experiences of my life.
I don’t often write about personal things in this blog- but so many of you were helpful when I asked for suggestions for this trip that I wanted to let you know how it went. However, I am not going to give you a travelogue of the trip- I just want to take a few minutes and tell you about what I learned in the process of planning and having this incredibly special trip with my son, a gift to him for his graduation from high school.
First, in full disclosure, the idea of doing this trip was taken from a great friend of mine, Eric Protzman. When each of his children graduated from high-school, he took them on a long trip to anywhere that they wanted to go. The deal was that it would be just the two of them, they had to help with the planning and it had to be someplace that they had not been before.
When I asked for some context from Eric, he laid it out this way:
“Tom, you will never have a chance to have this time with your child again. They won’t be able to take the time from school, commitments, spouses or children or careers to do a trip like this except at this very particular time in their lives- right after they graduate high-school. Also, it is the perfect time to re-write some of the rules of your relationship. They are probably 18, a legal adult and are making a huge transition from your house to college and a different life. This creates the opportunity to mark that transition and re-set your relationship. And, if you do it right, it will be a priceless experience for both of you.”
Believe it or not, this turned out to be an understatement.
Zach chose China at age 12- which is when I had heard about this from Eric and the first time I discussed it with Zach. He stuck with that location without change through graduation. Eric’s kids took different paths- one wanted the Beatles trip through all of their milestone spots in Great Britain, the other wanted a backpacking trip through Central America. The location is not necessarily important as long as it is new, challenging and away from here. I personally think off of the continent is great because it puts you and your graduate on more even footing and out of the easy norms of TV, cell-phone and internet habits.
I started saving for the trip then. Stored up my points from credit cards and frequent flyer programs, (gratefully, all of the airlines have basically merged, so all my points came together into one account. Who could have predicted that?), set money aside and Zach started saving money then as well with his own special account.
About a year ago we started planning, asking for ideas from readers like you and my personal network, got a travel agent and worked out an itinerary.
Those basic mechanics aside, here is what I want to tell you:
We bonded. We talked about everything, saw everything, did all sorts of “firsts” together and created a shared library of experiences that are just ours to share forever. On top of that, we are not in the same place in our relationship as when we left. Is he a man now? I don’t know if I would go that far, (seems to lack things like a job, real responsibilities, a mortgage, the ability to grow a credible beard in two weeks even though he tried, and so on). But, we relate to each other differently already.
Some guidelines I want to pass along to you…
- No lecturing or teaching allowed. I made a deal with myself that if we were going to have this trip it was a travel trip together, not a field trip for my ongoing development of him.
- Do new stuff. Part of what made this trip memorable was the “firsts” we did together, including doing things that I would not normally do. We raced motorcycle taxis through Bangkok at rush hour, drank 120 proof Chinese liquor in Beijing, played blackjack in Macau and so on. I have pictures of 20 buddhas from temples in China, but I guarantee that the buddhas won’t be the stories we will tell at the family gatherings for years to come, it will be these and some others I can’t publish.
- Traveling together. I did not set out rules for how we would travel together- too much dad v. kid in that. We just talked through how we would travel and what would make it work better. Simple stuff – he stays up late and gets up late- I’m the opposite. He sleeps with the TV on and has it on all of the time, I never do. I pack in an orderly fashion and ahead of time, he looks like he is jumping bail. We worked this out beforehand with one goal; making the trip better.
- Planning. I took the majority of the responsibility for the logistics of the trip, but we worked through what was important to him in each location and what we could get done. Part of it was money management, part of it has to do with prior experience in travel and part of it was time.
- Shut out the world. I am not kidding when I say that this is a once in a lifetime experience. If you get sucked into blackberry, email and voicemail back in the real world, you will be trading out something short-term for something priceless and permanent. We made calls home for 5 minutes at the end of the day, (morning here), each day and that was pretty much it.
I am the zealously converted now. The graduation trip is the most amazing thing that you can do with your child as you transition into a new phase in your lives and relationship.
Let me offer my great thanks to all of you who gave suggestions of “must-see” sights for our trip. We followed your recommendations closely and our trip was vastly better for it.
If you have children of any age under graduation age, I recommend that you plant the seed of the idea now, open the bank account and prepare for a graduation trip present.