Many books have been written about travel, about the adventures that happened on the way and how life has (or hasn't) changed upon coming home. But what about the people we leave behind? Our friends and family with their sorrows, fears or even jealousy?
This series is dedicated to them. It tries to look beyond the traveler & hopefully enable us to understand those at home more, while motivating us to keep exploring. Guestposts are always welcome!
This post was taken from the book Fernweh: A Trans Continental Motorcycle Adventure in which Patrick describes his first motorcycle world trip. In the quoted chapter his mum Annette writes about her feelings seeing her children go off…
I am writing this for the mothers whose children want to go on a great journey or are already on the road. And I speak of “children” – even if they are already almost 30. For our children they will always remain.
In terms of “the big trip,” I mean one without an outside organization lending it certain credentials such as with au pair or round-trip tours. I mean those trips without fixed routes, hotels or motels. I mean the adventure travel with a backpack, bicycle, motorcycle or sailboat. The trips where children are left on their own, in unknown countries where unknown languages are spoken. The trips which, as a mother, we would love to forbid.
To get to the point right off the bat: No, you do not get used to it. You can only develop strategies to live with it. And you find yourself once again saying prayers into the night.
Few mothers can see their child go into the big wide world unmoved. Depending on the travel plans of the little ones, they almost always will worry. Until the last moment we cherish the hope that something may come between them and their plans – even if it is only the decision to travel in a more conventional way. It’s a big difference on the scale of concerns if your child goes off with a tour group or whether the intention is to be far from all the other tourists and to explore the other side of the country.
Of course, we know that it is very important for a young person to go abroad in order to get to know new people, customs and traditions. These trips can be experiences that nobody can take away and cause a personality to mature. This is wonderful, as long as it’s other people doing it on television, and not your child.
And yet you must understand that you need to live with it as a parent. You have to face the situation. A ban is not an option, it wont work anyway.
How it began – Patrick
That was the Moroccan trip. At that time I had reason to hope that nothing will come of it, because the assembly of his aluminum travel cases took so long. I imagined how instead my son and his friend would remain here in the beautiful Lake Constance area. They would use it as their base camp and explore Switzerland on their steel steeds instead. Maybe stay a few nights in a tent with a campfire. I began to reason, since that autumn had already arrived, that he would forget about his trip. Far from it. I strengthened my courage in the knowledge that Boris is a big strong guy who demands respect from possible villains.
My daughter Leonie is a petite little person with fine blond hair and a gentle but iron perseverance. When she told me that she wanted to travel for three months backpacking through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, I did not take it seriously and at first pushed it aside. Again, I had no chance. And again I saw in the mirror opposite me an anxious mother. Sons you imagine falling in a fight – daughters come with images even more traumatic: abused, abducted into slavery. I begged her to at least dye her blond hair. Yet as a blond she crossed over the next few years into Burma, Thailand, Mongolia, China. Only in Qatar, she covered her head, and she bowed to the customs. When she became pregnant I thought she was now on a different level of responsibility. Now she no longer needs to travel. Yet her belly is rounded and her head is already buzzing with her next travel plans. Lack of money is a limiting factor – but not a blessing. One would think that if there is no money, you can not even travel. But she is able to toil for three to save enough money for a trip. But not for a trip with a toilet in the room. But for a trip with a backpack and no fixed target other than a cheap country.
Luckily it does give me a new trick for reassurance: I maintain an unshakable confidence in her sense of duty towards her child’s health and needs. And as a mother to four I also know that small children love rhythm and an orderly environment.
I really had a problem. The multiple delays of departure, sprouted again the hope that maybe Patrick would not in fact leave. Here, however, germinated at the same time the guilty conscience that I wanted to spoil it on him. No, I do not begrudge him the best in the world – but the idea of him chugging along alone on a motorcycle through the taiga. This was a nightmare. More so when it became clear that Boris would not be going along. I would try and persuade him that wicked and evil people are everywhere and Patrick would always find the good instead.
I try not to think about it, but you can not help but think about how in poorer countries there is a temptation to improve one’s assets – or to ensure ones survival for another day. You imagine some tiny particle flying away from the motorcycle, a really quite harmless breakdown only – and you are not there to protect him. This is even before he leaves the driveway. Then one of the stones fell from my heart, he had found his traveling companion, Mario. That his destination was not quite that of my son, I took note of it but put in the well-filled “to worry about later” section.
The worst is the time before it actually starts.
…. and you learn to deal with it:
I knew he was going, whether I liked it or not. Like many sons gone already. The children’s song “Johnny Small” has a deep meaning for me. I sat on the table of the terrace, crying, sobbing, snot and water. I saw thousands of mothers who had let their sons go to war and need. I saw myself as one of them. But then something stirred in me and vigorously stated that the concern of these mothers is justified. The likelihood that their children come home unscathed, is much lower. Yet it was a farewell, with the knowledge that it is possible that it’s forever. And I knew he must go. For himself. It’s his decision and his will, and therefore it is good. And that’s why I not only respect it, but I accept it also. As I write this, I’m crying again – he’ll be back tomorrow. But he is not here yet. I believe in him and that helps to make me strong, with the reminder that I was never afraid when he climbed as a youngster, the tallest trees and walls.
And what else?
Again and again, my other children brought me back to the ground of reality. They reminded me that there is evil in the world but there is also beautiful and wonderful things as well. They are happy for their brother, who strives towards a broader horizon. My husband, their father would love to be traveling with them.
Viva IT umbilical cord
This is something essential. Technology. Before Patrick left, he gave me a “chat program.” E-mails have another dimension than postcards (which of course still have their raison d’être; Ushuaia stuck to the fridge, Ulan Batar clamped to the bathroom mirror …!) – This is a direct chat option vis-a-vis. So I could meet my son often in the chat – and I got some reassurance besides.
Not at all helpful
What bothered me was the concern from relatives, acquaintances and friends. “How can you allow that?”, “Are you at all worried,” “I admire you, I could never,” “Can you not persuade him to come home earlier?” “Won’t he never be able to work again because he has been gone so long?” “You’ll see, once he has a taste of travel he will never be happy at home again, “… and every time I simply repeated what had become my litany: “It’s his decision, he knows what he is doing, he’ll be here when it’s time for him to come home, … ” So I proved myself to be a (mostly) optimistic and cheerful mom with an unshakable belief in her son and his happiness.