Why my grandmother is my perfect travel companion
My family doesn’t really like travelling. We joke about it a lot; how they’d rather stay in bed than go and see the world. They’re homebodies who are quite comfortable living in the same Yorkshire town I was born in. Mum’s lived there all her life, and our roots go back to when my greatgrandparents moved over from Ireland.
In some ways I can understand their reticence to leave, even for a short while; we’re all mired by health problems, and my siblings are autistic, meaning even temporary changes of scene can be stressful for them.
Growing up, the furthest I got from home was the Yorkshire coast, spending one week a year in a caravan near Scarborough. Given our lack of money, I was grateful to be there, but my mind constantly wandered further afield, encouraged by the books I read and films I watched.
I always knew I wanted to see the world, but never really had the means to do it — until my Grandma stepped in.
I was 14 the first time we went abroad together. My parents were in the middle of divorcing, and I was heartbroken. I think the trip was intended in part as a distraction, in part to cheer me up.
We went to Paris, because I’d talked non-stop about it ever since I saw Amélie when I was 12. To a teenage girl, the French capital seemed to be the centre of the universe — it was chic and cool and everything that I was not.
My grandmother had always loved Paris too — she told me about the first time she’d visited, just after she married my grandfather, and how she’d been awe-struck as well. The city seemed so glamorous, so busy and full of life. In Paris, we bonded over this shared sense of wonder, inspired by a city only a stone’s throw across the English Channel.
Two years later, Grandma offered to take me to Italy. It followed a diagnosis of mental illness for me, as well as the stress of my GCSEs, and we ventured there via a gruelling 48-hour coach ride.
Along the way one of the coach tyres caught fire — terrifying for every adult, absolutely hilarious to 16-year-old me. Sometimes it’s the smallest parts of our journeys that have the largest impact, such as the coach tyre fire, or watching a deer at dusk, bounding along a French motorway at we rolled along.
When we arrived in Tuscany, I fell in love. We roamed the streets, enraptured by the sunshine (it made a change from Yorkshire), petting the stray cats, eating pizza and gelato. I remember, most of all, how I finally felt happy, after two years of mental illness had rendered me inconsolable.
It was then I started to underSilvio, stand the power of travel, the enormity of the world, and how small I was in the grand scheme of things. The trip meant 10 days away from England, away from myself, from all the expectation and aggravation and pain that followed me in my daily life. Amongst the olive groves of Italy, I was anonymous, which is all I ever really wanted to be.
Six years after our last holiday together, we returned to Italy this July. We stayed on Lake Garda, in a hotel Grandma had visited before with my grandfather, and as we wandered around Garda town, she pointed out the small café where they had lunch, and the ice cream shop around the corner they’d visited together.
Grandpa’s not well enough to travel abroad now, but as we sat in the sun and ate gelato, Grandma told me about the holidays she used to take with him. She told me about their trips to Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, and all the dreams she had when she was younger about travelling the world.
I told her stories from the year I lived in Germany, and about my life now in London. Our family has never been one for sharing much, but in the escape of these trips, the physical removal of ourselves from ordinary life, I have gained insight into the dynamics behind our relationships. I have learnt about relatives I never had the chance to meet, and heard stories about my grandfather and mother.
Now that I live miles from the rest of my family, there’s both physical and mental distance between us, and our trips have always been a way of bridging this gap. With Grandma, there’s no expectation, no need for me to put on a front. In the past I’ve felt self-conscious taking trips with friends or alone, but in our forays to the Continent, there’s nothing to do but relax and be consumed by another culture. Our holidays provide valuable time to recharge, where I am allowed to talk as much or as little as I want, to eat and do as I please, but with the unbeatable company of Grandma. She’s the best travelling companion I could wish for — not least because we share a passion for, above all things, Italian ice cream.
Hannah Woodhead took her first trip abroad with her grandmother to Paris and fell in love with the city — and with travelling a deux.