Why my grand­mother is my per­fect travel com­pan­ion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - DESTINATION - By HAN­NAH WOOD­HEAD

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.

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