Stoking Family Fun with Armchair Travel

I just received an email that resonates with me. Many people my age (mid-fifties) have parents who, while once avid travelers, are now winding down their lives in retirement homes and assisted-living communities. My parents and their friends now “travel” via travel shows on TV. This story illustrates how travel can still invigorate minds and bodies that don’t otherwise get out that much:

Dear Rick,

As I get ready to order a guidebook and the newest set of your TV shows, I want to share a personal story.

It all started about two Father’s Days ago, when I was pondering what to get for my Dad. My Dad was living in an assisted-living home after the passing of my Mom. He lived so close, but I could feel us losing connection. Since my Dad was now mostly bound to a wheelchair, we were both at a bit of a loss about what to “do.”

Then came an idea that changed our lives. My Dad, whose parents were born in Europe, had never been to Europe. As it turns out, he had never really thought much about Europe, as his immigrant parents wanted to start new lives and leave memories of the old country behind. I, too, had never been, and was starting to realize it was something I wanted to discover…and maybe we could discover it together. So I bought your complete set of Rick Steves’ Europe DVDs, wrapped it up, and presented it to Dad as his gift. In my card, I wrote, “With this gift, we will travel to Europe together. Every Wednesday night at 7 p.m., I will come to your home and we will watch two shows together. We’ll start with Austria, since that is where you parents were born, and we will just keep on traveling throughout the year. When we are in Austria and Germany, we’ll drink some beer; in Italy, we’ll enjoy some wine; and maybe when we are in England, we’ll get out Mom’s teacups.”

And so it continued all throughout the year. I made up a schedule and emailed it out to all of our immediate family ‘ the ones close by were welcome to join us, and often they did. Wednesday became an evening we all looked forward to. Lively discussions started as we watched the shows with our Rick Steves maps on our laps, thinking out where we had been and where we would go next. Dad made up a little notebook of our plans, and at dinner on Wednesdays, the other residents would ask him where he was off to, often leading to lively discussions of travels that would spread throughout the dining room.

About halfway through the series, I decided that I would turn my dreams into reality, and booked a month-long trip to Europe with my daughter. After that, our viewing became even more exciting, as together we discussed and debated all the places my daughter and I would go. I remember the night that Dad and I re-watched the Tuscany shows to choose which hill towns to visit. Watching the travels skills shows reassured him that my daughter and I would be safe as we traveled. When I sent back postcards, and showed Dad our photos, he was excited to see that I had actually visited the places we had “been” to together.

When my Dad heard my sister, who lived in Calgary, was planning on spending three summers in Europe doing her masters, he bought her a complete DVD set. He couldn’t imagine how she could possibly travel without them! My sister tells me that much of their telephone calls are richly filled with discussions on places to visit. Without our virtual travel, Dad would have been out of the loop. Instead, he has become an active participant.

My Dad and I, along with other family members, are continuing our Wednesday-night visits. His home is once again a place for our family to gather. And tomorrow it’s time for the European Christmas show, perhaps with a pot of mulled wine bubbling on the stove.

Thank you so much, and feel free to use our story to inspire other families to buy their parents or grandparents a gift that can really enrich the times that they have together.

All the best,

Joanna and Steve, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada


13 Replies to “Stoking Family Fun with Armchair Travel”

  1. Great Letter …my wife and I have taken her parents a some great trips of the last 10 yrs or so as i our careers took off and we treated them to a two week dash thru Germany, France, London day trip then the biggies of Italy on one trip ….then a year later a more laid back 2 weeks in Driving in Spain this at theri age of 85!! and in true Rick Steve`s fashion they carried their own bag!!! but time is catching up so those “great trips ” are mostly likely the last …but we always have a few TV shows on the tivo ready to go ..and they always spark great debates when we are together about what part of town that scene was filmed or what hotel had the best view or city the best gelato …. travel is a gift the keeps giving long after the traveling has stopped

  2. That was such a lovely letter. It brought chills to me! What a wonderful way to spend time with your aging parents. I find with my 80 something parents in Assisted Living that they love to talk and hear about our travels and they also love to talk about family pets!

  3. Thanks so much for this letter. My parents first traveled to Europe together when I was 7 months old. I was, well not dumped, but gently given to my grandmother and grandfather as they went off on a much delayed honeymoon to Scotland, England, France and Switzerland. That experience and the many slide shows we watched on it drove me to study in Europe. My Dad`s last trip was with me to Scotland. He died this year and I am still hoping to get my Mom to Italy, but I am not sure we`ll make it as she is 85. But this letter points out that we can still enjoy Italy together even if we don`t make it to Tuscany.

  4. This year buy your “aging parents,” or even those averse to airplane cattle cars, a personal computer and teach them how to plumb all the possibilities it offers to keep them engaged.

  5. This is a great letter. I`ve watched and re-watched the England and Wales shows with my own grandmother who was born there. She`s lived in the US since 1947, but has never ceased to talk about where she came from. She used to go back much more frequently, but since the 1990`s has mostly stopped. She last visited in 2002, and now feels she is too old to go again. To many travel programs these days focus on the hip urban settings, and on recent immigrant populations and how they “Improve” stodgy old Europe for the “better”.. those sorts of programs just depress, And its difficult to explain change of that scale to an 82 year old. But yours are always upbeat, and make for great conversation.. even if we have watched them all a half dozen times!

  6. Great story! And `b` is quite right – set them up with a computer and a basic introduction to Facebook so they can pictorially follow your adventures. I did with my grandparents and it really brought it home for them! :) haha in fact my grandpa is one of those punctual people who logs on at precisely 1pm each day to check! :P – The Virgin Backpacker

  7. Loved this post! I wanted to take my parents to Europe and they were very hesitant to say, “yes.” (They had never been out of the U.S.) After they did agree to go, I borrowed your DVDs from our local library and we viewed and made notes for our trip. It was an “appetizer” for what they would experience and made the trip so much more rewarding. My parents now regularly tune in to your show and enjoy their virtual travel and real memories. Your guidebooks, DVDs, and FREE guided tours are such excellent resources!

  8. What touching story. I will never forget actually taking my mother and Aunt and Uncle on a 15 day trip to Europe five years ago. This trip as well as the email post make some of the best memories.

  9. My brother researched all the places to go in Paris without tons of walking, went on short daytrips and took my 88 year old mother last year on a week-long family vacation. It was the first time my mom had been to Europe and she would go again tomorrow. It is possible in your 80`s ! It was also a motivator for her to get in shape for the trip as she knew she would have to walk quite a bit . She was also motvated by watching your show and just wanting to explore…

  10. I am facing the fact that my travel companion for numerous years is soon to be reaching the stage where she can`t keep taking off to Europe with me. Thanks for letting me know I can keep the memories alive!

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