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:
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