By the time this column appears, my daughter, Clementine, will have been traveling around Europe for the last five days.
On her own.
This means that by the time this column appears I will be somewhere in between moderately and completely freaking out.
Not freaking out at all will not be an option.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be freaking out because I’m afraid that Clementine is going to be snatched up in some kind of white slave ring straight out of Taken. I have been to Europe enough times myself to know that the version of Europe that exists in Taken (and movies like it) is only familiar to Americans who have never held a passport. (Which, unfortunately, describes most Americans. Sarah Palin really wasn’t an exception.) Of course, to be fair, there is an equally bizarre version of America that is only familiar to some Europeans as well. (Clementine has already been asked several times if she really owns a gun. No, she really doesn’t).
I also won’t be freaking out because I think that Clementine is not going to be able to handle all of the logistics of getting on the right bus, then the right ferry, then the right train, because, frankly, I already know that she is going to screw up at least once. Which is okay: I mean, it’s not like I haven’t gotten on the wrong bus plenty of times myself, and the good thing about going down the wrong road is that you can always go back, which is, perhaps, an even better lesson to learn than how to go down the right road in the first place.
No. I’ll be freaking out because I’m a mom, and that’s what we do. Even when we pretend we’re not.
What, you didn’t think we really let you walk to school on your own that first time, did you? Or even your first three times? Of course not: we were the ones following along a block behind, in the hat and dark glasses. The one who made sure you really did look both ways (twice!) before crossing the street, and didn’t jump into the first beat up panel van with “Free Candey” spray-painted on the side of it.
Yes, of course we trusted you. It’s just… it’s just… a mom thing. We can’t help it.
And yet, despite all of that, I really am sure that Clementine will be fine—and not in spite of being a solo traveler, either, but because of it. This is because, as someone who also spent some of her youth traveling alone I am intimately aware of the fact that a young girl traveling on her own has all sorts of advantages that other travelers don’t. And no, I don’t mean advantages like that. I mean that since there are few things less threatening than a single female traveler people will practically come out of the woodwork to help you. Which is good, because when you travel, you always need help. It doesn’t matter how badass you were in your previous, non-traveling life: as a traveler, you are always kind of helpless.
And realizing that you are now kind of helpless is kind of horrifying, and kind of awful, and kind of wonderful, all at the same time. It is, in other words, the very best part about traveling.
Because, when it comes right down to it, the important thing about travel isn’t what you see, or who you meet, but who you become.
That, of course, and the fact that if you are doing it just right you get to make your mother moderately freak out.