by Claire O’Brien
Who would have thought that it would only take three weeks for two people separated not only geographically but generationally to create a relationship as strong as the one that my Aunt Priscilla and I have now established.
Going into this trip I had my fears, of course, and perhaps my greatest reservation was that I would be a burden to someone as well traveled as my professional travel writer aunt. I was about to explore foreign lands in a way that I had never before and probably never will ever again. Never would I have thought that I would be able to go with my Aunt Priscilla on safari in African game reservations, experiencing the country at its most raw, while at the same time enjoying luxury amenities.
The big question was, could I really perform as an official intern to my aunt by helping her post to social media, write articles, interview senior professionals in the hotel industry, edit photos and take notes? Would my small amount of past travel experience and two years of college classes prepare me for what was to come? All of these questions were running through my mind as I jumped on a plane to meet up with my Aunt Priscilla.
We showed the flight attendant our separate boarding passes, sat down in two different classes of cabins on the plane and texted goodbye to our respective homes. However, as we landed in Johannesburg for the first time we were one in the same. Our generational differences faded away with each blood orange sunset that disappeared behind the shadowed ridges of South Africa’s skyline. As we sipped on our first mug of hot chocolate in a cozy, fire lit boma, my aunt alleviated my fears of assisting her with her work and there was no doubt in my mind that this was exactly where I was meant to be.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to see my Aunt Priscilla often since we live a thousand miles apart, so when she asked me to go on this trip I wondered what three weeks of 24/7 contact with her would be like and I assumed she was wondering the same thing. However, after just one day together I already dreaded our African travels coming to an end.
Each night we reminisced and laughed about what happened during the day, whether it was about an Eminem song accidentally blasting from her phone five feet away from a male lion (what is Eminem doing on her phone in the first place?) or the fact that I somehow lost my phone in the African bush only to find it the next morning untouched by curious baboons or unknowing giraffes.
Every minute of each day became a memory that will connect us together for the rest of our lives. No one else witnessed the awe inspiring herd of elephants swim across a river in Botswana or the hungry lioness stalk a quick-witted warthog that narrowly escaped. We even bonded over our worst experience. A stomach bug hit us both during our travel to Zimbabwe. We spent an excruciating 24 hours together taking turns throwing up – no generation gap there. For the rest of the trip we affectionately referred to the incident as “The Day that shall not be Named.”
On occasion, we were offered separate rooms or villas by hotel staff who were sure that we would be ecstatic to have some space and alone time. How could they know that we had crossed the generational divide and the thought of spending a night apart from each other was unimaginable? We loved ending our nights just as we had spent our days – together. Whether that meant being goofy playing ‘Heads-Up’ while sipping on a glass of Port or having a pajama party watching the 1960’s version of Born Free or working editing pictures and posting to social media, we had too much fun to be separated. To me, the age gap was nonexistent.
I can understand the reservations that many have about multigenerational travel. You aren’t hitting the bars with a college roommate or in my aunt’s case, trekking around the countryside with my uncle. There are different perspectives in play and the trick is not to change your own mindset to accommodate the other persons but to challenge each other in a positive way. The key is to gently push each other out of their comfort zones. Neither individual being on their home turf allows each to alter their thinking in ways that may have never happened under different circumstances; a learning experience for both.
Our journey together allowed for my aunt and I to reconnect and experience adventures from two different points of view. Not being the most outgoing person in the world, I can’t even begin to count the amount of times that my aunt was able to find situations that broke me out of my shell, even if she didn’t know it. One activity that I was most nervous about was attending the professional wine tasting session. It’s intimidating for most novices, but my aunt explained to me ahead of time what would be happening and told me to follow her lead. I would not have expected to enjoy this daunting occasion as much as I did. I especially appreciated the knowledge I accumulated on how the wine was made and learning about vintages and subtle tastes I preferred; information that I would have never gained otherwise. I was happy to be able to do the same for her. Knowing she is a fraidy cat, and ultra safety conscious, I dared her to climb to the top of the Cape of Good Hope plateau where we stood inches from the cliff’s edge without safety ropes or railings. She was figuratively and literally out on a limb, but the birdseye view of the most southern tip of Africa was definitely worth it. The whole trip was like that – pushing each other forward and loving every minute of it.
After a week of being home, recounting every story and adventure with friends and family, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have traded a minute of the three weeks of safaris (except maybe The Day that shall not be Named), coastal drives, or sundowners for anything else in the world or with anyone but my Aunt Priscilla. My advice is to seize the opportunity to travel and appreciate the age differences and learn from one another.
Claire O’Brien is a junior at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. She is studying Communications and is Captain of the Division II Women’s Soccer Team. Her interests include fitness, nutrition and international travel.