What my mother taught me about travel


Note: I originally published this post last year, but share it with you again today in honor of my mother.

Much of the advice I offer about traveling is actually the opposite of what my mother would have done. When planning for a trip, a good rule of thumb is to consider what her approach would have been and then to do the exact opposite.

I write this with all due gratitude, for she certainly was the first person to expose me to travel. Reeling after she and my father separated when I was eight, she took me and my sister from suburban Connecticut to Italy for nine months. It was my first trip on an airplane, to say nothing of my first experience with a foreign culture. But I’ve written elsewhere about the lack of travel-planning prowess this trip demonstrated. Suffice it to say that I learned much about how not to travel in the three-day odyssey from New York to Florence via Reykjavik, Luxembourg, and Basel, all of it without more to eat than bread, chocolate, and Coke.


For many years after her death, I saw my mother as less of a traveler than a fleer. She was a restless soul who never found comfort or happiness but who never stopped trying, running from place to place as if she was being chased.

Three months before she died, I watched her roll in a wheelchair onto a jetway at the Philadelphia Airport. She was in terrible pain and was wearing a wig to cover her decimated hair, but she had a chance to meet friends in Los Angeles and she wasn’t going to give up an opportunity for a final vacation. The passage of time has helped me to realize that she wasn’t always running. Just as I do, she loved travel for all its joy and possibility, for the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to step outside the boundaries of workaday life, if only for a little while.


As I look back, I realize that my mother taught me to notice and delight in the little things about a place. Things like fresh strawberry tarts from a bakery on the Rue du Moulin Vert, which she ate greedily sitting on my narrow dorm-room bed. Or the feeling of cold sand on our feet on a Nantucket beach in October where we walked for hours as if hypnotized. There were bags of blueberries and beach glass that we brought back from Maine and apple blossoms that she snipped from a tree with her Swiss Army knife and forced into full glory at our Dutch friends’ house. She delighted in the absurd, and I can still hear the laugh she let out when we happened on the funny grave in the Montparnasse Cemetery where M. Pigeon lies forever in bed next to his (undoubtedly long-suffering) wife. This acute and charming ability to notice small but essential details is obvious in the drawings I share here, which come from a sketchbook she kept while visiting me in Paris and Amsterdam during my junior year abroad.

042909_mpigeon_0005 What I really can’t believe is that she never had the chance to travel with my boys, to see Tommy running across the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, just as my sister and I once did, or the way that Teddy fell head over heels in love with the Eiffel Tower. She deserves a lot of credit for the way that they respond to the world. It is because of her that when we travel we seek out and eat the best ice cream in our given locale every day that we are there. It is because of her that we made a pilgrimage to Monet’s garden at Giverny (a place she herself never saw in person) and that I made sure Tommy had his sketch book and pencils. It is because of her that I know the importance of making the effort, of trying something new, even when I feel at my most low. It is because of her that I seek constantly to share that which is beautiful with my children, whether it be sunlight coming through a stained glass window or shining on pine trees at the top of a mountain.

It is because of her that I know that a restless heart doesn’t need to be an unobservant or unloving one. What more could one ask to be taught about traveling with one’s children?


In memory of Jeanne Estelle Paradis, 12/20/1942 – 4/29/1999

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  1. Sarah T says

    What a beautiful post, Mara. What a wonderful reminder to find the beautiful in the moment, esp. with our children.

  2. says

    You know your mother and my mother sound a lot alike. She’s also a great artist (a trait I’m know finding in my son), and the vacations she “planned” weren’t really planned too much. It was just go drive all night long…kids in the back. But her love of traveling, I’ve inherited. Beautiful tribute, and great sketches.

    Carolina’s last blog post..I Share My Misfortunes, So You Won’t Feel So Bad

  3. Karen Mulvaney says

    Your writing is a treasure. What a heartrending testimony to the love you had and have for your Mom. I share the loss of a Mom with you, as my Mom died in 1997. Your Mom was so much younger than mine, and mine died too early. Your Mom’s drawings are wonderful. What a great sense of adventure and joy in your words, even as they are so bittersweet. Hugs to you.

    From another motherless daughter,
    Karen M….from MTers

  4. Elizabeth Sanchez says

    It’s so wonderful that your mother taught you how to explore the world. My own mother hasn’t traveled very much internationally, but she always made sure I had the chance to go everywhere that I wanted. She always says that people can never take away our experiences, and helped fund trips to England, France, Spain, Italy and many, many trips to different parts of Mexico and Canada. Now I can’t sit still and I’m making sure that my children enjoy learning about their world as much as I do.

  5. Monique Paradis says

    Oh Mara, what an absolutely beautiful little story about your mother! it is so wonderful to read something so beautiful about my Aunt Jeanne! I always loved her amazing artwork and I’ve missed seeing it! I was always so awestruck watching her at her huge easel painting her next masterpiece! I miss her and I will hold so much for love her in my heart always! Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful little story that brings back so many memories and tears of love for all the moments I had with her in my life!

  6. says

    I am in tears as I read this. Your mother is a special woman, and it seems like in her voice you found your voice. I want to learn more about your mother…

    jen laceda’s last blog post..Rose-Framboise Heaven

  7. says

    Very moving post, Mara. Thank you for sharing with such honesty and depth. The first anniversary of my father’s death is quickly approaching and I find myself flooded with many memories. I am struggling with the details in the midst of so many emotions. You did a beautiful job of that and seems you have inherited your mother’s gift for appreciating and sharing the world around you. Lovely drawings and so wonderful to have that sketchbook. My father also came to spend time with me during my study abroad and those are some of my most treasured memories with him.

    Lucia’s last blog post..Family Art

  8. says

    What a beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to your mom (I lost mine in Nov of 1999, btw). I was trying to think how to answer the question “what did my mother teach me about travel” and having a hard time because after my parents split, my mom was too busy trying to raise four kids and put her life back together, and frankly, too broke to go much of anywhere. My experiences traveling between the ages of 5 and about 15 are extremely limited. But I think what my mom gave me was the desire to see the world–the understanding that there was much much more out there than our little corner of the world and that my little town wasn’t the center of the universe. Thanks for getting me thinking about this.

    Meagan Francis’s last blog post..Gifts from my mother…

  9. says

    Mara, this is a beautiful post & I appreciate you sharing such thoughtful insights about your mom with us. My dad passed away a year ago & I feel like I can really relate. If it hadn’t been for my dad, I never would have learned the wonders of nature, which means I wouldn’t have shared them with my kids.

  10. Monica says

    I too find that I am a restless heart type of person and love to travel. I have 4 children and on every vacation, whether it large or small, I try to expose my children to every difference around them. Whether it be a cultural one or just a geographic one. I loved this blog and your Mother seemed wonderful. I hope my children can see me in the same light someday.

  11. says

    What a beautiful tribute. I love the comparison of travel to fleeing. I think I do a little of both, and always have. This makes me feel so lucky to be able to travel with my mom so often. So many of us get our travel bug from our parents and grandparents.

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