By Elise Seyfried
Do you know what you’ll be doing exactly five months from now?
I do. I will be en route to Ireland with my two 20-something daughters. This is a 60th birthday gift, and I can’t wait. Ever since I snagged cheap airline tickets, I have been after the girls to sit down with me and plan our itinerary. While they seem to be excited, they have strangely little interest in mapping out the details. “Relax, Mom!” they say. “Let’s just wing it; be spontaneous!” Foolish young women! There is no spontaneity in successful vacations! Mind you, I’ve only taken a handful of vacations in my whole life, but whenever I HAVE gone away, the trips have been scripted to the millisecond.
Rose and Julie, on the other hand, have been very lucky indeed to have had good travel experiences, with minimal forethought. So what if they’ve made friends everywhere they’ve gone and have lots of funny stories to tell about their missed trains, closed museums and sketchy youth hostels? Friends and funny stories are NOT why you travel!
When one of our sons was an officer on a nuclear submarine out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, I visited him. There, my days were my own to micromanage because Evan was working. Every morning, I would drop him off at the base and use his car for solo excursions around Oahu. My handy guidebooks at the ready, I ticked off my “must-do” experiences: hike Diamond Head, snorkel in Hanauma Bay. I was so determined to eat a malasada (a famed local pastry) at Leonard’s in Honolulu that I drove around in circles for 30 minutes looking for parking. And I couldn’t find indoor seating. And it was raining. But by gum, I ate that soggy doughnut and convinced myself that it was worth every penny.
Our 40th wedding anniversary trip to Paris and Barcelona was similarly über-planned. I was armed with multiple copies of guidebooks for both cities. Before my husband Steve and I even left home, I had gone online and bought a gourmet picnic lunch to be delivered to us at the Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t be sure we would actually find edible food just roaming around in the world’s gastronomic capital!
Evan was now out of the Navy and in grad school in Barcelona, so he was one source of info (though what did he really know? He’d only lived there for one year!) I looked up every single cathedral and eatery he suggested before we went, just to be on the safe side.
I’m trying to play it cool this time and keep my investigating under wraps. I send the girls links to promising Bed & Breakfasts but have only booked one so far. Well, two. OK, three. I have tagged possible lodgings for all the other nights but haven’t booked them. Yet. But the (economy size, automatic transmission) car is reserved from one of the most reliable places in the whole country (according to a blog post I found, aptly titled “A Comprehensive Guide to Renting a Car in Ireland”).
And I know exactly where to enjoy real Irish food and hear authentic Irish music, wherever we end up going. I will pretend to leave these choices to my offspring, though I will have researched hours and menus and lineup of musicians exhaustively. “Oh my, look!” I will say offhandedly as I direct the car towards one of my finds. “There is a random pub across this random road! I am guessing it might possibly serve the finest Irish stew in all of County Meath! What say we give it a try? We don’t have to, of course. Totally up to you.”
If I play my cards right, I can spend hours every day for the next five months preparing for this trip — and make it look as if I did nothing at all. And as my daughters praise me for hanging loose for a change, I will accept their kudos. After all, this IS “hanging loose” — for me.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. Her self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” is a collection of essays, humorous but with a spiritual focus, which can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through www.eliseseyfried.com.