Category Archives: travel

Hitting the Road

I’ve always loved traveling, no matter how short or long the trip.  This wanderlust has taken me on so many wonderful adventures over the years, and fortunately for me, so many of my best childhood memories were made hitting the road with Grandma Reid.  The woman just loved to go.  She rarely spent time at home, at least until age caught up with her.  In fact, she spent over forty years selling women’s clothing from a variety of catalog companies.  So many of her customers were housewives who lived out in Michigan’s Thumb.  She’d drive to her customers, bags and bags of clothing samples in tow.  She quit selling in the early/mid-1990s only due to the fact that she could no longer find a quality company to represent.  The last company she carried sold more home goods than clothing.  Unfortunately, the quality was nothing compared to the companies she worked for during the 1950s-1980s.  Even as a teenager, I loved to go clothes shopping with Grandma.  She had a way of helping you find the right fight and could be brutally honest if need be.  I learned to love the road and basics of business, at least in part, at my grandmother’s knee.  

During my preschool years, Grandma would pick me up from time to time.  At the time, I was used to her late ‘70s/early ‘80s blue Chystler station wagon, the same one that I tried to make Grandpa Reid promise to take care of as it was now his.  If you knew Grandpa Owen, it was a futile effort, even if asked by his adorable granddaughter.  I can still envision the station wagon parked underneath the old apple tree at the canoe livery – or as we always called it, the park – Grandpa napping in the backseat in the heat of a Michigan summer.

Then one day, I couldn’t find Grandma’s station wagon in the preschool parking lot.  Grandma’s new vehicle was one for the books.  She purchased one of the first Chrysler minivans, and what a vehicle it was!  I have no idea how many miles she put on the thing, but I do know that she replaced the engine at one point.  She finally totaled it in the early 90s in an accident on her way to one of my sister’s softball games.  That iconic tan minivan, when it was finally put to rest, represented the passing of an era.

What makes certain vehicles from our childhood so damn memorable?  I wrote a piece about my first car, which my mom drove for a large chunk of my childhood.  I could write something similar about my dad’s ‘77 Freewheelin’ Ford Bronco, his green Jeep Grand Cherokee that my sister inherited as her first vehicle, or even the lemon fullsize blue Ford van with the squealing fan belt that hung around the canoe livery forever – the one we drove to Florida to Walt Disney World.  It isn’t the vehicles so much as the journeys and times they represent.

Last spring, touring the Henry Ford Museum for the first time with my middle school students, I was taken back by a veritable wave of nostalgia seeing one of first Chrysler minivans (in this case, a Plymouth Voyager – almost identical to the first Dodge Caravans) at the end of a long line of evolving family vehicles.  It stopped me for a moment.  All it needed was a tan paint job/interior and Dodge badging to be Grandma’s minivan of my childhood.

More than anything, that minivan represents, at least to me, countless trips to the movies, Lutz’s Funland in Au Gres, putt-putt golf in Tawas, ice cream runs, and the Bear Track.  I think of the infamous trip to Kings Island in Ohio where Mom and Grandma tried to remain calm as we were caught in an awful storm.  We were parked, Grandma had her foot on the brake, and the van was still shaking.  How many trips to weddings, family reunions, and showers did I take with her in that van?  Last, but not least, we took Grandma’s van to the airport on our infamous trip to Aruba with Dad, Erica, Emily Lammy, Grandma, and Dean Gillette (Mom was too pregnant with Garrett to fly) for New Year 1991.  On the way home, something was wrong with the van, and we could only travel in 15 minute spurts.  I thought we’d never get home, but eventually, we arrived.

Grandma knew how to make any trip fun.  It wouldn’t be a summer adventure if we didn’t stop for ice cream.  On one such occasion, we’d stopped for ice cream after hitting a local amusement park for putt-putt and go-karts.  Per usual, Grandma had a van full.  In addition to my sister and I, cousins Michael and Linda were there as well, and I may even be forgetting someone.  As we are enjoying ice cream on the way home, suddenly my sister’s ice cream falls off of its cone squarely into Michael’s hand.  We had to pull over we were laughing so hard, especially Grandma.  Now well into our 30s and 40s, the ice cream incident is still mentioned from time to time.  Something about it was so incredibly funny, or as Grandma would say, comical.

Now, I’m the one who is rarely home.  I’m the one “running the roads” as my dad would say.  I hope to make the same kind of road memories with my niece and nephews as they grow up, but that is more my mom’s territory, for now.  I normally tag along in her car, playing navigator if need be.  Maybe one day they will reminisce about all the Buick Enclaves in our family at the moment (3 and counting) or Uncle Garrett’s Avalanche.  

At this point, I doubt my love of the road will ever die.  Thank you, Grandma.

Ghost Stories

W.M and I – Puebla, Mexico. March 2004.

As a writer, I am struggling with how to properly tell the story of my friendship with W.M. throughout my college years.  Even though we never really dated, there was something more than friendship there.  If writing from my perspective, the story would have to include themes of romance and unrequited love.  How do I tell the story fairly?  I have no clue what really happened in the end, why he kept seeking me out, but it never went further than friendship.  When I did try to write the story, the men in my writing group all appeared to come to the same conclusion:  He must be gay.  I don’t believe that to be the case.  If that were the case, I would like to think that we were good enough friends that he could have told me.  I did find it telling that they came to that conclusion after reading the story from my perspective.

I wish I knew what to do with the story.  It is the reason why people study abroad and learn foreign languages.  It is at least part of the reason why Spanish continues to play such a major role in my life.

W.M. and I had a major falling out several years ago now to the point where I haven’t thought about him in years.  Yet, our friendship has been on my mind lately.  The truth is that Michigan State wouldn’t have been the same without him.  Alternative Spring Break and study abroad wouldn’t have been the same without him.  My experiences in Mexico and Spain wouldn’t have been the same without him.  Maybe it is fitting that he must have been on my mind as I am trying to figure out exactly what it is that I want in my personal life.

Gypsies – Part 2

Read gypsies part 1 here.

What can I say about these passport photos? They hold so many memories. Yes, even Grandma’s. I never did travel internationally with Grandma, with the exceptions of a trip to Aruba in the early 1990s and a trip to Ontario during my high school years, but she always supported my endeavors. I still have letters that she and Grandpa wrote to me during my first years at Michigan State. When I spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador, I came home one day to my host mother speaking on the phone in English with Grandma. At the time, I didn’t even know that my host mother spoke English that well! It turned out that she had studied abroad in Wisconsin.

One of my favorite stories took place in 2002 just before I was to leave for Austin, Texas to complete a six month co-op with Applied Materials. First, one has to understand that Texas has always loomed large in my imagination. My grandparents lived in Fort Worth during World War II. On Mom’s side, my great-grandfather spent the last years of his life outside of Houston ranching. Well, I think Grandma could tell I was a bit nervous as I said goodbye for several months. She told me, “You know, they are going to call you a damn Yankee!” Of course, I thought that she was joking. She always joked around. That may have been true in the ‘40s, but the early 21st century? Nah. It turns out the joke was on me.

In the days before GPS everywhere, I stopped at a grocery store to ask for directions to my new apartment complex. Unfortunately, I was lost. As soon as I opened my mouth, the man I had approached joked “Damn Yankee, huh?” and proceeded to laugh at my very Michigan accent. Then, he gave me the correct directions, and I was on my way. Literally the first words I heard in Texas were “damn Yankee.” All in good fun, of course. I ended up falling in love with Texas – Austin in particular – and planned to move there after my graduation from Michigan State. Well, I did move to Houston upon graduation, but frankly, I loathed Houston. It just wasn’t the same without my friends from Austin.

Today I am grateful that I moved back to Michigan. I would have never had those last years with my grandparents. As much as I love to travel, family means too much to me. As I am now a vital part of the future of the canoe livery, there are other considerations as well. Deep down, I always planned to come home, even if I didn’t want to admit it in my 20s.

As for those passport pictures, Grandma’s is one of my favorite pictures of her. During my later high school years, she traveled to Poland with family in order to see where her parents were born. She wanted to see where her parents’ grew up. That is why she ended up getting this passport in the first place. Over the years, she traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the United States. She hadn’t needed a passport since a trip to Brazil in the 1970s. As I waited for her in her car one day outside the canoe livery (we were headed somewhere, of course), I noticed her application for a passport. What struck me then was the names of her parents’ birthplaces. She had had to list the various countries those towns became a part of after World Wars I and II – a miniature lesson in the history of Eastern Europe during almost the entire 20th century – or so it seemed to me at the time. Even though I didn’t fully appreciate it until many years later, I think of the sacrifices my great-grandparents made to come to the United States legally. My great-grandmother was only in her teens at the time. I know what it is like to live in another country for a short period of time, but to never see your home country or parents again? I can’t begin to imagine.

My passport picture in another story entirely. When I see that picture, I think of how naive I was at the time. I can’t help but want to warn my 19 year-old self of the worst she’ll experience abroad – as well as tell her how worth it it all was, how much she will experience, most of it wonderful. I would tell her to not worry about all of the guys she’ll meet – none of them are “the one.” None of them are worth the heartache they will cause. Above all, have fun. Oh, and I would tell her that one day, she will want to teach Spanish. Take the necessary tests! It isn’t that easy to get fluency back once it is lost.

Gypsies – Part 1

Grandma and me – Michigan State University – 2001

I am not sure when I realized that I love to travel, but I am fairly certain that my love of travel is due, at least in part, to Grandma Reid’s influence.  We were always going somewhere, whether it was a shower, wedding, family reunion, or to call on one of her customers.  She used to pick me up from preschool from time to time, and I would go with her to visit her customers.  She sold women’s clothing for over 40 years.  In fact, Grandma’s career outlived several different women’s clothing companies.  She had a loyal customer base mainly consisting of farm wives and housewives who liked having her come to their homes to show samples and catalogs.  On one such trip, one of her customers gave me a kitten.  I couldn’t keep it at home due to the fact that Mom is allergic.  Instead, the kitten became an outdoor cat at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  It was during these early childhood years that I became one of her favorite travel companions.


As I became a teenager, I spent my summers working directly with Grandma on a near daily basis at my parents’ canoe livery and campground. Even though Grandma sold the canoe livery to my parents back in 1977, she and Grandpa spent their summers at the canoe livery with us. She is the one who taught me customer service and what it means to run a business. We also had fun. After she passed away, Dad stated in his tribute to her that she was a “big kid at heart.” This could not be more true. I think of all the times we would go for ice cream (she adored ice cream), all the trips to Lutz’s Funland (a local small amusement park long since closed), the putt-putt golfing adventures, the latest movies, and more. She was a big influence in our lives because she wanted to be – and my parents allowed her to be.

After I could drive, and Grandma is the one who taught me how to drive, I would spend long evenings working with Grandma at the canoe livery.  Occasionally, I would spend the night at her home, especially if we had something planned the next day.  In earlier years, I loved spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house due to the fact that Grandma always liked to stay up late.  I have fond childhood memories of watching Johnny Carson with her.  That would never fly at home for several reasons, but I cherish those memories.  Grandpa, like my parents, would go to bed much earlier.  In fact, when I was older and we wouldn’t come home until later in the evening, Grandpa would leave notes for us – his gypsies.  He always addressed us as his gypsies.  I have never forgotten that.  Grandpa Reid, Dad’s step-dad, did not like to travel.  In fact, he was content to stay home and cut wood during the winter or maintain his garden during the summer.  I think that he got a kick out of Grandma and I always being on the go.  I miss them both and think about them daily.

Why I Am Glad I Am No Longer in My 20s

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Over the last few days I’ve struggled with precisely what I would like to say in this blogpost.  Recently I found out that one of my young cousins is not entirely happy at Michigan State.  In fact, she is considering transferring.  My heart breaks for her because I have been there.  She is considering leaving MSU because most of her friends are attending another university.  After thinking about it for half a second, I realized that I had once been in her shoes.  I remember all too well what it feels like to feel so alone among tens of thousands of students.  Unfortunately, I was so far along in my programs at MSU that transferring would have been extremely unrealistic.  Add to the fact that the people I wanted to be with most were in Austin, Texas, it was not a good situation.  I admit that I fought back tears as I left Austin.  Somehow, I made it through the last year and a half at MSU, even though it lead me to make the worst mistake of my life thus far:  my ex.

When I originally decided to leave Michigan State to complete an internship, a full year of study abroad through MSU, and then a six month co-op in Austin, Texas, I never once considered how it would affect my friendships.  I left MSU in May 2001 and didn’t return until January 2003.  When I returned, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to readjust to campus life in East Lansing.  I wasn’t prepared for the deep loneliness that set in.  In making the decision to follow my dreams of beginning my career in supply chain management and completing two separate semester long study abroad programs, I lost most, if not all, of the friends I had made my first two years at Michigan State.  It also strained the few relationships I had maintained from high school.  In fact, one of my best high school friends married while I was in Spain.  She asked me to be in her wedding, and frankly, our relationship was never really the same once I was unable to do so.

All of the separate programs I participated in were wonderful, and each new experience brought a new set of friends.  Yet, it wasn’t until those last three months in Austin (September – December 2002) that I felt truly at home and truly happy.  Then it was time to go home and return to MSU.  I can finally admit to myself that I was deeply unhappy my last year and a half on campus.  As I admit that to myself, what would have been the solution?  I had to finish my degrees.  I can’t imagine how I would have had to upend my life if I had decided to permanently move to Austin and transfer to the University of Texas.  At the same time, my deep unhappiness lead me to a romantic relationship that was entirely wrong from the beginning.  There just wasn’t an easy answer.

It is for that reason that I wouldn’t want to give advice to anyone in a similar situation.  There are trade-offs for everything.  I can’t go back and change the past.  My education certainly isn’t wasted, even though I am not working in supply chain.  As much as it pains me that I lost so many friendships when I decided to pursue all that I did, I do not regret one single experience I had at Michigan State.  All of those experiences made me the person I am today.  To all of those 20-somethings facing these type of decisions, best of luck.

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The Real Reason Why You Should Travel

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Why Traveling to “Find Yourself” is the Worst Idea Ever – BlogHer

As a woman with several study abroad, alternative spring break, and traditional travel experiences behind me, I couldn’t agree with Olga Mecking more.  The title itself drew me in because, personally, I can’t think of a better way to learn about yourself.  I made the mistake of thinking “finding yourself” as synonymous with “learning about yourself.”  I could not have been more wrong.  As Mecking makes clear in her blogpost, she is talking about the impulse to shut oneself off from the world in an attempt to answer the big questions.  Why am I here?  What is my purpose in life?  Etc.

The thing is that by truly immersing yourself in another culture, it forces you to question everything you know about your own.  You naturally begin to question your assumptions and beliefs.  Also, whether study abroad or another form of travel, a change in scenery and a different culture make it easy to find yourself in situations that allow you to discover new interests, talents, etc.  Sometimes, you find yourself doing things you never dreamed you would do.

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to my own experiences abroad.  Would I do it all over again, knowing what I know now?  You bet.  If I were a traditional college student today, would I study abroad?  Probably, although the circumstances are much different today than when I studied abroad 2000-2004.  I simply think I would ask more questions and have far more concern regarding my personal safety.  That is all probably due to my age and experience.  Of course there are things I did at 20 that I would never consider doing today.  Oh, by the way, just a little tip.  If you are planning on studying abroad in the future, do not watch the movie Hostel.  Just don’t do it.

I’ve also thought about how different study abroad would be today compared to my experiences through Michigan State.  First, it would be so much easier to pack when travelling city to city.  When I traveled all over Spain during my semester in Caceres, I always had to pack my journal, books, and portable CD player/CDs.  Today, a smartphone could easily take the place of the music and books.  Also, a small laptop or netbook could take the place of the journal.  Technology is just so much better.  Back in the early 2000s, people were just beginning to blog.  I didn’t have a blog until 2005.  Blogging would make it much easier to capture experiences, rather than just photos and journals, especially with the help of a smartphone.  I can only imagine what I would and could have created studying abroad with today’s technology.  Sadly, I remember getting actual film developed during my times in Spain and Ecuador.  Blogging allows for an immediacy that was not available to me at the time.

What advice would I give to an incoming class of college freshman?  Study abroad!  You will not regret it.  Ten years from now, you will regret it if you didn’t go.  If you are concerned about the cost, there are scholarships; there are ways to make it comparable to a semester on campus.  Also, be careful:  it is addictive.  During my time at MSU, I participated in five separate study abroad programs and alternative spring break – in Merida and Puebla Mexico – three times.  I spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador and a semester in Caceres, Spain.  I also spent a summer in London and completed two separate summer study abroad programs in Merida and Monterrey, Mexico.  When I finally came back to campus to finish my undergraduate degrees, I landed one of the best jobs I’ve ever held:  peer advisor in the office of study abroad.  As a student, I worked part-time helping other students plan their own study abroad adventures.  I consider all of it the best part of my education.  My education would not be the same without all of those experiences; I would not be the same without all of those experiences.

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