Found: One Great Travel Buddy

Friday, July 08, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Recently I had the opportunity to transport my 8-year-old nephew Steven from his home in Tennessee to a visit with his grandmother in Alabama.  I jumped at the chance because he is a bright and witty kid who is fun to be with.  What I didn't learn until later is that he's also a great traveling companion, which was fortunate since Ken, my favorite partner on journeys, had a scheduling conflict and couldn't join us for the first part of the trip.

I arrived in Tennessee just in time to watch Steven and his best pal Joshua practicing a bit of tae kwon do, the Korean form of martial arts.
Observing their sparring activity night at the local tae kwon do studio, I was very impressed.  The studio's emphasis on building self-confidence in students through respect and discipline was evident in the way the kids interacted with each other and the instructor.  Hmmm.... an extra dose of courtesy, self-control, respect... definitely positive traits in a road buddy.  

As I was to learn, Steven brought even more to the vehicle, leading me to give some thought to the question of what to look for in selecting someone to hit the road with.  Since I am usually partnered with my ideal companion, I'd never had to think about this before.  Here is my list of essential qualities of a great traveling companion.

1.  Open Mindedness  
A good traveling companion should be receptive to following your suggestions sometimes and not focused only on his own agenda.  For example, when I asked Steven if he'd like to find some letterboxes, he replied, "Sure!  I'd love to do it."
And he dived in with enthusiasm and flair, quickly learning the routine of stamping in and absorbing like a sponge a variety of terms associated with the hobby.  We soon realized that Steven seems to be a "hitchhiker magnet," discovering one after another of these traveling letterboxes within the boxes we found.

2.  Eagerness to Explore the Unfamiliar
If the person you're traveling with wants to just hang back and watch while you try something new, it will detract from your enjoyment.  It's much more fun if your companion jumps in with you, as Steven did when we had a close encounter with a dolphin at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi.  
In another water-filled experience, we marshaled our courage to slip and splash wildly out of control in a raft on our way down a three-story water slide (his idea).  Then we did it two more times, although neither of us would ever have attempted it even once alone.

3.  Thinks for Himself/Has Good Ideas
While being receptive to your suggestions, your traveling companion should also be able to bring ideas to the table.  Our family frequently plays a card game called Golf in which kings and aces are wild.  To give it a new twist, Steven suggested we change which cards were wild depending on the time of day.  This tweak in the rules definitely made an old game more interesting and kept us on our toes.

4.  Good Listener, Interested in Others
A traveling companion who wants to dominate conversations with talk of only what he is interested in could quickly become a drag.  Steven is very interested in hearing about the experiences and opinions of others.  He especially liked listening to stories that featured memorable sayings by various members of his extended family.
One of his favorite stories was that of a 1962 event in which a "double dog dare" from his father (my brother) led me to touch an item in the captain's cabin exhibit at the USS Alabama, a battleship museum in Mobile.  He was thrilled to visit the site of this incident in which I was almost caught and carted off by security when a very loud alarm sounded throughout the ship.  We were both disappointed when we reached the captain's cabin and found it padlocked.

5.  Smart and Sophisticated
It's nice when the person you're traveling with can converse on a wide variety of topics, not only listening but also bringing new information and insight to the conversation.  An avid reader, Steven retains an amazing store of information from the hundreds of books he reads annually on a wide variety of topics.

During the presentations we heard at Gulfport's Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, his hand went up to answer almost every question, and his response was always correct.  In fact, one of the biologists mentioned hiring him as an assistant.

Steven's culinary tastes are a bit more refined than those of most 8-year-olds.  Never did he ask to go to a fast food restaurant.  He was quite content eating at restaurants like Carrabba's, where he declined a child's menu and ordered grilled bruschetta, pizza and a creme brulee for dessert, though he was tempted by the tiramisu.

6.  Joie de Vivre
When your traveling companion has a cheerful enjoyment of life, everything you do together takes on an added zest.  Steven often expresses his exuberance with one word sentences, like  "That.  Was.  Awesome!" or "I.  Love.  Letterboxing!"  
Watching him play in the surf at Gulf Shores and challenge the waves to a tae kwon do sparring session was so.  much.  fun!

7. Generous and Giving
It's never pleasant to be around someone who is selfish, and even less so when you're traveling.  When we needed to fill 24 jugs with water from a special spring to take to someone who has been ill, Steven was the first to volunteer to help with the project.
And he made sure to buy a souvenir to take home to his best pal Joshua.

8.  Great Entertainer
Nothing makes life on the road more enjoyable than when you have a traveling companion who loves to entertain you.  From card games to magic tricks, Steven always thinks of something fun to do.  
He will even imitate marine animals engaged in random nonsense activities if it will make you laugh.  When you express your amazement about his magic tricks, he openly admits, "I love it when people say that."

9.  Patience
Let's face it, things on the road don't always go exactly according to plan.  At times we have to wait for something to happen, even something we're eagerly anticipating.  Having a traveling companion who knows how to be patient makes the delay so much more tolerable. 

When Ken and I were driving Steven home to Tennessee, we encountered a sudden very strong thunderstorm.  As it happened, we were at the end of a six-hour game of "Camera Cab," in which he had the opportunity to win a new digital camera as a prize for answering 100 trivia questions correctly.  He had just answered question #99 when we were engulfed in a pounding downpour.  His response when I told him we had to suspend the game until the weather let up was to sit patiently for about 20 minutes, never uttering a word, until we could resume the game.
After the storm abated, the game continued, and he won his prize.

10.  Good Sense of Humor
You never know when the unexpected may occur when you're on the road.  Having a traveling companion who can handle life's ups and downs with good humor goes a long way to smooth out the rough spots.  Steven demonstrated this well when the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich that he ordered wasn't exactly what he expected.
There was no way he or any other human could have eaten this ridiculously large sandwich.  So he divided it up into healthy snacks-- a lettuce lollipop, tomato cookies, and bacon popsicles.  His wittiness and humor kept me laughing throughout the trip, like the time he had a 20-minute playtime in the hotel pool before bath time.  I had been helping him keep up with how much time he had left to play until we approached the end.

Me:          You have one minute left, Steven.
Steven:     So I should choose wisely?

And that must be what I did when I packed Steven up into our van.  Next time you're headed off on a great adventure, choose your traveling companion carefully.  You'll enjoy your trip so much more.