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Travel: Family Travel Gives Children the Gift of Independence



   As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.


   For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.


   When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.


  Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places. 


 I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.


I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.


She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at


Travel: Kicking the Bucket List

    So often when the subject of travel comes up, someone will invariably mention their 'bucket list.' They will talk about a city or continent, a monument or some kind of natural wonder or even an event they want to see before they die. Before, as the cliché goes, they kick the bucket.

    I heard the phrase whispered several times last year as I stood on the deck of a small ship in Alaska, watching humpback whales swim so close I could hear them breathing. I heard it just a few weeks ago watching the Northern Lights undulate across the spring sky over Manitoba, standing in a night so dark and cold it was as if I’d floated out into space.

    I never actually put my list down on paper, I’m not that organized, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Instead, I have carried a kind of mental itinerary in my head, images of places I want to see and things I want to experience. But that mental list, like the Northern Lights, is not constant. It shifts and changes, shining on one landscape and then another as I add and subtract. Every time I see a great photograph or read an exceptional travel story, I pencil in new locations. Sometimes the world changes and war, weather or political upheaval get in the way and a destination drops off.

    Of course, the truth is there will never be enough time to see it all, and not just because I got a late start at the second half of my traveling life, staying home to raise a family and then working around that family to build a career. Even if I’d started on a round-the-world trip the day I was born, there still wouldn’t be time enough to experience it all because the more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to see and do. But life is short so I try to treat every trip—large or small— like it will be my last. I remind myself stop and savor the moments instead of pushing to do more and see more. I have learned it’s important to appreciate where you are and where you’ve been, before hurrying on to the next adventure.

     Several years ago, as my daughter and I walked along the Great Wall in China, navigating the ancient, uneven steps, I suddenly remembered a photo of the wall in one of my school Geography books. At that time, China was still a closed and shuttered place. I’d studied the photo with interest but it never once occurred to me that I might one day stand at the place pictured in it, especially with a child of my own. But I did. And in that moment, watching my daughter focus her camera on one of the marvels of the world, I felt a swell of gratitude for the rambling path my life had taken to put us both there.

    So, no real list for me. When my time is up I want more than a column of checkmarks to define my wanderlust. Instead, I want to be the woman who didn’t always know where she was going but always took the time to appreciate where she was.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel journalist  whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at

China: Ancient tools on a Modern Road

    At four in the morning, in a dark hotel room in Beijing, a grim city that performed cosmetic surgery on itself to shine in the world’s biggest pageant, still fighting the effects of flying across the world, I found myself awake while the rest of the world slumbered. Or so it felt.

    Perched on the edge of a chair I’d pulled up to the wide window, within view of the still-shining construction from the 2009 Olympics, I watched cars and trucks move along one of the ring roads that circle the city. In spite of the fact that Bejing is home to more than 15 million, there was very little traffic at that hour and what few vehicles were out moved leisurely, merging and passing.         
    The hotel, like the city, was quiet and I could hear my daughter’s soft breathing as she slept in the bed beside mine.

    My mind raced but it was more than being jittery from too many cups of tea. More than the effects of crossing time zones and lack of sleep. Mentally, I was working to fit together the puzzle pieces of the journey. Trying to make a clear picture out of shards and fragments; sorting the sights, sounds and scents of a place unlike any I’d visited before.

     We had walked along the Great Wall, climbing the uneven stone steps to the broad lane at the top of the wall, looking out over the valleys and rolling hills below. I could hear a rooster crowing at a farm in the distance and I thought of the textbooks I’d had as a school girl, never imagining at that age that one day I would be able to reach out and touch the rough, worn, stones with my fingers.     Standing at the top of a flight of steps, overlooking the sprawling, mysterious, Forbidden City, I had tried to imagine the lives of its inhabitants when it was a bustling, populated place closed to the outside world.

    Under the watchful gaze of the portrait of Mao that still hangs at the gate, we strolled through Tiananmen Square - a place still haunted by the image of tanks and a lone figure -  and I could feel the lingering frisson of tension as guards, wary young men in oversized coats, patrolled.

    Riding along the narrow streets of a hutong, one of the Walled neighborhoods built with centuries-old clay bricks that had escaped the pre-Olympic wrecking ball, I watched children - one per family - play.

    Wherever we went the persistent “mosquitoes” hawked their wares, stacks of knock-off designer bags, fake silk scarves, postcards and chopsticks.

    All around us, at every step, there was a collision of culture and history. Faux Gucci bags on the steps of the temple.

    Still sitting at the window, lost in thought, I was pulled back into focus by a figure moving in the street below, a modern arterial connecting the new Crown Plaza hotel built for the Olympic crowds to the ring road. He was walking slowly, moving from the glow of one streetlight to another.   

    The man swayed from side to side and I could see he was sweeping the broad pavement with a big broom made of willow branches and leaves.

     I watched him as he moved, stooped and bent over the willow boughs, along the length of the the long road. I couldn’t look away. This man, I thought, is the answer to the riddle.

    I don’t think I slept more than an hour or so that night, but it was not the first time I’ve felt fortunate to have been wide awake, looking out on a view that those tucked into their beds might miss.

    By day, China is a crowded, noisy, almost overwhelming collage of contradictions. Trying to make sense of what you see is difficult.

    But at night, in a black and white world, the answer is as plain as a man walking through pools of lamplight, a man carrying an ancient tool on a modern road.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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