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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: Tips for Women Who Travel Alone

    I have a friend about to depart on a month-long solo trip to Paris. She’s excited and a bit nervous about striking out on her own, but exhilarated by the freedom to finally do what she wants.

   The number of women choosing to travel alone is climbing. What used to be the spunky college student backpacking through Europe is now more likely to be the mature woman exploring the world on her own terms. Women who have worked hard and have some disposable income or savings, or have raised a family and are celebrating their own graduation into an empty nest or, like my friend, weathered tough times, are breaking through stereotypes and fear and are heading out to see a few things.

   Travel is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves and sometimes traveling alone can deepen the experience and bring the added satisfaction of independence. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:

Be aware: It’s easy to get lost in the pleasure of being in a new place but the basic safety rules still apply. Pay attention to where you are and who’s around you.

Pack light. Nothing is more distracting—or attracts the wrong kind of attention—than dragging around too much luggage. If you’re struggling to maneuver a large suitcase over cobblestones or across busy intersections, you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. Plus, being held hostage by all the extras you don’t really need takes all the fun out of travel. (Tip: Pack everything you think you have to have, then try to eliminate half. Repeat the process. You’ll be surprised by how little you actually need.)

Prearrange transport to your hotel. The trip from the airport to the hotel is frequently the biggest hassle of traveling. If convenient public transport is not a practical option, when you book a hotel, ask if the property offers a shuttle to and from the airport or train station. If not, ask what private service they recommend. If you plan to take a taxi, stop by the airport or station Visitor Information kiosk to ask for taxi recommendations and what the expected fare should be.

Blend in:  Wearing a big camera around your neck or standing on the street puzzling over a city map can draw unwanted attention. So can the flashy designer purse hanging on your arm. Use a cross-body purse with pockets and a zipper. My favorite—actually a men’s messenger bag—cost three times as much as I'd usually pay but has been around the world with me. When the strap began to fray, the company repaired it for me. I’m not a big fan of backpacks but they’re sometimes necessary for day-trip necessities. Again, as with luggage, don’t over pack. A big load on your back slows you down and makes you vulnerable to thieves. When you need to study your map, step into an office building or hotel lobby where you can get your bearings without having to worry about attracting attention.

Plan ahead and get some rest: For many of us, just getting ready to get away is the hardest part of the trip. There are deadlines to meet, household details to take care of and family obligations. I can't count the number of times I've taken off on a journey without having slept at all for the last 24 or even 36 hours. That's no way to travel. For one thing, we're not at our best. Foggy from lack of sleep, it's easy to miss a flight or train connection. And, fatigue makes us vulnerable to illness and human predators. Do yourself a favor. Start packing and taking care of things early and don't get caught up in last minute emergencies.

Dress the part: The cliché that you can pick the American tourist out of the crowd is unfortunately all too often true. Europeans are casual but never sloppy; their clothes fit well and are age appropriate. Last year, at breakfast in the elegant dining room of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, a man walked into the room. He was wearing khaki shorts and a souvenir t-shirt from an American national park. On each belt loop of his shorts he’d fastened a carabiner to hold his water bottle, city map and sunglasses. The man was in one of the most beautiful—and well-dressed—cities in the world, outfitted like he was setting off to explore the Amazon. A few minutes later he was joined by his wife who was dressed the same way. Their clothing was expensive and practical, but completely out of place.

Don’t bring the bling: Why advertise? Leave the extra jewelry at home. I’ve been on group trips where we were all asked to help find a missing gold bangle and traveling on my own I’ve seen tourists in a panic because an expensive, sometimes sentimental, earring or necklace was lost. Think about leaving the big camera at home and bringing along a smaller high quality point-and-shoot.

Choose a hotel that caters to women travelers. One of my favorites is the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, BC. Their Orchid Floor is dedicated to women travelers, especially professional travelers, and the rooms are thoughtfully designed. Going beyond the hair dryer and bathrobe, room extras include a flat iron, curling iron, yoga mat and padded hangers. There are also extra “necessities” in the closet, including pantyhose.(Bare legs are an American thing. In Europe and other countries, well-dressed means covered legs.)

Go to the source: One of the first things I do when traveling is contact the local tourism office. They are one of the best resource for “insider” tips and information.

Use a travel agent. The internet has simplified travel while simultaneously making it more complex. A travel agent can help you with every aspect of travel from booking to insurance. And, if a problem arises, you have someone to call.

Resources: Check out these sites for more information about women traveling solo:


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in the Northwest 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

FĂȘte ImpĂ©riale: Vienna’s Summer Ball

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

    As the newspaper’s former “social” reporter, I’ve been to a lot of parties over the years. Countless times I’ve dressed in an evening gown or little black dress and found my seat at a big banquet table set for eight or ten and made small-talk while one plate of food after another was put in front of me and my wine glass was refilled. I’ve listened to local news anchor emcees make jokes and introductions and I’ve placed bids on silent auction packages. Then, at the very end of the long evening, after the dinner and fundraising were out of the way, the band began to play and those of us who’d stuck around long enough danced.

    That’s usually how we run a ball or gala in this country.

    But a recent trip to Vienna, the city of grand ballrooms and the grandest dancing tradition, opened my eyes.  I attended the third annual Fête Impériale at the Spanish Riding School, one of Vienna’s newest balls and the only one held in summer. Like many of the more than 450 balls held during the short winter season in Vienna, the Fete Imperiale is a fundraiser, held to support the historic Spanish Riding School and the beautiful Lipizzaner Stallions. This year more than 2,000 tickets were sold and the courtyard around the riding school and adjoining Ringstrasse was filled with women in beautiful gowns and men in elegant tuxedos.

    The ball began at 9 p.m. with an opening ceremony. An aria was sung by an Italian opera singer, a brass band played, debutantes in white dresses paraded and waltzed and the ball’s founder, Elisabeth Gürtler owner of the historic Sacher Hotels, was acknowledged and saluted. At 10 p.m. the orchestra leader picked up her baton and men and women of all ages—surprisingly, many were young 20-somethings, everyone waltzes in Vienna—surged onto the specially-laid black and white parquet covering what is normally the sawdust riding school floor, and the waltzing began.

    It was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve ever spent at a gala. It was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve spent anywhere. Couples whirled around the floor, spinning as they danced, smiling, surefooted and graceful. And the dancing went on for hours because that was what they’d all come for. At a ball in Vienna you do not dress up to sit down and eat. You are there to dance. There is no long banquet. When you get hungry you can buy a plate of traditional Vienna sausages and rolls or a bowl of goulash. If you’re thirsty you can buy champagne and cocktails (it is a fundraiser, after all) but no one sits down for very long. The tables are almost always empty because everyone is on the dance floor. Dancing is a passion for Austrians and waltzing is the queen of the night. At midnight, the dancing moves from the waltz to the quadrille and the floor is packed.

 I stayed until almost two in the morning but when I left, strolling down quiet streets back to my hotel, the sound of my heels striking the cobblestones echoing in the night, the party was still going strong. I heard later they’d shooed out the lingerers at 4 a.m.

 In a lifetime of “pinch me” moments, the Fête Impériale will always stand out. I’ve enjoyed a lot of parties, but in Vienna I really had a ball.


(You can watch a video of the Fête Impériale midnight quadrille at

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her 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


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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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