Welcome to this third post in my Face to Face series of interviews with people who travel or provide travel-related services. As the 200th post since I started the blog, this is an exceptional one! And to mark the occasion, I decided to interview my constant travel companions, the JJ family trio.
When we first started traveling seriously in 2011, Mr. JJ and I were very busy building our careers, managing the kids and their class schedules, and just maintaining our sanity through it all– just like most families in that phase of life! Since 2012, armed with miles and points, we started traveling more extensively. Personally, frequent travels provided a much-needed respite from daily life pressures and, more importantly, work.
Since 2013, we have been traveling very consistently, based on what I read and what could be accomplished with miles and points. Naturally, the children did not appreciate all the countries we visited, preferring lighter trips to Mexican and Caribbean resorts. But I felt they could and would do that anyway as they got older. I wanted to expose them to the natural world’s richness beyond sparkling beaches and glamorous resorts. I wished to present to them the glory of ancient history, the marvel of the human spirit, the depths of human imagination. So while we visited many islands, we were often in destinations that were more culture or history heavy. Many of you might have read Missy JJ’s lament about this style of traveling in this post.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the JJ family. No trip feels complete without all of them along for the ride. And although they might have been reluctant and resistant travelers at times, they have stuck by me diligently. I thought it was befitting to honor them with this post. We had a lot of fun putting this together, and I hope you have fun reading it. (Since we had to cover a lot of ground, this post is a little longer than usual.)
JJ: How old were you when we first started traveling? What are your earliest travel memories?
Mr. JJ: [My] first serious travel was nine years ago when we went to England and France and spent over a week. I vividly remember that I enjoyed France much better than England. There’s a lot of history and culture in the UK, but it reminded me a lot of the US. France was different culturally and also food-wise.
Sonny JJ: I was about five years old when we went to England and France. I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember seeing Big Ben and riding the London Eye. I don’t have that many memories of France. I do remember going to the Louvre and seeing the Mona Lisa. I didn’t think much of it then, as a five-year old, it was just a painting to me. But now looking back, I think it’s a big thing to see it because it’s such a big part of history now.
Missy JJ: My first travel memory was also to London and Paris. I was ten at that time. Young enough that I didn’t necessarily realize the impact of the things I saw, like the Mona Lisa. I thought, “that’s a small painting,” perhaps, it felt a bit anticlimactic. Now looking back on it, I think, “Wow! I saw that as a ten-year old!!” Reflecting on the moment, you realize the importance of everything, but at that time, the most prominent thought was that I was in a different country, and it felt cool to be there. History has always interested me, and since its history so enriches London, I was eager to see the places I had read about. Like Dad, I enjoyed visiting France more. The sunny weather, the city of Paris, the world-famous Eiffel Tower were wonderful! I thought the architecture at the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre was so pretty. In the aesthetic sense, Paris was something that I liked more.
Both Mr. JJ and Missy JJ share a love for leisurely walks down city streets, taking in the energy of the place, stopping to enjoy a cup of coffee or gelato whenever.
JJ: What are some of your favorite kinds of trips?
Mr. JJ: I am not a city kind of traveler. My preference is to be in nature like mountains and water, doing something a little adventurous.
Sonny JJ: I think I agree with Dad. I like going out into nature, seeing what a country has to offer outside. For example, when we went to Banff and climbed Mount Norquay, I enjoyed that. Now that I am into video games and Anime, I would like to re-visit Japan. As far as planning where to go, I haven’t had much input into that part of the trip.
Missy JJ: I disagree entirely. I am much more of a city girl and like visiting cities. Nature has its share of fun things to do, and we have fun on our nature trips. But, I love how big cities have a mix of old and new architecture, each city has its sense of style, and I really enjoy exploring that. I also like beaches and resorts, so a mix of those two would be my best kind of trips.
Although I haven’t always given the kids much leeway with choosing where we go, they are more involved in planning than they realize. All of us have to research and come up with a few options of places to visit or things to try, and we mold it into something that works for all– or at least attempt to!
JJ: In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of traveling?
Mr. JJ: Now, that’s a thought-provoking question! For me, its spending unlimited time with the family, learning about a new culture and trying out new foods. But there are intangibles also. When we were in Greece, and Sonny JJ fell on the road, the whole village came out to help him immediately. That kind of compassion and friendliness is something one cannot appreciate reading about a country. As for cons, while miles and points have helped us, award flights can also make our trips long and exhausting, like our recent travel to South Africa (about 50+ hours, door to door).
Sonny JJ: I think travel allows you to experience a country and its people in a different way. But long travel means we are stuck for however long it takes to get to a place. And while it’s not a con necessarily, the language barrier is more of a challenge, an obstacle to overcome while traveling. For example, in Japan, we wrote down sentences in English and used Google Translate to translate them into Japanese. Then we’d walk around and show these translations to street vendors and waiters to communicate.
Missy JJ: I will start with the cons, so that I can end with the pros. So we travel almost every major break, all year long. Many important holidays, we are on a flight to somewhere. Being away means you miss out on get-togethers, birthday and graduation parties. On the other hand, traveling teaches you to be street-smart and about adapting. For example, you learn how to handle your money and phone while in other countries. Here we walk around with our phone in our back pockets, but we wore travel pouches under our shirts to prevent pick-pocketing, while we were in Mexico. Last semester, I had a friend who was planning to visit France (pre-COVID plans) but had never left the US before. He asked me a ton of questions about travel. I gave him a rundown of what happens from the moment he enters the airport, going through security, getting past immigration and customs, and what to do during a layover. So definitely, so much more street smartness and people awareness that you receive from traveling so much.
Mr. JJ: And you learn to drive on the other side of the road!
True to what the kids mention, we have missed many events, in the pursuit of traveling. Personally, that was a sacrifice Mr. JJ and I were willing to make. But as the children grew older and often complained about this, we made adjustments, to satisfy their time with friends. Two aspects of travel that are often on my mind are overtourism and climate change, and our contribution. For the most part, we have stayed away from frequently visited countries but hopefully will visit them responsibly. I have been on a fact-gathering mission about off-setting our carbon footprint.
JJ: Which one was your most favorite trip, and why?
Mr. JJ: This is a difficult question! First, it was New Zealand, until we went to the Banff area. Having been to South Africa and experiencing the safari and other adventures, that’s on top currently.
Sonny JJ: I was also going to say South Africa as my top favorite. When I was young, I watched Wild Kratts avidly and have been eager to go on a safari. To be able to go there and see those animals with my own eyes was such a cool experience. And we got chased by an elephant. How many people can say that happened to them?!. So, yes, South Africa, for sure!!
Missy JJ: South Africa (for me) is a close second. My first is Greece, ever since I read Percy Jackson in sixth grade and became very interested in Greek mythology. Seeing all that the ancient Greeks built, how they created an amazing civilization, was incredible. And I loved interacting with the people there. Like the story my Dad mentioned earlier when Sonny JJ fell. Seeing how genuine, caring, and compassionate they were, made me fall in love with the people. I like relaxed and leisurely trips, but each day on this one, I looked forward to what we were going to do!
JJ: What is your absolute favorite travel memory ever?
Missy JJ: I have a funny one! We visited Argentina in 2015, and we stopped in a lovely town in Uruguay called Colonia del Sacramento. We went to explore the historical parts in a golf cart. We parked the golf cart by a church and when we came out, a dog was lying right next to it. We pile into the cart, my parents in the front and my brother and I in the back. We faced backward and our legs were open to the road. Dad turns on the engine, its rumble wakes up the dog who starts barking. Dad turns the engine off, and he goes back to sleep. Dad turns on the engine again, and the dog starts barking like crazy, we shout, “Step on it.” He gets the cart moving, and the snarling dog runs after us, chasing us and nipping at our legs! Imagine sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants, and all of a sudden this golf cart comes hurtling out of nowhere, the kids screaming for their lives, and this barking dog chasing after them?!! To me, it felt straight out of a Disney movie, a funny but favorite travel memories. It was terrifying at that time, and it took Dad’s skillful driving across many blocks before we could get rid of the dog!
Sonny JJ: For me, it was the mother elephant chasing after us on the safari! (It’s always some animal chasing us, interjects Missy JJ). We were following a herd of elephants, a mother, a baby, and a teenager. Even though we were quietly watching them from inside our vehicle, the baby gets spooked and alerts the mother. She gets irritable, starts trumpeting, and charges after us. Our driver maneuvers through the grass and drifts onto the road where she chases us for over a minute. She did not stop! (No animal that big should run that fast, adds Missy JJ).
Mr. JJ: We were getting out of the taxi at our hotel in Buenos Aires. We stood admiring the fancy hotel across the street, getting ready to walk to it. Then JJ says, “This is it” and walks into the doorway of a dingy hotel behind us. Apparently, we were staring at the wrong one! To this day, I can’t forget how adoringly we looked at the one across everyday. And Missy JJ, you plugged a device into the wrong socket and short circuited the power in the room. We had to change rooms after that!
Missy JJ: This is why we should have stayed at the other hotel!
JJ: What has travel taught you about life?
Mr. JJ: Oh wow, that’s a philosophical question! Traveling has taught me that life is always crazy and busy. But it’s essential to take the time to spend with family. And to push to do things beyond your comfort zone.
Sonny JJ: Traveling and learning about different people and cultures, has made me more open-minded. Sometimes friends share their family routines, rites or festivals, some very different from the usual. For many of my classmates, such differences evoke uneasiness, and they shut off the conversation or say, “that’s weird.” But for me, it provokes curiosity, and I find myself asking them more questions. I find these differences very interesting!
Missy JJ: This will sound so cheesy, but essentially, the idea is not to judge a book by its cover. I am not naturally inclined to visit Peru or go mountain climbing. But in retrospect, some of our best memories were made while doing precisely those things. Before I went on one, safaris didnt mean much to me. But that part of our South African vacation was one of the best we took. I loved the safari and never imagined the calming effect of a safari drive. The key is not to go in with a closed mind, because so much can surprise you.
JJ: Do you see traveling as part of your future?
Missy JJ: I want to study abroad, to travel with my friends. Maybe my trips won’t be as rigorous as what we have done. There’s still a lot more that we haven’t seen. I think we will always travel as the four of us, even as we grow older.
Sonny JJ: I am going to travel. A lot! It will probably be a mix of traveling with my friends but also solo backpacking.
Well, there you have it, some thoughts from my constant travel companions! Do you have loved ones you travel with? Share their thoughts and yours on traveling!