I grew up with a love of travel thanks to Dad.
Sunday is Fathers’ Day. I was lucky — I had a father who got me traveling and I am still traveling. He gave me a love of travel. Plus, besides travel and a chance to see another side of the world, his advice on work and life still rings true.
My dad was an Air Force officer. He eventually became the top ranking colonel in the Air Force and didn’t make general because, in the end, he chose family over career. But during the first 18 years of my life, we traveled through America’s southeast and across the Atlantic to Europe. I lived on two continents, in multiple homes, went to seven schools, and visited 21 states and 35 countries.
Some might say, “poor soul.” I reveled in the change and every time we moved our family grew stronger because that was our constant. And, my love of travel kept growing.
We moved about every four years — the life of a military brat
From Montgomery, Alabama, we moved to Falls Church, Virginia. Then, we headed to Naples, Italy, on an old troop transport, The Hodges. We lived in Naples for four years. Before I was in kindergarten, I had already developed a love of travel.
I remember learning to ride a bike on the roof of our apartment building, getting warm milk squirted into my face by the farmer’s wife who lived behind our apartment building, starting school in an Italian kindergarten wearing a smock and bow, watching the Naples Grand Prix roar in a circle around our place, visiting the catacombs, climbing around the ruins of Pompeii, running races around the towering Greek ruins of Paestum, watching 4th of July fireworks over the military beach, and bounding on the small boats that sailed between downtown Naples and the Isle of Capri.
We later headed back to New York City on an ocean liner. We settled again in the Washington, DC, area, where my father worked at the Pentagon on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, later, as an instructor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair. We had the opportunity to go boating on the Potomac River on the Admiral’s barge, play at Great Falls and work out at the Pentagon Athletic Club and visit every museum along The Mall.
Family trips were a way of life
We drove regularly between DC and New Hampshire and New York City, where my dad’s and mom’s parents lived. Every trip was an adventure. (Honestly, though, I think I have experienced the New Jersey Turnpike enough.)
We would spend a day in the New York City subways riding from the Bronx to Battery Park, visiting museums and eating at the “Automat.” I remember the Hayden Planetarium the best. My grandparents lived next to the Bronx Zoo, so there were plenty of days wandering through the animals and, later, watching the trains roll by and waving to engineers and passengers.
In New Hampshire, we were lucky enough to have a great family camp on Lake Sunapee, where I learned how to catch fish, but never was too good at getting them off the hook. I remember more than once my brother and me racing up the stairs to the cabin with fish flipping around on our hooks at the end of fishing rods and dangling them over my mom and dad’s bed asking for help to get the little sunfish and small-mouth bass off the line.
A summer of factory tours was a blast
During the summers, travel was part of our family tradition. One summer we all piled into our station wagon and struck off across New York and Pennsylvania to Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio. It was a trip to visit industries of America. We visited about a dozen factories and I experienced motel after motel.
In Rochester, it was the Kodak Factory. In Corning, glass was pressed and formed. In Kalamazoo, Frosted Flakes were toasted and coated with sugar at Kellogg’s, and we watched Upjohn vitamins being created and rolling along assembly lines. In Detroit, of course, we headed to The Rouge, home of Ford. In Milwaukee, the family watched Miller beer being brewed and bottled. In Chicago, we spent hours in the Museum of Science and Technology.
On the way back home we stopped in Dayton, Ohio, to see tires being made at Goodyear. Then we rolled into Pittsburgh to see steel being poured. And, as if for dessert, we stopped in Hershey to see chocolates being made.
At home, my dad was a drill sergeant when it came to maps. Every night before going to sleep he would bark out country names and I would point out the country on a giant world map that hung over my bed. I still remember him calling out, “Madagascar! Novaya Zembla! Scotland! Fiji! Alaska! Spain! Timbuktu! Argentina! Indochina! Kenya!” I got pretty good at that game.
After I finished junior high school in Arlington, Virginia, our family moved back to Naples, Italy, again. This time we flew on a Pan Am 707. We moved into a new apartment with an expansive view over the Bay of Naples. I woke up to the sweeping panorama of Naples, Vesuvius, Sorrento, and Capri. The bay was churned by ocean liners, hydrofoils, speedboats, and sailboats. I didn’t realize how lucky I was.
Camping through was the way to travel — and very affordable
Our summers in Italy were designed to take maximum advantage of being in Europe. Our family bought a VW van and the necessary camping stuff like a tent, folding table, gas stove, sleeping bags, and so on. We would pile into the car during the first days of summers and strike off to beaches on the opposite side of Italy and along the Riviera.
Later, our camping trips began to encompass the rest of Europe. Trips would absorb my dad’s 30 days of vacation and he would fly back to Naples and work. Then, my mom, my two brothers, and I would continue along the camping path. During these travels, we really luxuriated in our love of travel.
We rented bicycles in Amsterdam and pedaled madly alongside the canals. We traipsed through Tivoli Park in Copenhagen. We watched the midnight sun, climbed through Hamlet’s castle, rode the Paris Metro with its rubber wheels, and climbed the Eiffel Tower.
My mom would read us history about each town and castle and point out the differences between Gothic and Romanesque arches. She brought opera glasses so we could see the frescoes along with the ceilings of cathedrals. We got to ride gondolas in Venice, sightseeing boats in Amsterdam, slick wooden rails down into the salt mines in Saltzberg, carriages in London, and barges along the Danube.
My folks sent me on organized Intourist trips to the Soviet Union. They bought me a Eurailpass and sent me off for two weeks with my backpack, Youth Hostel card, no real itinerary, and $5 a day in my pocket. I really learned to live life on the road, rail, ferries, and buses
Graduated from high school and hit the road through Europe with high school friends. This time our love of travel grew as teens.
When I graduated from high school, Dad gave me the VW van for the summer. My brother, two friends, and I took off on our own. We took a camping trip across Europe. We had a blast. Little did we know that he had adjusted the gas pedal to keep us from driving too fast. Of course, it made driving over the Alps very slow, indeed.
But, the life of four high school grads on the road was a heady experience. This time we all have a chance to develop our love of travel as teens. We looped through Europe from Austria to Germany to Denmark and across to Sweden. In Stockholm, the discos closed by pulling the blinds up at 1 a.m. and allowed the sunshine shine in. I thought I had lost a friend to a beautiful Swedish girl one night, but eventually, we kidnapped him and took him to Oslo with us.
After that summer, I headed to the University of New Hampshire. I still would fly home on holidays to visit Dad and Mom, who had retired in Naples, Italy, after a couple of years working as an executive in London.
I guess travel is in my DNA. I am happiest when I am moving, discovering new places, meeting people, and enjoying new friends from around the world.
Thanks, Dad, for setting me on such a wonderful path of life and giving me the gift of travel. Every day is special and every adventure a gift because of you.
Photos ©Leocha and Wikipedia/Wikimedia
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.