I'm on a road trip with mom through South Island, New Zealand.
It's not our first trip together. Among other trips, Mom and I have done Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen in Surabaya, trained our way from Tokyo to Hokkaido and trudged through lovely Japanese snow (including our favorite town of Higashikawa) and now we driving though the south of New Zealand.
From a very young age, my two younger brothers and I have been travelling with my parents and we learned to do it without joining a tour. Pa was airline staff and we got free tickets yearly but hotels and the rest were not free. So the only way to do it affordably was to rent a car and drive the brood through places like the islands of Hawaii (we covered pretty much all the islands) and the Grand Canyon.
And to save more money, we stayed in dodgy motels, or apartments with kitchenettes so that mom could cook, instead of us eating expensive overseas food (the US dollar was three Singapore dollars in the old days, and one Euro was more than SGD2).
There was a no-popcorn rule when we went to Disneyland as kids. We didn't understand why back then but look, a tub of that stuff was USD10. Which was SGD30. Which was a small fortune in the 1970s and 1980s. So, no popcorn. And meals were Mom's fried rice in a Tupperware, freshly cooked that morning in the hotel room with a Sanyo electric hotplate cooker.
This was the time before GPS and the Internet, mind you. So my old man drove, and my mom navigated the American continent or the Australian Outback with paper maps, and a lot of arguing. The entire family all developed the ability to adapt. After all, you can't google your way through your travel problems, or book a flight or a hotel room with your phone in those days.
Travelling solo with my mother in the recent years is still as fun as travelling with my parents and brothers back then. She is 75 years old now, and here are some random things I learned travelling with her.
1. Always be prepared for sudden toilet breaks. Old people need frequent toilet breaks. Myself included.
2. Always pack random food items. I'm an ultralight traveller and refuse to overpack. But I have to say, my mother's stash of 2-in-1 coffee and cup noodles were lifesavers when we were too tired to go out and eat.
3. You are never too old to play with ducks.
4. Destinations are just points between which you stop for New Zealand flat whites.
5. It's not where you go, it's who you go with. I am blessed to have a mother who is an awesome traveller. Traveller, not tourist.
6. Hotels or motels must have a television. No TV? Minus four stars. TVs provide ambient sound as you go about your business. And also become a source of shared entertainment as you both try to answer the questions on quiz shows together. Or laugh at local cop shows showing the mild crimes that highway cops deal with.
7. You can talk to any stranger. Mother has the amazing ability to befriend anyone on the street. Be it singers at the Oamaru Sunday Farmers' Market, baristas in a coffee shop, or an elderly German couple who are on a seven-week camper van road trip through New Zealand. Or birds. I suspect that is where I get it from, because I talk to strangers on Twitter and my Facebook all the time.
8. Always ensure you've downloaded your Oldies Spotify playlist before embarking on your next long road journey, so you can both sing along to Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. And reminisce about the singers and songs my late father loved.
9. Don't let Mom enter a supermarket. She will buy enough to last you two zombie apocalypses.
10. Do let Mom enter a supermarket. And let her buy what she wants. Because she know how to buy the best fruits, and snacks, and breakfast items at the best price. And you'll be thanking her when you tuck into the ham and cheese sandwich in the morning.
11. Your iPhone 7 Plus may be able to pull down travel and map info on the fly, but Mom's National-Library-borrowed Lonely Planet dead tree edition works without batteries or the internet. And works even when you're out at Milford Sound with no mobile coverage (shame on you, Vodafone).
12. Don’t ask your mother where small jars of jam, small cakes of butter, and the random banana come from. Just eat.
13. You never know when you might need these bottles of branded hotel-sized shampoo, conditioner, body gel and body lotion. Good for the kids when they go swimming back home. Good for the crappy hotels you may stay in, down the road, that may provide lousy unbranded toiletries. You might even want to start a shop with the collection one day.
14. She makes jokes about your snoring drowning out the TV she is watching at night. You make jokes about her morning farts.
15. “This looks like a nice little town on the map.” usually results in a drive through some off-road countryside, across several rivers, that leads to a town with just one building. Or the edge of Paradise.
16. You learn where you picked up the travel habit of washing your underwear and hanging them wherever there is a place to hang something.
17. Just when you think she has filled her one luggage, she whips out a folding bag made of the indestructible China/Thai plastic/cardboard that can take about 45 litres of shopping.
18. Travel with your parents while they are still mobile. They won’t be able to travel forever. Age, and two fractures in the ankle and knee from hiking in Vietnam a few years ago, can slow a mother down. Even the strongest trees grow old.
19. When she decides she really wants to have Indian food in the middle of nowhere in South Island, she will find it. And it will be worth the search somehow. That was some yummy Chicken Madras and Chicken Tikka Masala, man. 20. You can take the Geography and Art teacher out of the school but you can’t take the Geography and Art teacher out of your mother. And you appreciate the geography and beauty of New Zealand even more in her company.
21. It is ok to drive up the steepest road in the world, and acknowledge that your old knees aren't going to take you up Baldwin Street.
22. And above all, stay curious, open and always willing to see and learn new things.
[All images made by me, mostly with a Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm F2.8-4 lens, a Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 II lens, and an iPhone 7 Plus sometimes.]