A flag, an RV, a postcard...and Dad, the reason I travel.

Today is my father's 60th birthday.

My brother, mom and I gathered letters and photos from his closest friends and family and put them in a scrapbook for him to unwrap on his special day.

We encouraged everyone to write silly, sentimental and memorable notes for him.

It was hard for me to pick a specific memory about my dad, so I instead decided to write about how he influenced me. More specifically, how he is the reason I travel.

Read the full letter below.

You and mom have always been great at encouraging our interests.
Under the Christmas tree one year, I found a sketchbook to push my ordinary coloring skills to...ordinary sketching skills. But that was okay, because you guys knew that I’d still enjoy myself...and I did!

I remember during my Sculpey Clay crafting phase a specific night when you sat beside me at the kitchen table and made beads with me. It sticks out because I remember being so excited that you’d want to do something that didn’t seem to be your “thing.” You said you found it relaxing, doing a simple mindless task like that. I loved sitting next to you and sharing my “thing.”

But you, you shared your “thing” with me, long before that. It didn’t come all at once, but instead in little pieces. It came in the form of hiking around Wisconsin every summer. In sleeping in an RV camper in 1995 on our trip to Paria Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. In a South Korean flag you brought home from your business travels that hung on the wall in the blue room through my entire childhood.

There was a doll you once brought me home from South Korea. It was about 6 inches tall, and she wore a traditional red dress and had smooth black hair pulled into a tight bun. I brought it to 3rd grade show-and-tell. I proudly bragged to everyone, “My dad’s been to SOUTH KOREA.” I still have a postcard you gave me from that trip.
See Dad's little stick figure atop the figure?

"Right Dad" was accompanied with an eyeroll
In the years before cell phones, mom and I tried to reach you by calling a hotel in Asia (was it South Korea? China? I don’t remember). We spoke to the operator, who knew no English, and couldn’t reach you. We gave up, and you ended up calling us another time. But how exciting! You were somewhere that didn’t speak English! As a young girl, this baffled me. How did you manage?!

So slowly, that curiosity grew. In 6th grade, when we decided on a family vacation, I pushed against the idea of Hawaii “yet again” (how privileged we were). No, I voted for us to go to Cancun, Mexico. Yes, it was another beach destination, but they didn’t speak English there (well, at least as their first language)! They also used pesos! They drank something called cantaloupe water and enjoyed it! It was so different and exciting!

That doll got lost in the shuffle of moving to college in 2006, but my curiosity remained. My passport expired eventually, and I had to get a new one for my 2009 semester abroad in Spain.

In Spring 2009, I flew to Spain. During that semester, I hopped on a train to France for a day. I went to Barcelona with friends. I went to Portugal, to southern Spain. I lived with complete strangers for 5 months.

The next year, I did it again. Semester in Spain 2010. And again...I lived and worked in Spain in 2011 for over 6 months. Despite yours and mom’s protests, you both always supported me in these adventures. Even if I knew you’d both miss me, I knew you were silently cheering for me to explore new things and people and places. You came to visit, and I showed you around Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona. We sought out Weinmann family history in Switzerland together. We all traveled to Lisbon together.
Finding a street named after a great (x8) grandfather in Switzerland, 2010

Lisbon, 2012
You’ve been to 49 states (why does Alaska have to be so far?). You’ve traveled to many countries. You’ve exhausted multiple passports.

With you, I’ve eaten beef jerky on a glacier in Washington. I’ve hopped over waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve wielded a stick to fend off coyotes closing in on us near the Natural Bridge trail in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone, 2014
With you, I’ve traveled to over 30 states and several countries.

ALABAMA on way to Nola / ARIZONA RV travels to Paria Canyon and the Grand Canyon, 1995 / ARKANSAS on way to Tennessee, 2010 / CALIFORNIA San Francisco, 2003 / COLORADO Mesa Verde 1997, Denver and Black Canyon of the Gunnison 2015 / FLORIDA too many times / GEORGIA Cloudland Canyon Park, 2014 / HAWAII 1996, Kauai 2002, Oahu 2005 / ILLINOIS / INDIANA Turkey Run State Park / KANSAS Colby, 1997 / KENTUCKY Paducah, 2014 / LOUISIANA New Orleans three times / MARYLAND Naval academy, 2001 / MICHIGAN Sharpe’s house, 2008 / MISSISSIPPI on way to Nola / MISSOURI Kansas City, 1996 / MONTANA Yellowstone, 2014 / NEVADA Vegas 1995 / NEW JERSEY Princeton University, 2001 /  NEW MEXICO Four Corners, 1995 / OHIO Cedar Point, 2008 / PENNSYLVANIA Gettysburg, 2001 / SOUTH CAROLINA Anderson several times / TENNESSEE Memphis and Nashville, 2010 / UTAH Moab 1997 and Zion 1995 / VIRGINIA Williamsburg, 2001 / WASHINGTON Seattle, 2009 / WEST VIRGINA on way from Williamsburg 2001 / WISCONSIN countless Dells visits / WYOMING Yellowstone 2014
In total, I’ve been to 38 states. I’ve been to Portugal, Spain, France, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia. I have plans to go to Romania, Moldova, Russia, Mongolia, China and Tibet this winter.

You’re the one who is always on my mind when I take these big travel risks and adventures. You’re the one who was in the back of my mind when I was smuggling Uzbek Som over the border to Tajikistan. You’re the one in the back of my mind when I’m considering uncertain death by frostbite in the Siberian tundra, or black lung disease from air pollution in Beijing.

So, if there’s ever a time you’re worried about me leaving for a long time, or traveling somewhere, or risking my life...just remember that you started it.

Happy 60th birthday, Dad.

Love, Melissa