A Love Letter to Travel

by Emily Kemme

About a year ago, friends came over to our house for dinner. They brought along a hostess gift, a thick brown scrapbook, glossy covered and tied together with what looked like a brown shoelace. The scrapbook had belonged to a woman they had befriended eons ago — another life almost — back when they were in school and pandemics were events that had happened so long ago that everyone who was in one was dead by now.

The scrapbook painstakingly documented two months of European travel, beginning when Miss Alma Kirkeby of Denver embarked on a White Star line sailing ship, the S.S. Majestic. At the time, it was recognized as the world’s largest ship. The young nurse was joined by three friends, sisters Misses Mabel and Martha Ford, and Miss Janie, whose last name I can’t figure out from the printed booklet listing Passengers in Second Class.

That was June 23, 1928. The friends were about to commence on A Distinctive European Trip — according to a pamphlet detailing that fact. Professor Herbert A. Youtz of Oberlin, Ohio gave them the deets:

For “ten weeks and a half . . . [with] the choice of a rewarding and varied itinerary which we shall all feel could not have been improved for the limited cost and time. . . [you are part of] the selection of a group of travelers eager for the travel experience and eager to make the social life of the party a memorable adventure in friendship.”

The cost was $1,025, (roughly about $15,600 in 2021) which included everything except steward’s fees on the steamers. The women would travel to France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, and Wales. Anyone else out of breath after reading that list?

Before they pushed off from American shores, the four planned to visit New York, including — according to James J. Ford of Denver, in a letter typed on translucent onionskin dated June 15, a must-visit attraction: Niagara Falls. Ford, likely Mabel and Martha’s father, prepared a Memorandum of Things To Do On The Trip.

A father’s missive to his daughters on how to travel.

Ford’s tone was stern: “Put your handbags, valuables, passports etc, on the seat under the mattress under your head. NOT on the mattress under pillow as they might slip out on floor. Don’t place too near the back or side as they might slip under the seat. Be careful.”

Throughout his missive, Dad rode shotgun, advising where to store luggage, how much to tip porters, Red Caps, and Bell Boys, and the importance of getting a refund of $8.40 from the ticket agent before having breakfast at the Falls. With a fatherly flourish, Ford typed an all-caps reminder: “PLEASE DONT GO TOO NEAR THE WATER OR ON THE ROCKS they are slippery.”

He then encouraged the foursome to “have the time of your lives,” declaring that once they get to the steamer, he “can go no further.”

Was there a lot of whooping and hollering with joy at this? I wish I knew, but while Alma memorializes the journey in her scrapbook, she expressed little to no emotion. There are menus from the ship crossing and menus from restaurants; postcards of sights seen; drink coasters; tour maps; concert tickets; pressed flowers and more. It is a pictorial testament that transports us to the past, to a time when European travel was a luxury few could experience.

Fast forward to 2021. We, the travel-starved since March 2020, have endured days of uncertainty, wondering when life might, or if, return to normal in the After-Times. We have with resignation acknowledged that travel is an evolving experience, encompassing the virtual, the actual, and someplace in between.

As I turned the pages of Alma’s scrapbook, pent-up emotion washed over me — a cocktail of loss, petulance, and frustration —, and before I knew it, tears threatened to drop on her almost 93-year-old travelogue. Fearing that I’d splotch and ruin this pictorial history of life lived fancy free, I closed the scrapbook and pondered the good old days.

But then I paused. These women took on months of journeying only eight years after the conclusion of the Spanish Flu pandemic, without vaccines or the science we rely upon today to keep us healthy. Seen in that light, they were intrepid adventurers.

Carefully preserved travel mementos raise a question: Are you a tourist or a traveler?

If you Google “travel,” at some point you’re bound to run into the tourist v. traveler debate. After distilling a number of these arguments, I’ve reached an understanding that:

  • tourists plan their trips, often with the help of travel agents; travelers are footloose and fancy free, letting emotions and whims guide them;
  • tourists stay in hotels, take cruises, and travel in group tours; travelers can most often be found sleeping in a tent or a hammock strung between two palm trees;
  • tourists are fond of restaurant meals, particularly the expensive ones that require reservations; travelers will eat street food (and endure the consequences);
  • tourists hail taxis; travelers climb mountains, often alone;
  • tourists take selfies; travelers photograph the vibe;
  • tourists visit the Taj Mahal; travelers skydive from the highest mountain;
  • tourists go to Vegas; travelers seek out green, environmentally friendly locales;
  • tourists buy souvenirs; travelers create memories
    • Note: souvenir means a thing to help remember a person, place, or event

I preserve photos from our travels because they help me recall places and feelings, often providing a basis to write about the locale. Photos we’ve taken while traveling often figure in my blog posts and novels because I believe you have to visit a spot — and breathe in its very essence — before you can write about it.

The truth is travel is an experience defined by the individual. For some, adventure happens only when it’s uncomfortable, for others, adventure happens each time you turn a corner. However you define your travels, they are mind-broadening, eye-opening, and if you want to live fully, one of life’s essentials.

Here’s to traveling wherever your heart leads you, and may that be as soon as possible.

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Ken Widel February 17, 2021 - 9:35 am

We had reservations in Madrid, Barcelona, Montserrat, and Tossa Del Mar besides stays in Portugal & Annecy & Paris France. May try again in the fall.

Emily Kemme February 17, 2021 - 9:36 am

Emily Kemme
Ken Widel What a wonderful trip. I think the world will begin to open up in the fall, if infection numbers continue to recede. We’ve mostly traveled to Europe in September-November. It’s the perfect time to experience it (when life is normal) because kids are back in school so everything is much less crowded. Of course, who’s to say what normal will look like for awhile.

Ken Widel February 17, 2021 - 9:38 am

Emily, put Annecy France on your bucket list. We were there 10 years ago and didn’t get enough time there. It borders the Swiz Alps and is about 30 miles south of Geneva but there are poor train connections between French and Swiz trains.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan February 17, 2021 - 9:41 am

Agree – Annecy is a great place especially in the weekend for farmers market. I work sometimes in Nyon, CH and drove one day to Annecy. Beautiful place. Ken Widel where in Portugal? That sounds like a fantastic itinerary

Ken Widel February 17, 2021 - 9:43 am

Judi we booked an AirB&B in Cascais because it was on the beach and has a long bike path that follows the coast to the north. It’s a short train ride to Lisbon and has regular bus service to the castle’s to the north.
We booked AB&B everywhere but a hotel in Annecy and the monastery in Montserrat. When the airlines shut down AB&B gave us a full refund for every one. BTW we were meeting Linda’s sister in Annecy & going on to Paris and were splitting an outrageous $ AB&B and I was really surprised to get our $ back on that one.

Emily Kemme February 17, 2021 - 9:44 am

Thanks for the Lisbon ideas. We’ve wondered how to work in a bike trip in Portugal.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan February 17, 2021 - 9:46 am

We were in Lisbon 3 yrs ago and loved it. Take good walking shoes. All streets are cobblestone and big jills everywhere. We have a good friend who has a house in Cascais – she’s Swiss but her husband is from Porto. We booked a day tour with a group called “We hate tourism tours”. Don’t let the name out you off – it was fantastic. We went to Sintra and they put together a great tailgate lunch. They have several different tours and did an excellent job. A lot of fun.

Ken Widel February 17, 2021 - 9:49 am

Judi thx that’s great to know. I keep a journal of every trip and notes for future ones. I really appreciate the info!

Emily Kemme February 17, 2021 - 9:49 am

Annecy looks like it’s close to Vevey, Switzerland — I have a cousin who lives there and we’ve tried to hook up (but have had to cancel two trips to do that for various reasons pre-covid.). We did get together with him and his partner in Split (Croatia), which is wonderful for both bicycling, food, and history. It’s on the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic.

Ken Widel February 18, 2021 - 10:48 am

Croatia is #1 on Linda’s list. We spent time in Slovenia just to the north of Croatia which was heavily forested and very pretty with locals who were very “stand offish.” We were in a Peugeot convertible so I suppose we stood out, but we were stopped 3 times to check for our tax stamp which you must purchase before entering the country ($500 Euro fine). I had the stamp and they politely sent me on but that part was creepy.
We drove around Vevey just checking it out until the streets got super narrow and I met a bus. We decided at that point to get back on the highway. Loved the town.

Emily Kemme February 18, 2021 - 10:50 am

Yeah, dealing with the income discrepancy is an issue in those Slavic countries. They’ve had it really tough with their wars. We found them nice but stand-off-ish in Croatia. Didn’t drive there because we were on a bike tour. I’ve driven on highways in Spain, no problem, but the UK, yuck! Especially with a manual, driving left handed on the left side of the road. I stalled so much, once in a roundabout in Oxford trying to exit. Doug’s the navigator and all I can say is he wasn’t happy with me. And we’ve usually, actually always, found people to be helpful and friendly in France, Spain, less so in the UK.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan February 18, 2021 - 10:49 am

driving in different countries is often like a Disney ride isn’t it? Mr Toads wild ride!

Emily Kemme February 18, 2021 - 10:51 am

Especially in the UK! Their roads are so narrow.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan February 18, 2021 - 10:52 am

I think our most harrowing drive was to the Cliffs of Mohr in Ireland. Narrow roads, wrong side and a manual shift. I drove and Jim lived to tell about it! Lol. If you’ve never encountered a tour bus in Ireland on roads that are really no more than a bike path, you haven’t lived!

Ken Widel February 18, 2021 - 10:53 am

we loved London but the sidewalks were a mad house and people rarely spoke. We went to Windsor the day before Harry & Meghan’s wedding and it was a party atmosphere and somehow the locals could tell we were USA and all wanted to talk. It was so different we wondered if they don’t have time to have fun. BTW, we went to Sky Garden 3 times. Great little coffee bar & scones up there.

Emily Kemme February 18, 2021 - 10:57 am

I bet that was an energy-filled day! How fun! We drove from London to Edinburgh and after that harrowing adventure (sheep! “roads” that were walking paths! and the crawling traffic on the M1) Doug returned the car and we took the train back to London on our way back. That was so much more relaxing and scenic. Truthfully, next time we go, we might just stick with trains. We did that with the kids for 2 weeks in Italy (Rome-Venice-Florence) and even with limiting the suitcases — because you’ve got to be ready to jump off and go, especially if you’re making a connection — we enjoyed it. But, we are still planning on a driving trip once we get to Edinburgh, and hopefully it won’t be as hectic in the Highlands. You’re making me wonder if a Highlands drive is a good idea.

Ken Widel February 18, 2021 - 10:53 am

I rented a car for one day in Scotland and will never do it again. I wanted to see a castle outside Inverness and that seemed to be only way. No tour buses but the round-a-bouts were a challenge!
I had dreams of seeing the Cliffs of Mohr and more of Ireland but stuck to the train and missed so much.

Barbara Breen February 18, 2021 - 10:54 am

Me too 😂😂😂 plus the weather adds an exciting element!

Ken Widel February 18, 2021 - 10:58 am

Emily, my brother rented a car for a week in Ireland and said after the first day he was fine. I was happy to have Linda to help me on the turns. You can do it and think of pride you’ll have!!
Get an automatic. Shifting with the left hand was really strange.

Mike Fischer February 16, 2021 - 9:04 pm

Thanks, Emily. I shared this piece to my private Delta travel group- I’ll let you know their musings!

Emily Kemme February 16, 2021 - 9:05 pm

I look forward to hearing what they think! Thanks for reading.

Ken Widel February 15, 2021 - 10:33 am

I enjoyed the article and would say Linda & I are travelers although I do book lodging in advance.
Linda and I traveled to see
Neuschwanstein Castle only to find bicycling in the valley and hiking the mountain behind it more to our taste and we skipped the castle with all the “tourist.”
We are looking forward to once again being able to wander the road less traveled.

Emily Kemme February 15, 2021 - 10:53 am

Cycling is a great way to get to know a locale and its people.

Ken Widel February 15, 2021 - 6:17 pm

If you get a chance Fat Tire Bike Tours in Paris is a great way to see Versailles. We’ve done it twice & were going again last June but…

Emily Kemme February 15, 2021 - 6:18 pm

I checked out the company. Looks like they’ve got Fat Tire Bike tours in a lot of cities. It sounds like a fantastic way to experience historic sites and get a side tour of the cities, too. Thanks for the tip. Maybe you should bump your June trip out to September. . . Barcelona looks interesting, too.

Judi Pasternak Houlihan February 16, 2021 - 9:00 pm

fully endorse Barcelona! One of our favorite places.

Emily Kemme February 16, 2021 - 9:01 pm

It’s on the list!

Colleen Tallant Carrico February 14, 2021 - 2:19 pm

Well written…. ( and I for sure am a “tourist”. Yep…. cruise ships, nice hotels, fine restaurants…. yep that’s me! ) And boy am I missing it!

Emily Kemme February 14, 2021 - 2:20 pm

I think most people have a bit of tourist and traveler in them. I know I do.

D. February 14, 2021 - 10:21 am

Loved this. Enjoy your Feeding the Famished every time, but loved this.

Why with everything we have and everything we can do once this pandemic nightmare is over, can we not travel for 10 ½ weeks across Europe like these four ladies did? I would love to embark on such an adventure – tourist, traveler or not.

Emily Kemme February 14, 2021 - 10:22 am

Isn’t what these ladies did amazing? Now I need to dig into the bags of her postcards that I also received. It’s quite the collection of travel memorabilia, and the history of a life.

Kathy Newman February 14, 2021 - 10:12 am

So glad we caught the travel bug from Grandma, my mother.

MK February 14, 2021 - 10:10 am

I loved your article. I guess for now all we have are memories, just memories. And Jordan and Morro in Manhattan. That picture I would like to keep as well as Doug and the Pyrenees. I’ll slide them into my pictures

Freda Spencer February 13, 2021 - 2:43 pm

Happy Valentines Day

Emily Kemme February 13, 2021 - 2:43 pm

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too!

JANICE RANSON February 13, 2021 - 12:08 pm

Nice job Em! What an grand experience for these four young women.
Based on your definitions, I am both a traveler and a tourist. Cannot wait to hop on a bicycle in Europe and anywhere else possible with you and Dr. K.

Emily Kemme February 13, 2021 - 1:59 pm

I’d say I fit into both categories, too. I think many do. Looking forward to hopping on a bike and exploring with you guys, too!

Jennifer Stimson February 13, 2021 - 11:21 am

A priceless gift your dinner guest gave you! And then, you shared it with us through the photos and beautiful descriptions, Emily. Thank you

Emily Kemme February 13, 2021 - 11:22 am

It is a treasure trove of history! They also gave me several bags of postcards from Alma’s other trips. I haven’t gotten to those yet. It’s so beautiful!


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