When I was 8 years old, I desperately wanted to go to Disney World.
My classmates with grandparents in Florida had been, and I was pretty sure it was where they kept all the princesses. My grandparents lived in Chicago, and my folks were the kind of people who prided themselves on weathering Boston winters and not running off somewhere beachy like the rest of those heat-seeking wimps. Amusement parks were not their idea of amusing, so when I calmly suggested Disney for our summer vacation, they deftly announced they’d leave the decision to me.
“We can go to Disney World,” my parents said, “or we can go to England, where there are real princesses, and real castles, and real crowns.”
I imagined myself bumping into a real, actual princess just hanging around an open-to-the-public castle popular with American tourists. We’d instantly become besties. She’d probably even give me a crown of some sort of scepter to take home as a souvenir.
“England?” I answered.
I was reminded of that trip to London and Scotland recently when my parents sent me the diary I kept during our vacation. It was my first travel journal, scrawled on a pad of lined paper, with lots of misspellings and astute observations such as, “In England the License plates are diffrent along with the accents,” and “Covent Gardens was next. It is NOT a garden.”
Most of the entries are really just an accounting of what I ate during the day, (which, to be fair, is still how I recount my days), but in between the many meals of chicken and chips, were glimpses of a kid feeling the pull of travel for the first time. From the crown jewels and tomb rubbings to escaped cows and a really deep well, virtually everything I encountered was an eye-widening experience. Meeting a dog named Merlin was worthy of note. Taking a train was a big deal. Even getting a pillow and blanket on the airplane earned some enthusiastic punctuation. (In fact, I loved the hair wrap I got in London so much that I left it in for an entire year—Mom, how did you allow this?—until the string finally gave up the following summer at camp, and I was left with one long, crusty dread.)
I remember there being stressful moments during that trip, but not a single one is mentioned in the journal. Maybe I left them out on purpose. Maybe they just seemed less important than the thrilling newness of it all.
I never did make it to Disney World. While it’s probably a perfectly lovely place, I’m guessing they don’t have hidden escape stairs for priests, or potbellied pigs who like a good scratch, or the Aberdeen soccer team, practicing where a girl and her dad can just stand and watch for a while.
Good thing my parents left that decision to me. I think I made the right choice.