To close out this week on the blog, let’s throw it back – way back – and take a trip down memory lane.
My enthusiasm for travelling the world is something that I hold very dear, and if I had to pinpoint the origin of that sense of wanderlust, I’d credit it mostly to the many trips my family took me on when I was growing up.
My dad, an ardent traveller himself and the likely genetic source of my adventurous spirit, recognized the value of travel in broadening my horizons and shaping my worldview from a very young age, endeavouring to bring us on a family trip during the summer and winter breaks as often as possible.
In this article, I wanted to look back on some of my fondest memories – even if they’re a little fuzzy – from the trips of my childhood that shaped who I am as a traveller today.
1994: My First International Trip
A weekend in the Pacific Northwest is one of my favourite “easy” trips to do within North America, having embarked on separate long weekend trips in Seattle in 2016 and 2017, followed by a similar long weekend in Portland in 2018.
But it wasn’t until recently that I realized there may be a very fitting reason why this part of the world is one of my perennial favourites: after being born in the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, I was only a few months old when my parents took me on my first international trip across the border to Seattle.
I have very fond memories of this day, including going up a very pointy spaceship-like tower and sampling some of that funny-tasting brown liquid at a popular storefront with an equally funny-looking green lady as its logo.
Just kidding – I was a baby, and I wasn’t about to discover the best of Seattle until 22 years later. Instead, I think I mostly just napped during the trip, as I’m doing here while my mum is sitting pretty in Victor Steinbrueck Park.
Late 1990s: Sunny Beach Getaways
Our family moved from Vancouver to Hong Kong pretty soon after I was born, and I recall that we mainly took leisurely trips to beach destinations during my first few years of growing up (in addition to our regular trips to Mainland China to visit our family).
I’m not sure if it was intentional, but I would guess that my parents thought I was a little too young to fully appreciate the culturally rich major cities of the world, so decided to hold off on those kinds of trips until later in my life and focus on sunny, carefree destinations for the time being.
(Certainly, that’s the way I would plan out our travels over the years if I were to think ahead at taking trips with my own children one day in the future.)
As we were based in Hong Kong, it was pretty easy to get around lots of places in the Asia-Pacific region, and I recall that we took a few trips to Penang, Malaysia; Sentosa Island in Singapore; Cebu in the Philippines; and even Hawaii as well.
The dominant theme from my childhood pictures across all these trips? A love of waterslides, it would seem – one that I’m not ashamed to admit has persisted even as an adult.
2000: USA! USA!
At the turn of the century, we embarked a month-long trip to the United States across California and Arizona, on an itinerary carefully planned by my parents that present-day Ricky would be very proud of.
This was probably one of the most fun trips I had been on during my very short years so far. Staying with friends of my parents in Los Angeles, we hit up every major theme park in Southern California between Disneyland and Universal Studios, as well as many long days hanging out at the beach not far from our friends’ home.
Then, we flew to Phoenix on US Airways (which I still recall, thanks to a fledging early interest in airlines and aviation). That was followed by a regional flight over to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon on what looks to be a Beechcraft 1900D (at least from the pictures) – and if so, then I’d be wrong about my 2018 Air Canada Express flight being my first ride on a Beechcraft!
On this trip to the States, I recall marvelling at the great size of our earth for the first time, which is a feeling that’s all too familiar to me these days.
The feeling swelled up within me when we stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, as well as on the beach back in LA, when the Uncle who was hosting us pointed out at the vast Pacific Ocean and said, “Look, your home is all the way over there!”
And another first-time experience on this trip? Fully immersing myself in a new place by sampling the local cuisine: In-N-Out Burger, TGI Fridays, and yes, even Burger King, which wasn’t all that big in Asia back in those days – all with portion sizes that were double or triple what I was used to. I was a happy kid on this trip, that’s for sure!
This corner of North America is one that I’ve yet to revisit in a meaningful fashion as an adult, and I’d like to spend some more time in these sunny states in the future as soon as the external circumstances will allow.
2004: An Unhealthy Interest in Maps
In late 2002, our family moved from Hong Kong to Beijing. We needed some time to settle in to our new surroundings, and there was also the SARS epidemic around this time to contend with, so we didn’t really take many trips for a few years’ time.
One of the household items that we had brought with us during the move, however, was the world map that hung on my wall. And I’ve written before about how, as a child, I used to spend hours upon hours looking at this map in a sense of fascination and wonder.
It was towards the end of 2004 that my parents were planning a long-awaited getaway to somewhere hot and sunny together with my aunt’s family. In a manner that I’d like to think was precocious but was probably just annoying, I persistently pushed my parents to plan a trip to some new place, some new country, somewhere we had never been before. For weeks, I would rattle off a long list of suggestions for places that I thought were reasonably close-by and also very exciting: Indonesia, Thailand, and even Sri Lanka.
My pleas fell on deaf ears in the end, but thank heavens they did, because that was the exact year that the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami struck the region and left a trail of devastation in its wake – particularly in many of the countries that I had been loudly championing.
Instead, our family watched the news in disbelief on Boxing Day of 2004 from the safety of our wisely chosen vacation spot of Sanya on the tropical island of Hainan, making light of the fact that they all thankfully knew better than to listen to the 10-year-old boy with the unhealthy interest in maps.
2005: Nice to Meet You, Canada
It wasn’t until 2005 that I have my first meaningful memories of Canada (well, excluding the fuzzy baby memories, such as my very first memory: being scared of the snow on the ground).
I spent the summer of that year in Vancouver, getting to know my birthplace and “home country” properly for the first time. I attended a local summer camp for about half of the summer, before my mum and I spent the remaining time visiting every possible attraction in Vancouver – from Granville Island to Gastown, from day trips to Whistler to days out at Playland at the PNE, Canada’s oldest amusement park.
Growing up at the confluence of cultures, it’s not always easy to form a reliable sense of self-identity, and I recall being very happy to finally experience this mystical notion of “Canada” that my parents kept telling me about.
It’s also interesting to note that, growing up in Asia, I and my peers had always looked at North America with somewhat rose-tinted glasses, as though it was a promised land of sorts that we might venture to one day in the future.
It was only after moving to Toronto for university that I came to learn that the different parts of the world are only that – different – and that there will always be ways in which some people will find one place to be better than the other.
2006: Europe Calling
Until this point, our travels had only taken place across Asia and North America, until we headed to Europe as a family for the first time in 2006.
(This is also when I start to morph into an awkward teenager and don’t look cute anymore, so the kid pictures will end here. Sorry.)
I recall that it was about a two-week trip, with one week each in London and Paris. We had booked a set of KLM flights by way of Amsterdam with an open-jaw in between (which was filled with a Eurostar train ride), and I still recall the KLM Dutch Delft houses and children’s colouring book that they handed out, as well as the metronomic “Mind your step” announcement at Schipol Airport, both of which fuelled my lifelong love for the hustle and bustle of air travel.
London, of course, left me enamoured enough to go back and live there one day. One week was only enough to scratch the surface of the capital, but we hit up some of the most important sights, like Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and of course, Emirates Stadium.
(We also learned some of the most important tourist lessons, with my dad’s sheer frustration at being charged £50 for some very mediocre sandwiches at a tourist-trap eatery next to Big Ben leaving a particularly deep impression on me – and perhaps inspiring a sense of cost-consciousness which would serve me well on my own future travels.)
Paris, too, was a very eye-opening visit. I had been studying French at school at the time, and upon arriving in a Francophone country for the first time as a 12-year-old, I strode about the city assuring my parents that I’d be able to take care of all our communication needs in-between visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Versailles.
Well, that confidence lasted until our first night in town when we stopped for some McDonalds and I couldn’t remember the word “fourchette” while asking for a fork at the counter, and so I strode back to the table, forkless and with my tail between my legs.
Another vivid memory from this trip was the hotels we had stayed at. In London, we stayed at the Hilton London Hyde Park long before its recent refurbishment, when it was cramped, musky, and verging on run-down; meanwhile, the Renaissance Paris La Défense was a much nicer experience.
Who knows, perhaps our contrasting experiences among hotels on this would foreshadow my hotel loyalty preferences in the future? 😉
2008: Let Me Go Back to That Street in Tokyo
We’ll end this post with our first trip to Japan in the summer of 2008. As I recall, we had previously entertained the idea of going to Japan as well, but had been strongly discouraged by my grandparents due to the historical bad blood there – not exactly an uncommon sentiment among the older generation in China.
Credit to my parents, though, for forging ahead with the week-long trip to Tokyo, and teaching me that every place is worth seeing with one’s own eyes free of any pre-conceived notions – an attitude that I continue to channel in my own travels to this day.
(Also, let’s be honest, while the history will never be forgotten, the travel experience – scratch that, the food – in modern-day Japan is pretty damn good.)
Tokyo is probably the place that solidified my identity as a city dweller to the very end. We stayed in the Shinjuku district, a place that I firmly believe no one can escape from without being overawed by the sheer energy of what makes Tokyo the megapolis it is: the neon lights, the flow of people, the waft of late-night yakitori – things that I have since come to love about all major cities around the world.
Indeed, I’d go one step further and say that the Tokyo trip in 2008 was when I first realized the sheer possibilities of travel that lay ahead in my life, when I first came to grips with that feeling of “oh wow, there’s just so much of this world to see”.
Before then, travel was something that happened to me, thanks entirely to my hardworking parents who recognized the value in expanding my horizons from an early age. But it was there, surrounded by towering skyscrapers in Tokyo, with Coldplay’s “Yellow” playing on my iPod (excuse my Grade 8 taste in music), that I first interacted with the idea of an identity as a traveller and came to terms with the fact that travel was something I wanted to pursue in earnest throughout the rest of my life.
I owe a great deal of thanks to my parents for bringing me on as many trips as possible when I was a young boy, moulding the love of travel that I hold very close to my heart in the present day.
As much as 10-year-old me might’ve pointed at the world map and cried, “But Dad, why aren’t we going to Mozambique instead?”, there’s no denying that the trips we took as a family over the years gave me some of my best memories growing up.
Whenever I did throw those petulant fits as a young travel addict, it was my mum who would always say, “Well, you can take those trips when you’re older and earning your own money.” And, well, here we are, and the journey is only beginning.
I’m always curious to hear about other travellers’ memories of trips they took as a child or during their formative years, so feel free to share your own throwback experiences in the comments below.