"We will be making memories,” I told my son, Will.
He accepted my offer of joining me on a Viking river cruise and just smiled. Could he have been really thinking, What am I getting myself into?
The idea of taking a trip with my millennial son came to me during another Viking trip that my husband and I were on. Because the guests on these cruises often tend to be closer in age to — and older than — my husband and myself, I never expected to encounter many intergenerational families traveling together. What I did notice, however, were many mother-and-adult-daughter teams sailing in tandem.
I've seen a spate of articles of late that have discussed this mother-daughter bonding issue. One titled, “Mother-Daughter Trips Are Good for Your Health,” suggested that, according to a Harvard Medical School study, taking a trip with your mother or daughter can relieve stress and even decrease the risk of heart disease.
In actuality, all the research states that any trip that includes someone with whom you have a good relationship can further improve that relationship and possibly add years to your life.
And that got me thinking: What about mothers and sons?
After all, shouldn't I, the mother of sons, also be afforded that added bump to my health and well-being as much as the mothers of daughters?
And thus, my idea of taking a trip with my 27-year-old son was born, and it seemed to make complete sense.
The only time I can remember any kind of alone-time travel with my mom was when she and I would spend summers together in our bungalow up in the Catskill Mountains. My sister was already out of the house, working in the big city, and my dad would only come up on weekends. So, more or less, it was just Mom and me for eight weeks. There were no spa dates that I can recall, nor exclusive shopping trips during those summers.
Did we have girl-to-girl chats until all hours of the night that I imagine moms and their daughters are wont to have? I don't think so, and if we did, they hardly made enough of an impression on me so that I would remember them.
But this time alone with my son would be different, I thought. Will and I see each other quite often, but in short spurts. He leads a busy life, and so do I. A river cruise is the perfect opportunity for a mother and an adult child to experience new sights and meet new people, away from the familiarity of their home environs, in a concentrated period of time.
I was determined to prove that mothers and sons don't need to share the experience of a mani-pedi in order to have a meaningful relationship. And proving that on the Viking Tialfi, sailing down the Rhine, was a perfect idea!
Our first stop on the trip was Basel, Switzerland — birthplace of Roger Federer and home to many wonderful art museums and chocolate shops. We then went on to Strasbourg, France; Heidelberg and Cologne, Germany; Kinderdijk, Netherlands; and ended up in nearby Amsterdam.
Viking river cruises are known for digging deep into the historical nature of the cities and countries on their agenda. I anticipated that Will would immerse himself in learning about these destinations on his own, as a complement to what our guides had to share. I also imagined that he would be particularly entranced by the breathtaking panoramas, so close that we could almost touch them, as we sailed by.
Because I was traveling with Will, and it was his first cruise of any kind, I was more attuned to what we were seeing and doing, and felt more responsible for him having a rewarding experience.
“Are you having fun?” I asked early on.
“It's not what I expected,” he answered.
I was crushed.
With our first day of the cruise under our belts, it seemed to dawn on Will that he would be surrounded by mostly people much older than him, not to mention his mom, in close quarters, for seven days and nights. I think it came as a shock to his system. This is a young man who lives on his own and, in my opinion, pretty much in his own head. He is not shy — he's quite social, in fact — but even as a young child who spoke very early, he did not speak unless he was ready and willing. He was more of a scrutinizer — taking it all in and not revealing his emotions.
A great poker player, perhaps, but not necessarily a very emotive travel companion. And on this trip, Will was … the epitome of Will.
Our mother-son trip definitely had some low points. There were times when I felt quite alone, even though Will was walking right beside me, caught up in his own thoughts. And the time we almost missed the bus back to our ship in Heidelberg, while I was panicking and Will seemed to not have a care in the world, was definitely a point that I would consider to have been low.
It was then that I realized that the only way to salvage the trip was to change my expectations and allow Will to enjoy the trip on his own terms. Once I did that, the high points multiplied.
Together we watched aerialists zoom their way on a motorcycle and up across a very thin wire to a castle in Germany; we debated about what would be just the right gifts for the folks back home in France; we took an unplanned walk through the quaint Netherlands city of Gorinchem, followed by a lovely tour of an artisanal Gouda cheese factory.
Some of those high points were as simple as listening to Will chat with a guest who hailed from Dallas about the Cowboys and Eagles as we all walked together as a group. We also dined and engaged with lovely people from places like Scottsdale, Arizona; Grand Rapids, Michigan; York, England; and Toronto, Canada.
Our last night on the ship was a celebratory one, as it always is on Viking river cruises. The staff and crew go all out with making sure this final dinner and reception are memorable and a festive reflection of how much they appreciate their guests. Will and I sat at a long table with some of the friends we'd made on the cruise as well as some new people. He had come a long way — from being the sullen travel partner who was not sure he really wanted to be there to someone who had broken through and allowed himself to metaphorically jump in and enjoy the experience.
I was comforted by seeing him reach into his “bag of tricks” in order to allow himself to block out the trappings of this “luxurious cruise,” as he put it, and to focus on learning about what other generations had to impart.
By the end of our trip, Will was accepting drinks and doing shots with some of the guests (something I assume was familiar to him), and honestly enjoying himself.
So, can a mom and her millennial son connect on a trip together? Yes ... as long as Mom remembers some things:
- No reminders about how cold, rainy, hot or sunny the weather is. Your adult child can figure that out all by himself — and dress accordingly.
- Everyone needs some alone time, even on a “just us” trip. Your adult child will know where to find you if he needs you. (And he probably hasn't jumped overboard if you can't find him.)
- Dressing for dinner means different things to different people. Your adult child dresses on his own when you are not around, so only worry about your own dinner attire.
- No talking about your son (or daughter) while they are sitting next to you. They can tell people about themselves just fine.
- Meaningful conversations can come when you least expect it. And just because you're on vacation, don't be disappointed if a revelatory conversation does not happen at all.
Whether you believe it at the time or not, you will make memories on a trip you take with your son. It will hit you when you're both sitting with your husband, recounting things from the trip that only the two of you can relate to. You will look at each other and laugh and laugh, and your bewildered husband will be wondering just what it is you're laughing at. And that will make it all worthwhile.