A FAMILY TOGETHER FEATURE: Citizens of the World
By Kathy Vilim Dagroomes
Intrepid travelers, this Nevada Area Council family sees the world as a larger community to which they gratefully belong.
They've been halfway across the world more than once. To Bali. To Hong Kong. From Sweden into Denmark. To Peru and Ecuador. Over to Greece. Down to the Galápagos Islands. Observing marine life underwater in St. Lucia. Looking down from snow-topped peaks high in the Alps.
The four members of Truckee, Calif.'s, Curtis familydad Paul, mom Christy, daughter Kirsten, and son Ryanhave divergent interests but share one overriding interest: They love to travel.
"Our priority has been to travel," said Eagle Scout Paul, who has served as a volunteer in the Reno, Nev., council for more than a decade, currently as vice president of properties. "Christy and I have been fortunate in terms of our jobs, but we have had to make sacrifices so that we were able to travel. We've just painted the house last year for the first time in 12 years."
The family's inveterate travel bug started with Christy, the daughter of immigrant parents, whose Austrian mother had traveled a lot in her youth and whose Norwegian father had been a captain in that country's navy.
"Even though they didn't have much money, whatever money they had was spent on traveling," said Christy, a native Californian. "That's how I was raised. In fact, my mother's nickname in German was Reiseführerin, which means the travel leader."
Almost from the moment Paul and Christy met at the University of Colorado in Boulder more than 25 years ago, their travel pedometer started counting miles. After graduation, when Christy did her elementary education student teaching in Austria, Paul surprised his then-girlfriend by just showing up one day in Vienna at the school at which she worked.
"It kind of threw their family in a bit of a tizzy because they hadn't planned on me coming," said Paul. "It was a surprisein fact, one of our first surprises."
Surprise as in "surprise vacation," another of the Curtises' family traveling traditions.
"The surprise trips officially began about 20 years ago," said Christy, "when our firstborn, Kirsten, turned 1. Paul and I started taking turns surprising each other with a weekend trip somewhere nearby each month"surprise trip as in "just be packed and ready to drive and I'll fill you in on the details en route."
It wasn't long before this predictablealbeit, unusualtravel pattern of the surprise weekend getaway became a bit too...predictable. So the Curtises started mixing it up. Instead of driving to nearby Lassen Peak, Calif., for a weekend of hiking, why not a longer surprise trip?
The first was to Orlando and Disney World in 1988, when Ryan was 4 and Kirsten, 7. The first international surprise trip came the next year, 1989, to St. Lucia in the Caribbean; that was when clues regarding possible destinations began to be given en route to the airport to add to the suspense. The children were involved by making the clues rhymesomething they've now done intermittently for the past 15 years.
When did Kirsten, now a college senior, begin to realize that her family traveled more than most?
"I started feeling that way in the second or third grade," said Kirsten. "I'd think, 'I can't believe we're going to the Caribbean; that's kind of strange.' Then I began to realize that I was very fortunate, that this was an experience not all people had."
Paul, who as a child and adult has collectively been active in Scouting some 15 years, is especially appreciative of how his family's traveling affords them the opportunity to practice "Duty to God" and respect for others' cultures relative to the "Citizenship in the World" merit badge.
"In my mind, one of the most important points of the Scout Law is 'A Scout Is Reverent,'" he said. "I think a main element of that point is a respect for other people's views relative to religion. My experience in terms of traveling around the world has been to expand on that type of reverence. Because, I think, today it is very important that people learn to become respectful and tolerant of other people's thoughts and ideas and beliefs. People are people, and they respond to that willingness to try and understand their culture."
From their assorted travel tales, it soon becomes clear that Christy, Kirsten, and Ryan, each in his or her own way, shares these last sentiments of Pauland also this one:
"We have much in common on a worldwide basis, and it's important to recognize the similarities as well as the differences [of people and nations]," said Paul. "As the world gets smaller as a result of our ability to travel more readily, we have a responsibility to be a citizen of the world."
Formed from childhood with exactly that understandingthat of being citizens of the worldKirsten and Ryan, along with their parents, see the world as a larger community to which they gratefully belong. The two younger Curtises have long since been baptized in the varied fires of the experienced traveler and have joined their parents in the family's travel philosophy of "Go with the flow."
Eagle scout Ryan, 18, who earned the money to send himself to the world jamboree in Chile five years ago, put his family's philosophy to work on that trip. On the return to the United States, Ryan's first plane, from Santiago, Chile, to Lima, Peru, wasn't given clearance to land, and he was forced back to Santiago to try it again. He then missed his connecting flight in Houston, spent 12 hours at the Houston airport, and finally got scheduled on a flight to Reno that didn't exist. His bags ended up in Los Angeles.
While many children that age might have been understandably "thrown" by such a frustrating situationnot knowing what to doRyan was not. Moreover, he kept his parents informed each step of the way. When asked about the trip today, he barely alludes to those world-jamboree travel glitches, except to say: "Besides a few odds and ends, it was a good time, a good experience, and I'm very glad I did it."
Christy explained that, in addition to rolling with the punches, "Go with the flow" for the Curtises while traveling means leaving preconceived ideas at home. "Tolerance and patience are important traits when traveling," she said. "There are always mistakes; things don't go well. You're tired. There are no hotel rooms available. You have to eat something you don't like. You have to sleep on a lumpy bed. I could go on and on, but those things are just part of the funpart of immersing yourself in that culture. You have to be open."
Last summer, Christy especially needed to be open. Kirsten and Ryan had planned a surprise vacation to the Greek Islesunder the code name Operation Feastof which Mom knew nothing except that there would be a trip in August-September and she would be on it. Dad knew a little more than that, but not much.
It was business as usual for the Curtises, who say they relish traveling for a variety of reasons. Ryan appreciates seeing different cultures and experiencing different ideasbreaking out of the everyday routine. Kirsten is a student of languages and also enjoys the varied architecture. Paul loves history and makes a point of trying to connect current situations with past events. Christy, like Ryan, enjoys the opportunity of cultural exchange.
While not "spur of the moment" travelers, because at least one family memberthe organizer of the tripresearches the trip in detail beforehand, the Curtises have developed a style of travel Paul calls "less pre-organized." They don't take tours, rarely use a travel agent, and are extremely flexible when traveling.
Together and on the move most of the time once they reach their destinationwhat with trying to see as much as they canthe family does split up occasionally. "In Hong Kong, my dad wanted to get suits, my sister wanted to get a watch, and I wanted to just check out the marketplace," said Ryan. "So we split up for several hours, had a meeting place and time, and then contingent meeting times every half-hour to hour in case someone couldn't make it to the first time."
As a parent, Paul appreciates traveling for the practical education it affords Kirsten and Ryan. "My philosophy relative to raising children is to prepare them for their future lives and make them self-sufficient. Traveling and undergoing the vagaries of being on the road exposes everybodykids and adultsto experiences we wouldn't otherwise have."
Some of the Curtises' "vagaries" have included the following: temporarily losing a young Kirsten after she exited a different bathroom door at an airport, with Paul missing a flight trying to find her while she found her own way to the gate; Christy jumping off the wrong train in Munich only to realize that Ryan, who had their passports, hadn't jumped with her; Kirsten coming down with food poisoning; and Ryan unwittingly testing airport securityfirst, as a 6-year-old who, without his parents' knowledge, had packed his cap pistol in his carry-on bag (Security confiscated it), and quite recently as the owner of a ski wax container that set off a bomb-checking device in a French airport.
Amazingly, the current stringent airport security since 9/11 hasn't changed the Curtises' travel routines much, except for possibly their getting to airports earlier. Still, they don't tend to engage fellow travelers in airport lines with their every-hour-on-the-hour clues as much as they used to. And Christy does admit to having had to replace her requisite Swiss Army knife three times already, having forgotten each time that one was in her carry-on bag.
But the family shows no sign of letting up on travel, although with the children getting older, their schedules being fuller, and their interests beginning to branch out, there are now additional trips with just two Curtises sometimesas when Paul went with Kirsten to Boston and New York City over her spring break during junior year in college.
"I thought that was a wonderful example of how a family has been able to go ahead and maintain a strong relationship," said Paul. "Kirsten wanted to see something new, and I was delighted to join her."
Christy, who goes skiing with Ryan every February and took Kirsten to Mexico for her graduation from high school, echoed her husband's view. "As the kids have gotten older and have different vacation time periods, it's more and more difficult to do the family vacations," she said. "But it's really great to see the tradition keep on. It just keeps the generation gap from ever happening."
Kathy Vilim DaGroomes is associate editor of Scouting magazine.
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