When your bucket list is big, you've got to keep moving.
I used to travel the world frequently and with ease. By the time I had done all my laundry at home, I’d be restless for the next trip. And then, life happened, and travel—beyond visiting familiar places and people—slipped from my routine. While planning a recent trip to Europe I found myself worrying about every detail, over-researching and fretting: What if I didn’t find the perfect hotel? What if I paid too much for it? What if I took the wrong route and bypassed the best something. What if everyone in my charge didn’t have an amazing time, or worse, were bored? Amidst this planning a greater question surfaced: When did I become so…lame?
The impetus for this trip was a 50th birthday party for a dear friend who lives in Austria. The event prompted many of us with kids approaching adulthood, to punch down and take that family trip we’d always meant to take. While I was agonizing over TripAdvisor reviews, my friend Marek, traveling with his two teenage daughters, was taking a different approach, starting with this Facebook post: “We’re headed to Europe this summer and are going to be looking to couch surf as much as possible. Anyone have any friends/relatives in Europe that would love to host the three of us for a few days? We plan to move around a lot and don’t have a fixed itinerary. Thanks!”
A little background on the Robinson family here: Marek’s wife, Tori, was my teammate on the US Ski Team. When they started their family, rather than curtail their travels to beaches, mountains and rivers every moment of vacation, they strapped the kids into Baby Bjorns, cashed in Marek's perpetual stash of frequent flyer miles, and kept on trekking. When Tori was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, the adventures—after long treatments and during remission—became more frequent and more precious.
When Tori passed away last August, Marek, their daughters, and Tori’s community of friends promised to #liveliketori in her honor. This trip was a prime example of how to do it.
What does it mean to #liveliketori? The t-shirt says it all.
When my family made it to Europe, everything was great, despite my worrying. Each day brought something new, with all the comforts that a credit card, a rental car and nightly Internet access assure. Meanwhile, the Robinsons landed in Paris, with backpack’s light enough to sprint for a train and a sparse itinerary that relied entirely on public transportation. Marek, who turns 50 this fall, made his first post: “France, #32. #50by50.” Their route may have been undetermined but their mission was clear.
From France they rolled across the Alpine countries, through the backdrop where I’d spent my formative years with their mother, chasing the international ski racing circuit through Europe’s glitzy resorts and remote villages. We all convened with the Robinsons in Austria, for a few days around the big birthday party. The girls, with their humor, beauty and compassion—not to mention their tendency to rip off push-ups anywhere--remind me of their mother so vividly that I often find myself smiling in deja-vu moments. In this setting, greeting new territory with zero trepidation and a big smile, ready to slay the bucket list every day, the likeness was profound.
After the party, my crew headed home and the Robinsons boarded a southbound train to Italy, then tipped off a dizzying roll through sixteen more countries, posting selfies from each. The girls’ expressions in the photos ranged from happy to excited to exhausted to resilient, amused, annoyed, willing...but never bored. They were expressions that said, “whatever is around the corner, bring it on...I can handle it!” The spirit behind those expressions, I realize, is what you want from travel, and what you hope to never lose along the way.
In brief check-ins, Marek shared historical factoids and general observations that ranged from the absence of stray animals to the wonder of public transportation to the preponderence of helpful people, outdoor cafes and free wifi. Some specifics:
- you really can set your watch to the Swiss train schedule
- you probably don’t want to set your watch to the Italian train schedule
- your Austrian grandparents hike faster than you do
- a little laughter goes a long way when trying to break down a language barrier.
Backstage at the Tour with the best-dressed host, Steve Porino
They finished their tally in Luxembourg, “founding member of the EU and NATO, and the only remaining Grand Duchy in the world.“ With a few days to spare they connected with former ski racing teammate Steve Porino during his annual stint covering the Tour de France for NBC Sports. VIP access to France’s most famous athletic event: Check!
A month after landing in Paris, the Robinsons boarded their flight home, to do laundry and repack. Next stop: Tonga. Between scrambling daily for trains and beds, Marek realized some of the trip’s symbolism: “The 21 countries represents how far we’ve come, in life, as a family and as individuals. The rest of the world represents how far we still have to go.”
And with that, I vow to try harder to liveliketori, to spend less time fretting over plans,
and more time getting out and enjoying adventure with the good people on this ride.
We've all got baggage. Some of us just choose not to carry it all around.
Light Travel 101
Marek’s packing list for a month Europe is an impressive display of experience, efficiency and restraint.
“What’s in my bag? A lot of people have asked, so here are my thoughts. First aid kit. Misc electronics and chargers. Running shoes and flip flops. 3 pairs of socks. 3 pairs of underwear. 3 pairs of shorts. Jeans. 4 shirts (mostly button up and one long sleeve). One lightweight capilene layer. One nano puff jacket for layering. Rain jacket. Ball cap and warm hat. Toiletries. This trip I brought a book and journal.
Bonus tips: My shorts all double as swim trunks - get them with zippered pockets. Button up shirts are light and double as dressy and casual. I use storage bags to keep everything organized. This is for a month. A shorter trip would lose a shirt and a pair of shorts.”
The selfie queen in 2016, with her tough as nails princesses