I have debated how to start this series. Planning our trip was full of hope and excitement. Much of our trip was amazing and unforgettable. But there were some things that happened that put a large damper on the trip. It was a beautiful trip, but it was not a perfect trip. In the end, I am so glad we went and all we enjoyed together. But some of the lows will hang with us. I need to write an introduction to this trip, for what it was meant to be, what it became, and what we learned along the way.
I started a tradition in our family – for your 10th birthday, you get a choice. You can have a big party, or you can have a trip. The child gets to choose where and has to help plan the trip and all the activities. Long time followers of the blog know that in February of 2020 we went on my son’s 10th birthday trip to Kauai. We spent a week on the island, and it was all about my son. We went to the beach, went tubing, did a luau, spent time at the pool. All things my son loves. We almost postponed our trip due to a death in the family, but our family convinced us that my aunt would want us to go. One of the best decisions we made. 3 weeks later, the world shut down.
Fast forward to the end of 2021, we are just starting to see signs of getting out of the pandemic, the kids are finally going back to school in person for the first time in 1.5 years, and it’s time to plan my daughter’s 10th birthday trip. She was clear, she wanted to go to Europe. Specifically, she wanted to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower. Nervous, but bullish on the pandemic ending soon, we booked tickets to Europe. But I wasn’t going to Europe for just one week. We decided to do two cities, Paris, and Lisbon. Paris was for my daughter, but Lisbon was for me. I wanted a new country that none of us had been too, and I knew it was someplace my mom and I always wanted to go.
You see, even back then, 6-9 months before we left, I had an idea in the back of my mind. I wanted my mom to join us in Lisbon. I knew she wanted to go. I just had to convince her to fly solo to join us there. My mom waivered on the decision to go for months. Finally, it was 2 months before we were going, and she still had not bought tickets. I had given up. I booked Airbnb’s for just the four of us, my daughter and I started planning Paris, and we pretty much had a desired list of places and itinerary down, when my mom threw a curve ball.
“Would it be OK if me, [my husband] and [his granddaughter] C join you in Europe?” she said.
You see, my mom, her husband and his granddaughter were supposed to come to California the end of June to celebration C’s graduation from eighth grade. But she was studying French and my stepfather thought she might like Paris. We went back and forth on if we should, mostly because C did not have a passport and I was worried if it would arrive in time. But they decided to go ahead and book it, take a chance and rush the passport.
Suddenly our trip went from just the four of us to a group of seven! I became the travel agent. I had to find new Airbnb that would fit us all, find time slots at all the reserve time reservations for seven. Factor in my mom, who went at a much slower pace, etc. Honestly, it was a little stressful. But my daughter could not be happier. Not only was her beloved Abuela joining, but also her cousin whom she looked up to and loved to hang out with. We created a group chat, and the two girls were going back and forth on what they were bringing, what they would see, etc. They could not wait!
Meanwhile, there was drama with C’s passport. She had never had one and her family was finding it more difficult to get a minor’s passport than they expected. It was expedited but they applied exactly 4 weeks before the flight. A week before the flight and it still had not arrived. The passport office said it had no appointments to help get an emergency passport. We were getting nervous. Finally, they called their state representative, who managed to get it expedited, and it arrived 3 days before the flight. We were all relieved!
The day to fly comes, and due to time zones, our family goes to the airport around the same time my mom’s does on the east coast, getting ready to board our respective flights and meet up in Paris. Our check in process goes relatively smoothly, and we go through security and decided to spend some time in the United Lounge. As we are hanging in the lounge, I see a call from my mom. I answer figuring she is calling to tell me they go thru security.
“They are not letting C board the plan. They say her passport is mutilated and they cannot accept it”
“The Aer Lingus agent tried to help. He even called Dublin. They say they cannot accept it. My husband is staying behind to take C to the passport office in New York and try and get a new same day passport. They held two seats for them tomorrow, but I am going and will meet you in Paris”
We work through some logistics because my mom has never flown internationally solo before, and then I told my husband what was going on. Then I called my stepfather to get the story. Apparently, there was some confusion with the passport photo page. If you have a new passport, you know that it looks almost like a passport card but sewn into the passport book. Another cousin of mine had recently gotten one and said he almost tried to tear it out, but then read the accompanying paperwork that specifically said “Do not tear out the page. If you ordered a passport card it will come later.” Her family did not realize that with C’s passport and tried to take out the page. They loosened it enough that it rendered the passport completely invalid. It was a simple, silly mistake. But it’s one I’ve since heard that several people have almost made. The fact that it’s stated in the paperwork is enough to show you how common a mistake it can be. In my opinion, it’s a design flaw. But it is a horrible design flaw because the mistake cost C the trip of a lifetime.
As we were boarding the plane, I just got bad news text after bad news text from my stepfather. They rushed to New York to get there before the office closed. They would not take anyone. He tried to get an appointment for tomorrow. They said no more appointments for tomorrow and no more walk ins. He even was able to get on the phone with a supervisor. But that was the final nail in the coffin. He said there was nothing they could do for 3 weeks. By then, the trip would be over.
We all cried, but C most of all. She was devastated. She had been looking forward to this, and my daughter really wanted her there. I am serious when I tell you that every moment on the trip, when we were enjoying a site, I was thinking of C and how much she would have enjoyed being there with us.
Thanks to United’s new service that allows free messaging in flight, I was able to stay connected with my mom while she was in Dublin and ensure she got through immigration and to her next flight. She also let me know when she landed in Paris, about an hour before we did. At first my stepfather, understandably upset, was going to cancel. His daughter eventually convinced him to go. She drove up to New Jersey to pick up C and took her to an Airbnb with her sister for the week to help make up for the loss. It would suck, but there is no point in two people being punished for one simple mistake. He decided to take the flight the next day and meet my mom and us in Paris.
Our very first day as a group of six in Paris, just after meeting up with my stepfather from his flight, we decided to do a walking tour in old Paris, to help my stepfather fight the jet lag, and to get our minds off our disappointment. We get on the metro, a group of six, and my husband was making sure all of us made it on the train without issues. Someone bumped into me and my husband and then suddenly two are running off the train. As the door closes, my husband realizes his wallet is gone.
At this point I was starting to think this trip was cursed. My husband was just astounded and mad. The kids were frightened. My mom wanted to go to the police and force them to pull the video from the station. I made a decision at that point. I could either feed into that thought or take the high road. I took a deep breath, and started to organize my thoughts. I reminded him that just that morning, I had made him take the time to empty his wallet of everything but his ID, one credit card and one debit card. I opened my phone and showed him I could block the two cards from the banking apps. Yes, the ID would be a pain to replace when he got home, but quite frankly, that was really the only issue. The thieves got two useless credit cards and €40. I chalked it up to the cost of travel and told everyone to not let it ruin our trip. A little shaken, we all decided to keep on with our plans.
From then on, our trip went surprisingly smoothly! We saw the museums and major sights. We enjoyed strolling through Paris and all it had to offer. We loved our hotel and indulged in the best food. We stayed up ridiculously late (for the kids) and watched the Eiffel tower lit up at night. My daughter was happy and loved the itinerary we had planned. She spent (most) of her spending money getting notebooks with the Eiffel tower and Degas’ ballet dancers. She bought an Eiffel tower necklace and pen. And we capped off our trip with a night at the ballet, watching the Paris Ballet perform Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. It was a magical performance, and one of the better shows I have ever seen. Perfect way to end her 10th birthday trip.
As I mentioned earlier, Paris was my daughter’s trip, but Lisbon was mine. Lisbon was an entirely different trip. Where Paris was planned and rushed, seeing all the sights, Lisbon was slower. It was unplanned. It was about walking the neighborhoods and eating our way through. We did some day trips outside the city, but even those were less rushed (thought my mom might feel differently). Also, while in Paris we were in a hotel, in Lisbon we were in an apartment. The hotel had been wonderful but the apartment let us have more group spaces to hang out and be together. Since it was less planned, my mom and stepfather often choose to stay in for dinner and just have eggs or a sandwich. My kids, looking for downtime after a busy day, often chose to stay with them. That meant my husband and I got a lot more solo time than we usually do. We enjoyed date nights for dinner and drinks, and walking neighborhoods at our own pace.
Soon it was time to return home. In the end, we all really enjoyed our trip. The kids LOVED having Abuela around. They have a close relationship with their grandmother (especially my son) and loved getting to spend time with her and her husband. We got to spend a lot of time together, but also did some quality time doing our own things as well. My mom and her husband did a day trip to Fatima when we went to the beach. We did a family trip to the ballet while my mom and her husband stayed home. My kids spent time together at the apartment with their Abuela while my husband and I got some time to reconnect. We all agreed we would do it again, with one change. We all would want to do it again with C joining us. 😔
As for C, she did get some time with her mom and sister in an Airbnb with pool and hot tub. And she is in the process of getting her passport fixed. I am helping her stepfather plan a makeup trip to Paris later this year, so she can experience Europe. I just wish I could join them. And we are planning to bring C out to California soon and make sure it is as special as possible. She deserves some fun travel after all she’s been through.
Family travel is not always all rainbows. We understand this. Nothing is perfect. I have had some travel disasters before, but I will admit this one was one of the worst I have ever dealt with. But we learned to roll with the situation and make the best of it. I had to get over it and help my daughter so she could enjoy the 10th birthday trip she had so badly wanted. And in the end, we all agree that it was a pretty amazing trip.
I now have an almost thirteen-year-old and a ten-year-old. Recently I asked the kids, would they want a big quincenera? Or do they want another trip? I will give you one guess what they both picked. Better start saving my points and pennies again…
* Starred Photos taken by Atma Photography