Dadventure: Savvy travel bonds dad, daughter and friendsFARGO – Tom Smith just might be a candidate for Dad of the Year after the adventure he took his 17-year-old daughter and some of her friends on this summer. The owner of Great Northern Bicycles traveled through Italy and France for 19 days with his daughter Miranda, along with her pals Catlyn Christie, Whitney Opheim, Sally Fischer and Lydia Kingsley.
By: Merrie Sue Holtan, INFORUM
FARGO – Tom Smith just might be a candidate for Dad of the Year after the adventure he took his 17-year-old daughter and some of her friends on this summer.
The owner of Great Northern Bicycles traveled through Italy and France for 19 days with his daughter Miranda, along with her pals Catlyn Christie, Whitney Opheim, Sally Fischer and Lydia Kingsley.
Tom and his wife Kari had already introduced Miranda and her sister Isabella, 14, to international travel during past biking business off-seasons. They have visited Russia, South America, Panama, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Tom also has experience biking and traveling in Italy and France. And his not-so-hidden personal agenda for this trip included a hike into the Pyrenees to view the mountain stage of the Tour de France bicycle race.
Sally, a senior at Fargo North, says she and Miranda, a senior at Fargo South, had been scheming and dreaming about taking a trip to the French and Italian Riviera since fifth grade. But this time, talks got serious.
“We looked into the school trip to Spain,” Miranda says. “But it was pretty expensive. With all my dad’s experience, I knew he could do the trip cheaper and design it to our liking.”
Miranda pitched the idea to her friends. Sally was in, no questions. The others soon followed after conferring with parents.
Planning an adventure
“We’re a pretty cheap family to begin with,” Tom says, smiling. “For this trip we opted for hostels, short-term vacation rentals and an occasional hotel instead of resorts. For example, if you stay outside of Rome but still on the subway line, it is about a third as much cost and easy access to central Rome.”
He spent seven months comparing airfare rates on the internet and looking for special tickets on public transportation. They also rented a small car for part of the trip.
“Tom set up slide show presentations at their home,” says Catlyn, a junior at Fargo South. “He wanted to get our input for options on what we would like to see.”
These planning meetings and bonfires with the girls and their parents helped team building and bonding. All of them spoke some Spanish, so that served as a great bridge to get closer to the people and culture. They didn’t want the typical tour buses, opting instead for street-side cafes and public transportation. The girls were also interested in European history and art.
“They couldn’t help but learn,” Tom says.
“It adds to our experience to see in person what our teachers have taught us,” says Catlyn.
The girls spent all their waking hours together and developed a “we can sleep when we’re dead” motto while on the trip. They agreed every experience was even more fun on less sleep. Tom figures they each took turns having to be nice to him.
“This was an adventure, not a vacation,” says Whitney, a Fargo South graduate.
Hitting the trails
According to their travel journals, day one began in Madrid, and after dropping their bags at a hostel they set out to explore the city.
The following day they picked up their rental car and worked their way to the French frontier and their destination at tiny Lac d’Aubert in the French National Park, Reserve naturelle du Neouvielle, where they camped beside the car. The adventurers each had one backpack (weighing less than 10 kilograms) and slept under a tarp.
The next day began with an eight mile hike into the L’Haute Pyrenees toward the site of the third from final stage of the Tour de France.
“We hung out with thousands of our new friends as we awaited the riders,” Tom says. “Even in the chaos, we were so close we could have reached out and touched the riders.”
After the race, they began the grueling eight-mile hike down to the campsite.
“Getting to the Tour was very intense,” says Lydia, now a first-year student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. “And Tom is a faster hiker than all of us. When he wants to go, he goes.”
“I wasn’t going to let her (Lydia) beat me,” says Tom. “That hike was a high point and gave us all a sense of accomplishment.”
In the next few days, the team traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and the medieval city of Avignon, France. They took public transportation to Monte Carlo and finally arrived at their apartment, a vacation rental, in the Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiorie on the Italian Riviera. This is the most southern of five small villages and is at the end of a coastal hiking path that connects them all. They hopped the train to the first town and hiked back to Riomaggiorie. During their three-day stay, Catlyn turned 16.
“It was quaint and surreal,” Catlyn says. “It had been a challenging hike that day, and at night we enjoyed dinner at a small restaurant where they sang happy birthday for me. Of course we all had our daily gelato. Whitney and I decided we want to work there.”
On the move again, the travelers train hopped through Italy, hitting Pisa, Lucca and Florence. Florence’s art, cuisine and architecture make this Tom’s favorite city.
“I splurged here a bit to get a nice apartment right in center city,” he says.
“It was incredible to walk around the corner and see famous art, like the David, in all its glory,” Miranda says. “You knew it was coming but what a thrill to see it. And of course we had pizza and pasta every day.”
Traveling south by train to Rome, the travelers spent three full days exploring Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Cathedral, the Coliseum, Pantheon, the Forum and several piazzas.
The volume of art amazed the girls, and they kept track of high points each night in their travel journals.
The final leg took them from Rome to Madrid to Fargo.
The trip may have ended this summer, but the girls’ experiences promise to be something they carry with them well into their future.
“I might want to work for an international company someday because of this trip,” Whitney says.
Sally agrees, adding there is a “lot more to the world than North Dakota.”
“It was the most fun seeing the places through the girls’ eyes,” Tom says, “and to watch their reactions. Really great.”
Tips from Tom and the traveling teens
- Don’t be afraid to talk to people. We made friends by daring to try our Italian.
- Always have a plan B, backup plan.
- Pack light.
- Use local and public transportation.
- Get moving but slow down. Take time to hang out and relax with the locals.
Merrie Sue Holtan is a regular contributor to SheSays. She lives near Perham, Minn., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.