It’s quite fitting that I started reading A Gelato a Day: True Stories of Family Travel while on a summer holiday with my kids. After several days of packing, an hour’s drive into the not-so-far-away wilderness, and a few hours of setting up our temporary home-away-from-home campsite, I plunked myself down in a camp chair and flipped the book open to the introduction.
Book Review: A Gelato A Day
I confess I am prone to skipping over an introduction but in books such as this – a collection of themed stories written by many different writers – I like to hear from the editor first, to get a sense of what the work means to them and why it was important to do, and most of all, why a reader should be interested. Claudia Laroye nails it in the first few paragraphs of this introduction: in short, travelling with children is not always easy or simple or free from unexpected pitfalls, but it is always worth it – though often not in the ways we may have planned. Having travelled with my own children – from rugged mountains to amusement parks, on road trips and by plane a handful of times – I knew what she meant, and was excited to see how this would unfold in the book. So I read the introduction straight through, raring to get to the first story – but then someone needed help with a marshmallow and that was my reading time over for the afternoon.
I wish I could say I came back to it that night, or even the next day but in truth I read the rest of the book one story at a time – while sitting in my backyard while on a break from my desk, on the beach during a lake day with my kids, late at night after everyone else was asleep, in the car while waiting outside an orthodontist appointment. This wasn’t for lack of interest but simply the reality of a summer spent working from home with two kids out of school who are too old for day camps. This is perhaps why I am so fond of this genre in general: it’s perfect for parents who may find there’s enough time in the day for a few pages, but rarely for many chapters all in one go (especially during summer school break.)
I didn’t have to get even partway through the first few stories before I knew that this book is a fantastic example of the genre, with its blend of styles and voices, and writing that ranges from classic travelogues to philosophical ponderings to long-held memories re-born as memoir.
The stories go far beyond the expected and age is no limit: there are stories about travelling with infants and toddlers, about jaunts with a teenager, about adult children finding adventure with a parent, and all through stories that look back to childhood memories from the 1950s to the present day.
I laughed out loud in recognition at travel writer Robin Esrock’s piece about taking two very young children to Hawaii: “Gail is licking tray tables and seatbelts,” they write, about the first few moments of the plane flight. Things go down, and back up, from there in humorous and hopeful twists.
Carolyn Heller’s story about rock climbing and hiking (and pushing far beyond her comfort zones) alongside an adventurous adult daughter made me optimistic about the future: perhaps my own kids, having passed the stage where mom is the coolest, may someday return to wanting me to come along on their adventures?
Many of the stories in this book are by travel writers, folks who have made careers out of globetrotting – or of staying close to home but detailing for others the highlights of their own corner of the world in books about their own home regions. (Grant Lawrence, for example, has recently published his most recent book Return to Solitude: More Desolation Sound Adventures, the follow-up to best-selling Adventures in Solitude, about life on the Sunshine Coast of BC.) From travel columns to podcasts to guidebooks, the authors in this collection have an astounding amount of travel and writing experience under their belts.
Some of the contributors here are not in the travel niche at all – you’ll find poets, former journalists, novelists, and more; their stories remind us that travelling is not just for the experts but for everyone.
And the destinations are as varied as the writers themselves: from catamarans on the open ocean to the deserts of Utah, on the road in Kenya to mountain peaks in Canada, the stories travel around the globe and back again.
The collective effect of this mix of writers and viewpoints makes for a book about travel that is really so much more about travel: it’s about learning who we are and discovering that the unexpected twists and turns of life is what makes it all such an adventure.