The Selfies Stopped In Rome

8 January 2015

One of my kids took off for the other side of the world two weeks after uni finished for the summer, flying to Paris.

The day before, his brother, a year older at 21, headed to Canada to work in a ski resort.

He had a job to go to, accommodation provided, and his best mate went with him. I didn't need to concern myself with him any further. He had travel insurance so that when he broke his leg thinking he was a genius snowboarder as any boy growing up in Queensland naturally would, I wouldn't have to pay for the helicopter to get him stretchered off the mountain in Manitoba I'd never heard of. Sorted.

Paris boy was a little less organised. His ultimate goal was to be in England for Christmas with his aunty's family, but that was seven weeks away.

"What's your plan?" I asked him as he packed.

"I've booked a hostel."

"Yeah, good, but then what? What are you going to see? What do you want to do? Do you know anyone who's going to be in Paris the same time?" I was curious more than worried.

"I'm going to meet a French chick," he said.

That's it. That was his plan. Awesome.

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Then A Curious Thing Happened

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"Excellent idea young fella. What bloke hasn't wanted to fall in love with a French girl in Paris? But I reckon you need a Plan B, just in case Plan A proves elusive."

He was incredulous that I thought Plan A wasn't fool-proof, but humoured me anyway. "What do you suggest?" he asked out of courtesy but with barely concealed disdain.

"Pick one thing to do every day - visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa, go marvel at the grandeur of the Palace of Versailles or Fontainebleau - just make sure you do something and you'll eventually meet people and have a ball without even trying."

So he did what I suggested. The first picture he posted on Facebook was a selfie with Da Vinci's masterpiece. He booked a walking tour of Paris. More selfies.

 The Louvre...perfect backdrop for a selfie

Then a curious thing happened. No more selfies ... Someone was taking photos of him. Then the group shots started happening. Lots of young people hugging each other in bars, him in the thick of it.

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A Father's Rite Of Passage

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Suddenly, he was in Rome. That wasn't part of any plan. There was a photo of him taken at the Colosseum at dawn. Not a selfie. He was with someone at dawn. A French chick?

 Rome's iconic Colosseum...where the selfies had to stop

Next he was in Venice, then Prague, London, Amsterdam. More photos of him hugging smiling shiny people with exotic names.

He asked for money. It's a rite of passage for fathers of children going abroad to receive such a request. He had been invited to go skiing with his aunt and uncle and cousins at their holiday home in the French Alps, in a charming village called Samoens, at the foot of the vast Grand Massif snow fields.

I've been there. Magic place. It was to be the last thing he did before he flew home.

I had no hesitation giving him the seven hundred bucks he asked for. He'll pay it back, because he is that kind of kid, but I don't care if he does or not. I am so proud of him for milking every gram of joy out of his trip. He'll never forget it.

If he's anything like the rest of us, the memories he would have harvested from this unscripted odyssey across Europe in between semesters at uni will nourish him for years.


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Spring's the best time to go. The Early Bird Catches The Flight To Europe


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Sense Of Freedom And Wonder

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I was 23 when I went to Europe without a plan. Well, I had much the same plan as my second-born, but not much else. And I had to fall back on Plan B of course. I had enough money to last about a month, barely enough skills to be employable, but a sense of freedom and wonder at being let loose on the world that the next two years were easily the most extraordinary of my life.

 Anyone who's travelled will know there's more to it than the places you see

When I came back I forged a career, nurtured a family, bought a house. But when it all seemed so crushingly mundane, I would draw on the memories of that two years of roaming Europe, as free as I'll ever be, to get me through the dull times.

Now my family is grown and the house is almost paid off, my career doesn't seem that important any more.

I realised that decades later I was still daydreaming about that time roaming free around Europe as a young man, just as my son has just done.

And just as I think I may have inspired him a little in his summer adventure, he has inspired me to get off my bum and get back to exploring the world.

Where do I start? There's so much to see.

Rory Gibson

Rory Gibson somehow makes a modest living writing columns for newspapers and magazines on the subjects of beer, travel and dating advice for his three sons, and roams the world looking for material to fill them.