I had the blessing and honor of taking a trip with my one and only son, Dino, when he turned 16. He chose Switzerland as our destination, wanting to hike in the Swiss Alps. This was my first trip as the sole adult, completely responsible for whatever happens. I was excited but also nervous. I've traveled to many exotic places, but never had I been the one completely in charge. I had to ensure the trip was fun, adventurous enough, that we didn't get lost, and that I made good decisions. It would likely be the only trip I'd ever take alone with Dino, and I wanted it to be unforgettable.
An Unforgettable Start to Our Adventure
Our adventure began in the evening at the Atlanta airport after an incredible dinner at our favorite restaurant in Buckhead, called the "Optimist." Finding our gate, Dino and I sat with our masks on, waiting. I told him I was going to check on our seats, but I had another plan. I'm terrible at lying, and as I approached the counter, my heart was beating fast, and I prayed for a kiss from heaven.
"Hi, I'm taking my 16-year-old son on a birthday trip and want to make it special. Is there any chance of an upgrade to business class?" I sensed her smile beneath her mask as she checked for availability. I was hoping it was possible and had the number $2,000 in my mind – that was the threshold I would pay for both tickets to be upgraded. I knew there were a million other ways to spend $2,000 besides first-class tickets, but this felt like the perfect gift for Dino, a young man with big ambitions and a whole destiny ahead of him.
My First-Class Experience
I hadn't flown first class since I was a kid. My parents were able to upgrade our entire family on a trip to Hawaii once, and though I was only eight, I never forgot it. I remember the linen tablecloth, the filet mignon, and the seats that reclined into a bed. I didn't sleep, instead staying up, savoring every second, feeling like a princess.
That experience broadened my eyes for more, giving me the ability to dream big and see myself in my best life. I would even say that first-class flight made a tiny shift in my identity. I never thought of it as a luxury exclusive only to rich people or something unattainable. But it gave me the vision to reach a place where I felt worthy of such luxury, not seeing the money spent as a loss or waste on something frivolous.
Standing at the counter, I felt a stretch within, reaching higher that I would also be giving Dino a glimpse into a world of possibilities, making our trip profound for him. Every trip after, he would walk past business class and know what it's like to sit there, having experienced it instead of wondering. It would forever serve as motivation to live well.
Finally, the KLM airline attendant spoke, "We have two seats available. For the upgrade, you'll need to pay an extra $800." I was exhilarated. I couldn't believe it. Without hesitation, I asked her to change our tickets and paid the fee.
An Unforgettable Start to Our Trip
My heart was racing as I rejoined Dino. I decided to keep him in suspense, letting him figure out the surprise as he was guided to his seat.
"What took so long?" he asked. "They had to change our seats due to some issue," I lied.
I could feel the corners of my mouth turn into an uncontrollable smirk, and I was so glad I had a mask on so he couldn't see it. He took his boarding pass and kept looking at his phone. My heartbeat began to calm as I got through the fib without detection.
They started announcing for first-class to board, but because of the surprise, I tried not to notice. After a few more announcements, Dino looked at his boarding pass and said, "It says row 2! How can that be?! That's first class!" He looked at me with wide eyes.
I looked at my boarding pass, pretending to be surprised, "Weird, mine says row 2 as well. Maybe they number their seats differently."
"Mama! What did you do? You got us first class when you went up there, didn't you?" Ugh! Why is he so dang smart!
"No, of course not, Dino! Would I spend thousands of dollars just for slightly better seats for nine hours? That's crazy! You know I would never do that!" Thank God for this mask!
"Look, I'm not sure what's going on, but they've called our row. Let's board the plane, and we'll figure it out," I deflected. Dino furrowed his dark eyebrows, eyeing me suspiciously before grabbing his things and getting in line.
As the attendant scanned his boarding pass, handing it back to him with a "Have a wonderful flight, sir," Dino turned around and looked at me suspiciously again. I shrugged and followed him on the plane. Just through the door, a flight attendant greeted us, looked at Dino's boarding pass, and cheerfully said, "Oh! You'll be turning left, not right! Welcome to first class!"
Dino spun around to face me, partially shocked and partially saying, "I knew you did it!" He tried to contain his emotions, gratitude, and excitement, playing it cool. When we got to our seats, he gave me a huge hug and thanked me. We noticed that no one, including the flight attendants, was wearing masks, so we were able to take them off and see each other's true smiles.
This was Dino's first time in business class, and I hope it won't be his last. From this point forward, his hard work and decisions will have to get him there, but I was so grateful that it worked out and that I could give him this experience. He will always remember his first time flying first class. My fears of being lame, boring, or the trip being a disappointment began to subside as I looked through the menu for my choice of a second dinner, my heart swelling with gratitude.
Navigating New Territories
I felt empowered being the sole adult walking around Zurich, the clean, silent city, with my tall, handsome son. We ordered coffee in German at local bakeries, managed to find our way, enjoyed taking pictures, and sipping our first Aperol Spritz. We had to try them. We watched all the Swiss sitting outside in the cafes around 6 p.m. as the sun set, casting a warm glow through the orange-filled glasses.
As we walked through the city, Dino kept talking about the hike he wanted to do in the Alps. Meanwhile, I mentally thought through the logistics. Rent a car. Drive to the Alps – scary. Find a place to hike – how? Climb mountains? No! I smiled at Dino, "Yeah, hiking will be fun!"
Dino suggested we rent electric bikes to visit the botanical gardens and explore the city. The thought of mounting a bike after a decade – especially an electric one I've never experienced – and weaving through the city chasing after my 16-year-old son sounded terrifying to me. "Yeah, that sounds like a blast. Let's find a place to rent bikes tomorrow." I agreed, though all night I stressed about riding a bike through this European city, going up and down hills, questioning if I could even do it. Dino thinks I'm fearless, strong, and confident in everything I do when I'm actually only acting and violating my own will with the higher purpose of giving my son a memorable trip. To me, safety means shopping, walking, and eating – not biking or hiking.
Overcoming Fear of the Unfamiliar
The next morning, we rent our bikes. After I lower my seat ALL the way down, I tell Dino I need to practice and insist on finding a non-busy area to try out the electric feature. Dino was a gentleman and patiently let me work my way through my hidden fear. To my surprise, it was easy. As you begin to pedal, it gets easier, and the electric bike part kicks in, and you fly. The brakes work great! The tires are fat, and my bike is as low to the ground as possible. I'm ready to roll.
I follow Dino, hoping and praying for no accidents and zero blood spilled as he masterfully navigates us through the streets, making our way to the botanical gardens. Uphill, downhill, weaving in and out of traffic, we sail through the streets effortlessly. We stop when we want, absorb the views, take lots of pictures, and even spend time sketching and painting watercolors in the garden. Then, it's back down the hill to the waterfront, lunch, and more riding under the sunny, perfect weather. We are in absolute heaven. I felt free and empowered – a part of the glorious world that rides bicycles in the cities.
A few days later, feeling confident after my biking adventure, I drive our Volkswagen Touareg through dozens of tunnels in the Alps to a place called Lauterbrunnen. Dino suggests an "easy" hike to Wengen. He points to the tippy top of the mountain, where I can faintly see tiny houses, "That's Wengen. It's only 2.9 km away and should only take an hour." I thought he was being so sweet to take it easy on me, knowing how much he wanted to do this most on the trip.
"That sounds easy and fun. If this goes well, you can pick a harder hike tomorrow."
It looked really high up, but I thought it's only a little over a mile. I can do this!….
Have you ever taken a trip that pushed you out of your comfort zone? How did the experience change you?
Share your experience in the comments below!