Traveling Light

The first time I took a trip abroad with my son, he was afraid that the tour group might include some handsome divorced father. As it turned out, it did.

"Good for you!" That's what I'd been hearing all the time in the past weeks. And, "Wow, who would have thought? At your age!" And this is because while you are reading this column (and the next two, also), I am in India - maybe still in New Delhi, shvitzing like mad as I thread my way among puddles of congealed filth and a sea of armless or legless beggars. Or maybe I'm wandering the alleyways of Dharamsala, shivering from the cold, sipping lassi in a cafe. Or maybe even - perish the thought! - I'm sitting and listening to lectures on Buddhism. There's no telling what level of pathetic-ness I'm liable to descend to in order to look good in the eyes of my youthful peers.

I'm writing this exactly a week before the flight there. I haven't yet found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in the lecture section of the Lametayel store in Dizengoff Center. But there, as well as in the Maslul store, the outlet place in Jerusalem and in various branches of Orha, I'm already a familiar figure to the salespeople - the ones who keep saying, "Hey, good for you! At your age, it takes guts!"

Nothing is more devastating than this "good for you, at your age" comment, except perhaps, for the "youthful attitude" I've been hearing that I have, ever since I decided to travel to India. Once, at the Maslul store, another customer, with a pierced nose and a cute tattoo on her exposed midriff, even told me I was "way cool."

"You know," a saleswoman in Lametayel said to me, "more and more young people are inviting their parents to travel with them abroad. It's a different generation now, today's youth." I told her that I'd actually like to believe it was a different generation of parents, that I couldn't imagine myself at age 15, 25 or even 40, instigating, of my own free will, an opportunity to share my mother's company for more than a few hours. Not to mention my father for whom - to this day, nine years after he passed away - I still find myself combing the newspapers in an attempt to cull potentially suitable topics of conversation.

"No, no," the saleswoman insisted. "It's the young people who've, like, changed. Young people today are more open to the idea of taking a trip with their parents and it's great. I took a trip with my father, too, to, you know, Thailand."

"Sababa," I said, giving in. "But you all came out different, like, because you have these cool parents, you know, like me and like your father."

I remember the first time I took a trip alone with the son with whom I'm going to be traveling now. It was to Kenya, 13 years ago. I took the two of us on a safari, six months before his bar mitzvah. He was afraid that the tour group would include a handsome divorced father (which, as it turned out, it did) and that our trip together would be ruined. Now he informs me that he has no intention of letting me walk the streets of New Delhi alone. I'm hoping that his concerns stems from the thought that I might find an attractive divorced man there, or that it's because he hasn't forgotten about my innately poor sense of direction. But I fear that he's worried about something else: Maybe, say, that as "youthful" as I may be, I already need the protection of a young man like him?

"Don't pack silly things like makeup," my son wrote to me. "And maybe before the trip you also ought to get a haircut, something easy to manage. And don't bring more than a couple of books with you; there's no point in traveling the way you usually do with a whole library. And most important, bring as little as possible with you and do as little preparation as possible, so you'll be open to totally new experiences."

But for me, the preparation for the trip to India, as to anyplace else, begins with the nagging question of what to wear. I bought Crocs. Yes, I, who swore that those weird monstrosities would never adorn my feet, broke down. Just because one of the salespeople at Lametayel explained to me that in India, especially in the places I was headed - and by the way, my youthful attitude was really, like, amazing - I'd be best off with shoes that were washable and a bit more closed than sandals (such as those mountain-climbing types made of rubber with Velcro straps, hideous-looking but which, at a 70-percent discount, I'd already bought at Orha, since the salesman there explained to me that for traveling in the East, you need something that really supports the feet, especially at my age).

Afterward, I bought a camera, too, so I'll have a way to record all the new experiences that I'm supposed to be open to - i.e., me, at my age, without makeup, making my way in black Crocs past dung heaps and ragged beggars, and being way cool the whole time.

Good for me!