Montauk, and more thoughts on travel

July 11, 2013 |  Category:   family life remembering travels










There are some memories that get left behind in childhood and some that stay imprinted in our minds. Not sure why some stay or go, but it’s been interesting to see how some of these childhood memories inform some of our decisions as parents.


I’ve written before about how we rarely traveled when I was a kid. From photos, it appears that my parents and I did a bit more traveling in my earliest years before my brother was born – I remember going to Niagara Falls; I’ve seen photos of us in Washington DC. But it seems that after my brother came along, the traveling became less frequent. I don’t know if it’s cultural and the influence of how my parents grew up themselves, but I’m pretty sure the whole notion of vacation didn’t exist under the circumstances of their upbringing back in Korea. I remember getting exasperated by their “why do you have to go there?” response every time I told them that I was going on a trip. They never understood why I wanted to leave NY when NY had everything. And visiting a destination twice? That was even harder for them to understand. But sometimes I also wonder if this was actually the norm back when I was a kid because I don’t remember any of my friends traveling either. Maybe it happened, but from my recollection I never heard of my friends taking trips to Florida or the Caribbean during Spring Break or going to Europe, or really anywhere. It could just be that I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Queens and people vacationed the way we did – occasional weekend motel trips to Montauk or the Poconos – or that vacation was an entirely different concept back in the 70s or 80s, but Spring Break and Summer vacations to us were playing in the back yard, playing with our toys, watching TV and yes, sitting around the house getting bored.
Those few trips to Montauk and the Poconos, however, are some of those memories that stuck around. They were never very long and they certainly weren’t fancy, but I remember that they were fun. We’d gather a few other families, sometimes cousins, aunts and uncles and sometimes family friends, and we’d rent a few motel rooms and all pile in for the weekend. I hadn’t been back to Montauk since one of those childhood trips so it had been a good 30 or so years since I’ve been out there. At one point a few years back, it seemed like everyone in our neighborhood was going out to Montauk. It had become suddenly hip and was on everyone’s radar. We decided over the weekend to take a spontaneous drive. It’s pretty far from the city, especially because of one lane traffic at the end of the island, but not a bad drive from where my parents are. We left early in the morning and stayed until the sun went down before our drive back. When we got to Montauk, nothing looked familiar to me – not the beaches or the town and at night, the whole place seemed to transform into a party (by the way, you want a sure fire way to make yourself feel instantly old? Realizing that all those teens and college aged kids spilling out of those house parties are much closer in age to your kids than you are should do it. I seem to be doing that a lot these days. I see a group of teenage girls and think, oh my god, this could be the girls soon. But I digress). It wasn’t until we got to the lighthouse at the end of the day that I felt a sense of familiarity. I remembered those rocks and I remember taking photos on that rocky beach.
Ironically, I was the first person in my family to take a trip outside of the states, overseas on a plane. It happened twice and both times I went without my family. The first was on a government sponsored trip to Korea when I was 10, the one and only time I had ever gone back since being born there and the second happened when I was 17 on a school chaperoned trip to London and Paris during Spring Break. Our high school conducted many of these trips to a few European cities every year. Twelve kids on a 9 day trip chaperoned by a nun and a biology teacher (I went to a Catholic high school). Pretty wild for this British music obsessed American teenager in the late 80s. I feel really grateful to my parents for sending me on those 2 trips and opening up my world. The first trip was hard because it really was a culture shock and I was away from my parents for 2 months at still a young age in essentially a foreign country (and that was the point of the government sponsored trip – to reacquaint Korean American kids with their home country. We were even on the news because this was the first program of its kind). The second trip was just pure fun – and yes, nuns know how to party, especially when they start drinking at dance clubs and uh, French Burlesque shows.
Because we’ve made travel a priority, I’m learning that fancy vacations don’t matter to the kids, just as I don’t think those childhood trips to Montauk would have been any more memorable had we stayed in fancier digs or ate dinner out at restaurants instead of cooking meals on a grill. Similarly, we’ve figured out how to travel fairly on the cheap no matter where we go (someday the girls might roll their eyes over stories of how their mom stuffed suitcases full of snacks to save money on food). I know we’re lucky in that we have family to visit in such nice places as Seattle every year – the girls look forward to that trip every summer more so than anything else. I also know that we’re lucky to have my parents’ house in the Long Island burbs to escape to on the weekends. It makes city living all the more bearable when you don’t feel so trapped in by concrete and crowds at all times. But despite what my parents have always told me when I was a kid, that there was no reason to leave NY, I think it’s important to show the girls that there is indeed life outside of NYC and that people live differently in different places. So we do what we can, and what we have is good.
I hope your summer is good too.

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  • SY July 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I too am a freelancer so my income can go up and down by quite a bit…therefore, my husband and I are a bit cautious with our funds. That said, we managed to take our boys (8&11 at the time) to Europe last summer for 3 weeks. Our strategy was to forgo two restaurant meals a month and put that into a “sub” account. After a while we started taking out a few more meals per month. Also, we skipped vacations all together aside from day trips for two years prior to our trip. Needless to say it was hard, but when we explained to the kids what our goal was, they completely understood. The kids also saved cans and bottles for two years for their spending money$200 ea. (thankfully the neighbors rallied around them and donated their cans/bottles). Foreign travel as a family can be done, but the kids understood that there would be a few sacrifices…they loved it so much, we’re saving for another trip in the next year or two 🙂 and they don’t mind missing out on other things.

    • Jenna July 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      I think I remember you commenting about this before. I think it’s great that the kids got involved too and so glad to hear you were able to make it work. Our trips to Seattle don’t really cost anything other than our plane tickets and I always seem to find great prices so it’s been very affordable to go every year, but maybe we will skip one year to travel somewhere else.

  • jessica bee July 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    So lovely, both photos and words. I love your writing style. You tell a good story. (and pictures!)

  • Soo July 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I love this post. It really brings back old memories, none of which were from fancy trips. We didn’t go on many vacations either, but the ones I do remember, were all about the trips themselves, and the whole family being together.. I really hope I could pass this along to my daughter as well. Thanks for the post!

  • jen July 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    did you know that less than 10% of americans have passports. i always thought it was a korean thing (by the way i’m korean too) of not traveling, some of it being about finances and some of it about the unknown and things being foreign like food and the language but i think it’s universal. my husband had a uncle who never left the state of Alabama. he had the money to travel but had absolutely no desire to see the rest of america. however now, my mom finally wants to see something more than ny! she did a european tour with her friends. just went back to korea with her siblings and is even up for camping the next time she visits us in cali!

    • Jenna July 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      I can actually believe that. I knew a few people who rarely left Queens!

  • Christina July 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I think that back in the 70’s and 80’s travel by plane was more rare for families like ours (middle/lower class). We did the Griswold-style family vacations – piling into the car (with AC that never worked as well as you’d hope) and taking long and boring road trips. I complained every step of the way (to my parents: are we there yet? and to my sister and brother: stop staring at me, you’re in my space, you’re breathing too loud). Looking back I have a lot of fond memories of those times and feel nostalgic for those simpler days when there wasn’t much to do on those long car trips but watch the passing landscape and look for out-of-state license plates.

    • Jenna July 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      I think you may be right and I think that’s what I concluded – that airplane travel wasn’t as common back then for middle class families. And the kids still look for out of state license plates!

  • Jen July 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Wow that would have been nice if that government-sponsored trip to Korea to reacquaint Korean American kids with their home country was nation wide. By the way, aside from the last few days, the weather in Seattle for your yearly trip has been amazing.I know you’ve been here many times, but if you need some recommendations I’d be more than happy to send them to you (I just did a Seattle guide for someone who just moved here from LA). Then again, I’m sure you probably have more scoops on where to go.

    • Jenna July 12, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      I’m not sure how long they sponsored those trips and if there were even any after us. We stayed with host families for a month and attended classes at the university, traveled a bit including Busan, and then most everyone stayed with relatives for another month. When I look back at the memories (and I remember it well still – I was one of the younger kids – we were between 9 and 17) it was pretty amazing but at the time I was REALLY homesick. i would love seattle ideas. We’re always looking for some things we haven’t done so far but I have a feeling we’ve hit up most everything.

      • Jen July 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm

        You’ve probably done everything in Seattle, but in case there’s a thing or two you’ve missed, I could send you something which you scan over quickly. Do you want the recs here or elsewhere? Jen