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3 lessons I learned from road trips with my mum

Mothers always impart teachings to their children

One should always value time with parents before it's too late. IMAGE FROM MIDJOURNEY

The last few months haven’t been the easiest. While the end of our worldly existence is an inevitable reality for everyone, losing both my parents within a few months of each other has been difficult. On both occasions, I didn’t manage to get home before their book of earthly life closed forever, and in a strange twist of fate, both times I got the one phone call you’d never want to get while waiting to board a plane home at Gatwick.

At least on this occasion, I couldn’t have possibly tried to get there faster, which provides a tiny little bit of consolation. Still, I’m thinking it might be best to switch my phone off while changing planes there in the future.

After the initial shock and sadness had subsided, my thoughts inevitably turned to all the memories I had of her. In these situations, you are always reminded of things long thought forgotten. You come across old photos while sorting through worldly possessions, and your mind will take you back to happier times—when you were little and the world was seemingly a simpler place.

I was blessed with caring and loving parents who instilled in me the values that I live my life by to this day. Below are three lessons I learned during the many road trips with my mum that I would like to share here in her memory, in the hope that a little bit of her spirit might stay alive through these words.

Air travel is relatively affordable nowadays, but the author and his mom relied on their trusty Mercedes-Benz 300TD. PHOTO FROM MERCEDES-BENZ

1. Travel, travel, and travel some more. Travel has gotten a lot cheaper and easier in recent times, which is amazing and opens the world to many more people. When I grew up, budget airlines didn’t exist, and most trips we did were done by car. Our trusty Mercedes-Benz 300TD (W123) ferried us reliably across Germany and to many other European countries.

Holland, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Sweden: My mum’s wanderlust meant I had seen a lot of continental Europe and had even been to London before I even made it to my teenage years. These experiences were fundamental to my understanding of the world, and to my realization that there’s more to life than the small Bavarian town where I grew up.

What may look like a simple landscape holds precious memories for the author and his mother. PHOTO FROM FRANK SCHUENGEL

Other people, other languages, other food, cultures, landscapes, and much, much more left their impressions on my young brain. I’m certain that these early trips contributed greatly to my own desire to explore the world. Even if you can’t afford to fly all over the globe all the time (and few of us can), try and travel as much as possible. Even if it’s only to the nearest city, province, or neighboring country.

Whatever is beyond that horizon is worth exploring, and trust me: When the time comes to look back on your life or the life of a loved one, you won’t remember what smartphone you had all those years ago or what sneakers you were wearing, but you will remember seeing that sunset together, exploring that new city, or meeting new people. Gather memories, not possessions, and travel as much as you can.

If it weren't for the author's mother, there are many things he wouldn't have realized. PHOTO FROM FRANK SCHUENGEL

2. Pay attention to the world around you. On one of our trips, we stayed in a small coastal town for a few days and repeatedly went to eat at a little burger van, because when you’re a little kid, fish and chips every day are just awesome!

The food truck was run by one man who did everything. During our last visit to it, my mum asked me if I had noticed something unusual about him. So far, my attention had been mostly directed at the food, so my answer was no…he was just a nice guy who gave me tasty junk food.

Pay more attention to your surroundings and you can discover many new things. PHOTO FROM FRANK SCHUENGEL

She then pointed out to me that he did all the work with just his right arm and hand, as his left side was paralyzed. Even though he had served me food multiple times before (and I had even watched him make it), I hadn’t really clocked on to that fact before this moment. The subtle lesson here was to pay more attention to the people and the world around me, and to everyday life.

I don’t know why this particular moment stayed in my memory so well, but since then, I have always made it a thing to closely observe my environment and give things a second look even if they seem ordinary. The more you observe the world around you, the more you learn and the more opportunities you come across. This one pivotal moment even led me to buy into the philosophy that you create your own luck in life, simply by walking around with open eyes and an open mind.

The author's mother taught him to be kind to everything and everyone around him. PHOTO FROM FRANK SCHUENGEL

3. Be kind, but not a pushover. My mum was a nurse, and she was one of the kindest people you could ever meet. She perfectly embodied a wonderful spirit of love and care for fellow human beings, and passed those values on to me.

Be kind, sharing, respectful, and always remember one of the greatest universal truths: There is only one thing in life that doubles when you share it, and that’s happiness. But at the same time, don’t ever let people take advantage of your kindness.

Things didn’t always go to plan during our trips, and on the rare occasions when something went wrong or we encountered not-so-nice individuals, she showed her assertive side and made sure nobody would take us for fools. That’s still an important lesson for me to this day.

Don’t ever mistake kindness for weakness. Even the nicest individual has limits. While there’s nothing wrong with being the better person and walking away from certain confrontations, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself or others, and you should never be afraid to do so.

Godspeed, mum, and thank you for everything.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.