Traveling with a Teenager

On one of my all-time favorite trips, I took one of my younger cousins with me. He was always curious about the places I traveled, and he and I had developed a tradition of poring over atlases and talking about geography, culture, and more. He’s one of the people in my family I felt understood (and shared) my fascination with travel and discovery.

I employed bribery: “Dudelet,” (because he hated when I called him that), “If you get a 3.0 this semester, I’ll take you somewhere with me.”

So, Dudelet got the grades, and we decided to go to Mexico. And that’s how I found myself traveling with a 16-year-old, 6-foot-tall eating machine.

His mom, remarkably, didn’t seem very worried about sending him off with me. I think of this as either a great compliment, or extremely foolish on her part.

We sat down with guidebooks and maps. He wanted to see Chichen Itza and the other Mayan ruins. Together we charted a route around the Yucatan, visiting places I’d never seen myself. We went over important Spanish words he needed to know: gracias, por favor, una cerveza mas por favor, etc.

His mom came to me with two requests: First, she wanted him to see “poor people.” Real ones. I assured her he would see poor people–really, truly poor people–everywhere we went. That, in fact, he would be bombarded by poverty at every turn. She hasn’t traveled much, and therefore looked at me as if she didn’t quite believe me. (She also, to my knowledge, has never driven through Alabama, which would be comparable.)

Her second request was that I make sure he got enough food.

What? Of course, I’ll feed him. I mean, What kind of cousin do you think I am? Dudelet will have all the burritos and churros and shit he can eat. What’s the big deal?

She kept reinforcing this. Worrying that he wasn’t taking enough money for food. I reassured her–cheap food, lots of it, headed his way.

Relax, Auntie. I got this.

Just a few days before we left, my friend and travel buddy (“Dude”) called me up. He wanted to join us. I asked Dudelet and he agreed. I thought it would actually be good for Dudelet to have an actual Dude on the trip. Since I have no fucking idea, I realized as I thought it, what I’m doing taking a 16-year-old boy to Mexico. I did not share this realization with anyone, because I was already committed and I was mostly confident that I could figure it out.

So, Dude, Dudelet, and I set off to see a little poverty, eat some cheap burritos, and poke around some crumbly old ruins.


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