Travel

11 Days in Paradise (With Mom)

Jen Doll Hawaii trip

We’ve been celebrating the arrival of peak travel season with a series of personal essays from contributing writers. Each post tells the tale of its writer’s most unforgettable trip. Here is Jen Doll, who took a tour of Hawaii with a group of 70-year-olds…


It was my mom’s idea to go somewhere “just us” — not my dad, not my brother, not any of our friends or family. She’d suffered a scary blood clot a few years before and had a few other close calls since then. When I was home for the holidays, she kept mentioning an idea she’d had: a vacation for just the two of us. “You never know how much time you have,” she’d say. I’d groan and tell her to stop being maudlin. As for the trip part, sure, I’d go on a trip! But first we had to figure out where.

We decided on Hawaii. She’d been there as a twentysomething. I’d heard stories about her and her younger sister flirting with their tour guides, gallivanting about in a convertible. I not only wanted to see this place myself, I wanted to see her see it again, after nearly 50 years.

If we were flying all the way to Hawaii, we agreed, we wanted to see as much as we could. So, my mom suggested we book a tour. We’d hit four different islands; but the flights and buses to various hotels and sightseeing excursions would be handled seamlessly by a tour guide, so we could get the most out of our time together. It wasn’t the sort of trip I’d take with a friend. But we weren’t friends. We were mother and daughter.

I had concerns, though. My mom is a very social being. The life of the party, even. I’ve inherited some of her way with people, but I also spend a lot of time alone, a writer who talks to no one but myself in my own head. She’s frugal; I’m “comfortable” with New York City prices. She would rather ride a bike than read a book under a palm tree. I wondered if 11 days together might lead to fights, or me sullenly simmering like the teen I used to be. Maybe moms and daughters traveling together only sounded great in theory?

We arrived at the first dinner for our tour group after a 12-hour flight from the New York. The median age of our forty traveling companions was 60. Nearly everyone was a married couple, and, with the exception of one child, I was the youngest person there by about 20 years. I helped myself to buffet fish as my mother launched into immediate, easy conversation with our dinner companions. Within minutes, everyone knew who we were — not only that, it seemed they liked us — and I hadn’t had to do a thing. I took a sip of my white wine and relaxed.

Traveling with one’s 70-year-old mom is one thing; traveling with a large group of senior citizens including your 70-year-old mom is another. My favorites were the adorable Australian couple who’d funded their trip by selling cattle to Vladimir Putin and told me I looked like Amal Clooney, which I can only assume was because their eyesight was failing. I also loved the adorable 60-plus couple from New Jersey who’d met in their twenties because he was in a motorcycle accident and she’d been his nurse; he still walked with a limp and they cuddled while sitting on the bus together.

Buses were our main form of transit. And on the buses, my mom would inevitably chat, with whomever was near us, and also with me, about other people on the bus. “Shhhhh!” I would say. The teenager in me would rise up in embarrassment. Eventually I realized that another beauty of traveling with a group of older folks, besides the fact that they’ve mistaken you for a great beauty, is that no one can hear anything that’s being said about them, and if they do, they probably don’t care.

There were so many rainbows. We toasted each other looking out at the sky, and one night I invited a couple of our travel companions, friends who’d married brothers, back to our room for some wine. Their names were Dar (Darlene) and Bar (Barbara); they were from Canada and called us “the girls” and kept telling me, “You’re so lucky to have a mom like yours,” and I would say, “I know, I really do know.” In Kauai, my mom insisted we go on a helicopter ride, and I tried not to be scared because I knew she thought I would be. Our pilot was named Bradford, and my mom talked effusively to him, forgetting to press the button on her microphone that would let him hear her. “What?” he said, and I pressed it for her. “We know a Brad, too!” she told him. “He’s our son!” “My brother,” I explained.

At the end of the trip, we hadn’t fought once. We knew each other’s quirks, now more fluently than ever, but they didn’t carry that twinge of annoyance that so often happens when you’re together with another person — much less, a family member — for a prolonged period of time. Of course we were related and always would be, but we had let go of that unfortunate human habit of constantly seeing those we love through our most judgmental eyes.

We flew back to New York City and had dinner with my sister in law, my brother out of town. She wanted to know all the details, so we told her about the volcanoes and the valleys and the blue-green waves, the shopping and the sushi and the snorkeling. “But did you bond as much as you thought you would?” she wanted to know. “How was traveling for 11 days together?” My mom took a sip of vodka, pronounced it not as good as her new favorite brand from Hawaii, and said, “We didn’t have heart to hearts… we just enjoyed each other.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Jen Doll

Our trip included Valentine’s Day; on that evening we came back to our hotel on the Big Island to find a bottle of white wine and a card from my dad. (We sent him this picture.)

Jen Doll

In Kauai, my mom convinced me to go up in a helicopter, where we flew into the center of a volcanic crater. I am proud to say I did not pee my pants.


Jen Doll has written for The Atlantic, Elle, New York magazine, The New York Times Book Review and other publications. She is also the author of Save the Date, a memoir about what she learned about relationships, friendship, marriage, love and herself after attending 17 weddings.

P.S. A romantic trip gone awry, and taking a solo vacation.

(Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber for Cup of Jo.)

  1. bhagyashree says...

    This is such an heart warming story…i hope my daughter thinks of me like that too…we always do these 3/4 day trips every alternate year and bond really well. Actually she really takes care of what id like to eat, where id like to go, things id like to do…everything…to the extent that my trips have me calling her Mumma. Im 47 and she’s 21 so right now just seems cool but i hope it will last out even when i get older. God bless you both.

  2. You have a super cool mom!

  3. Anna says...

    What a wonderful trip! I’m inspired to schedule a vacation with my mother too. I have a big family so it’s not always easy to get alone time with her; all the more reason to do it. Thanks for a heartwarming account.

  4. Hanka Gerretsen says...

    Love to spend time with my mother. I love your review of spending time with your mother!

  5. Michelle says...

    Thank you for sharing your story. Moms are so important.

    I just got back last month from a trip with my mom to the Philippines to see our family. She’s the oldest of 12 (!!!) kids, so we have a large family. The best part of the Philippines, besides the insane beaches and mangos, was seeing my Mom in her natural habitat. Seeing her and her sisters crying at the airport since she hasn’t been home in 16 years was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever seen. Family is so important and we should always take the opportunity to take the trips, look at the pictures and ask the questions while we can. I found out so much about my mother and the sacrifices she made for our family, that I may not otherwise have known.

  6. Shanti says...

    She does look like Amal Clooney!

  7. Lesli says...

    What an awesome trip! A couple of years ago I went on a trip with my mother and grandmother to celebrate our birthdays (30, 50, 70). We had such a blast that we’ve made it a yearly event, and have a trip planned for next week! I can’t wait!

  8. Heather says...

    Loved reading this essay! I’ll be moving from NY to Portland,OR in a little under a month and I’ll be driving cross-country with my Mom to make the move. I’m a little nervous I too will fall victim to my teenage angst-y ways but I’ll remember to “… let go of that unfortunate human habit of constantly seeing those we love through our most judgmental eyes.”

  9. RS says...

    Joanna, Are you going to do the Motherhood Around the World series this summer? It has been my favorite series of yours by far! I really hope you will continue it this summer!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      absolutely! our first one (on thailand) is coming up this monday :)

  10. Anniclaude says...

    Loved this article! Can’t wait to have the chance to do this with my mom! :)

  11. Alyssa Leister says...

    Loved this! My mom and I just went for a weekend trip to Maine (from Pennsylvania!) Two nearly back-to-back 8-hour car rides to Maine with my mom could have proven to be frustrating, but we always travel just the two of us and we had a blast!

    And have so many good stories, including not knowing what a “speed table” was and we LAUNCHED over it like the Dukes of Hazzard. Wouldn’t want to travel with anyone else! <3

  12. Kate says...

    You and your mom are so sweet!

    I would definitely have thrown mine out of the helicopter by then.

  13. Lauren E. says...

    What a sweet story. My dad and I take a trip every year but for some reason I’ve always been nervous to do it with my mom. She’s a really anxious person and a lot of times even when I visit her I turn right back into that “sullen teenager”! I’m worried that a whole trip together would bring out the worst in me.

    • Paula says...

      ahh! this is so scary to me! as an anxious mom to two young daughters this is my absolute fear; that my cool and composed husband will reap all the benefits of our adult children as they would rather avoid their anxious mom. I really must work on this.

  14. Jenna says...

    I love this post! My mom is nearing 70 and still has an adventurous spirit and loves to travel. I would love to take her on a trip just “us.” Thank you for the inspiration! Moms are the best!

  15. This is especially sweet to me since when I moved from NY to Fl in this past couple of months, I looked forward to spending a lot of time with my mom and she died just as I arrived. So value every moment you can with your mother .

    • Sarah says...

      So sorry for your loss, Candice

  16. I love this! I’ve also been thinking a lot about visiting my mom in New York (we’re from Manila) and just having time to catch up. It’s great how as we grow older, our parents become more like our friends that we can do fun things with! This made me miss my mother!

  17. Michelle says...

    Thanks for such a lovely read! I’m leaving in a little over a week for a trip to Paris with just my mom and I’m so looking forward to it. We have traveled together in the past and each trip has left us both with great memories….I can’t wait to make some new ones :) .
    By the way, you do look like Amal!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      have a great time, michelle!

  18. So happy to see Elizabeth Graeber’s work in my favorite blog! While living in Washington D.C. I fell in love with her work and tracked her down to commission a portrait of my parents for their anniversary. Her career continues to skyrocket and I feel so fortunate to have some of her work!

  19. Alice says...

    SO much to love about this, Jen’s endearing, honest, and witty writing for starters. But, for me, the piece was all about this:

    …we had let go of that unfortunate human habit of constantly seeing those we love through our most judgmental eyes.

    Perfect.
    I need to write this on my bathroom mirror in red lipstick.

    And I totally see Amal.

  20. Olivia says...

    Aw what a heartwarming story, makes me miss my mother. I hope that someday I can afford to take her on a wonderful trip and thank her for all the support she has given me.

  21. Jules says...

    This is great! I would love to do a trip with just my mom and 2 sisters (my dad and 3 brothers can do their own trip, haha). I know we’d have a blast. With 11 kids between us ranging from ‘due in December’ to 13….it might be a while until we can get it together, but boy, does it sound fun!

  22. Nicole says...

    Oh my goodness I LOVE this essay series. More, more!

  23. Daniela says...

    My mom and I love to travel together! We went to Arizona in January for about a week and had so much fun, then in May we went to Sweden for over two weeks. Both times we only fought on the last day ;)

  24. Jennifer says...

    LOVED this! So sweet & funny. Totally made me smile after a tough afternoon – dropping my mom off at LGA after a week long visit.

  25. rebecca says...

    This was lovely! And you do resemble Amal in that last photo!

  26. Rachel says...

    I’m such a fan of this series (SUCH) – keep it up!

    My mom is a bit of a miracle in our house, having survived a month-long coma/near-death illness when I was in Kindergarten. She’s healthy and happy today (16 years later), but stories like this bring up those what-ifs I’ve had growing up (No one wants to learn about their period from their dad). I’m taking a weekend trip with her in February to stay in a cute Chicago hotel and see Hamilton and this made me even more excited to spend some alone time with her (as if snagging those tickets wasn’t enough).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a poignant comment, rachel. i’m sure you guys will have the best trip!

  27. yael steren says...

    This reminds me of a trip my mom and I took together to St. Thomas. I was in law school at the time and going through a difficult period with a then boyfriend and it was such a lovely trip. We still always recall that at night we loved to do nothing more than sit in our room and watch Law & Order (I introduced her and got her just as hooked)! This piece truly made me smile. Thanks for sharing! xx yael

    http://www.yaelsteren.com/blog/

  28. Liz says...

    I loved this – so sweet and such a fun read! My mom genuinely dislikes traveling, so I’ve learned to not suggest it. But my sister and I have discovered that we do make good travel partners (and now we add my niece sometimes), and Mom seems to enjoy hearing about our trips in exhaustive detail, so it does help us to bond a little. :)

  29. You absolutely do look like Amal. Lovely story, thanks for sharing!

  30. What a perfect trip — I imagine a day in the future when my daughter and I can travel together and have memories like this. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Whoa! She’s 70?!?!?!?! She looks way younger.
    I would have cringed at a trip like this with my mom before I had a kid. Now, I can’t wait to do one.

  32. What a beautiful post. I kept picturing it all in my head and feeling a lump in my throat as I did so!
    I lost my mum to cancer 14 years ago, and you have no idea how much I would give to just have her back for a 10-day vacation, just the two of us, just for 10 days… So those of you out there who have mums, take them away somewhere, even if you don’t get on, or if things are tense between you… You won’t regret it !!

    http://www.emiliewalker.com

  33. What a lovely story. Thanks so much for sharing. My grandparents always wanted to visit Hawaii and never did. I guess that’s why it was #1 on my travel bucket list since they passed away. Knowing this, my hubby to me and our twin 5 year old daughters this past spring. It was the most magical place I’ve ever seen… been to… experienced. We all took a helicopter ride too and our daughters loved it (you can see our photos here- http://www.jeansandatea.com/travel/maui-wowi-part-2). I feel so blessed I got to experience Hawaii and hope my nana and papa are smiling down knowing we went.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea
    http://www.jeansandatea.com

  34. What a lovely essay! I just read the book The Bridge Ladies about a mother daughter relationship. It’s funny and poignant.

    http://www.motownsavvy.com

  35. Jamie says...

    I ADORE this series. Hope you keep it up! Fantastic writers and really interesting/endearing stories.

  36. Mac says...

    But…you do look like Amal Clooney, especially with those sunglasses on!
    My mom and I just did this in December–we spent a week in New York City. Traveling just the two of us has always been such fun; but by the third day of a Disneyland trip (she, me, my daughter) I felt like a sullen teenager..

  37. Ashley says...

    My mom is my absolute best travel buddy. Not only has she become one of my best friends (which helps a lot), but we are perfectly in synch with our travel styles. We’ve hiked a glacier, dove the Great Barrier Reef, road tripped to New Orleans, slept in seedy hotels (hello velvet-framed mirror on the ceiling!). I’m six states away from all 50, and Mom only has Hawaii left. We’re already talking about checking off our last state together.

    I know having different travel styles can make going with family difficult, which makes me all the more grateful to have my perfect travel buddy built in!

  38. Sarah D. says...

    This story was wonderful. I just booked my first “mother/daughter” trip to NYC for August to see the US Open and a Broadway show (two of my bucket list items!). I am so excited and this article made me even more excited. My husband who doesn’t care for tennis or musicals is staying home with our kids. Perfect!

  39. Callie says...

    I loved this, and I’m impressed at how well you got along on your trip! What a fun adventure. I love hanging out with my mom but also tend to get overwhelmed and bicker. I especially love what you said at the end about enjoying each other. My mom’s always been there for deep discussions, but I’m happy to finally be at a point in life where we can just enjoy each other’s company too.

  40. Ashley says...

    Love, love, love this series and this essay!

  41. K says...

    I just got back from a 10 day trip with my mom! We are 65/35, and those seemed like good ages to celebrate, plus I just finished landscape architecture school. We did a tour of gardens in southern England.

    We rented a car for a few days in Kent, and I was the designated driver. I’d never driven on the left, and as we pulled out of the Avis car rental lot (through a gate that I swear was only 10 ft wide), my mom was white knuckling the door handle. We made a truce that she could neurotically back seat drive if I could get annoyed with her for doing so, and we would have a mutual understanding that those reactions were natural bi-products of our adventure.

    And like she said above, we didn’t have any heart to hearts, but enjoying each others’ company and the adventure was priceless.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “We made a truce that she could neurotically back seat drive if I could get annoyed with her for doing so” = LOL :)

  42. Kate says...

    This was lovely. I’m 26; my mum is 52. For her birthday recently, I bought the two of us a night away, with train tickets from our respective cities. I’m really looking forward to spending some time together!

  43. Glenda says...

    Love this essay. I do trips with my daughter all the time too. Love it. And you do resemble Amal and your mom looks great for 70 :)

  44. Megan says...

    This is beautiful. I’m an only child, but I still love spending time one-on-one with my mom!

  45. Nina says...

    What a great essay. And you do resemble Amal Clooney (and I’m not 70) ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree!

  46. Lauren says...

    I loved this story so much! My mom and I take a trip together every year. We started the tradition when I graduated college and my gift from my mom was a vacation in Italy for the two of us. It’s been 11 years and we’ve been all over the world since then. I’ll have to share this story with my mom – I know she’ll love it too.

  47. Kimberly says...

    I loved this. How fun!

  48. Willow says...

    I echo the earlier comment-such a charming and endearing essay. You and your mum just seem totally adorable!

  49. Hokidoki says...

    You do look like Amal clones and I have 20/20 eyes. When my kids are older and can be left behind, I too want a trip with my mom. She has been traveling with my family this summer and complained about sore knees from too much walking. I want to go before she can no longer walk that much. Thanks for sharing

  50. Andrea says...

    I adore this story, and it’s so great to hear that you had a wonderful time with your mum, Jen =) Your dad is also very thoughtful, with the Valentine’s Day gesture!

  51. Loved this story! <3

  52. Rachel says...

    I can’t quite put my finger on why, but this is one of my favorite Cup of Jo posts to date.
    So endearing and well written. Thanks for sharing!

  53. Sabrina says...

    Yes, I agree, you look like Amal…lucky you!

  54. Becca says...

    What a nice trip! I love this quote: “Within minutes, everyone knew who we were — not only that, it seemed they liked us — and I hadn’t had to do a thing. I took a sip of my white wine and relaxed.” My husband is the exact same way and I LOVE it :-)

  55. Stephanie says...

    I’m on a trip with my mom for her 70th as I write this! I left my young daughters at home ( they usually accompany us on “girls trips”,) and we are having the best time. Cheers! (And I do see a resemblance to Amal! ❤️)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is adorable!!! have fun, stephanie!

  56. liz says...

    Jen, you do look like Amal!

    • Agreed! I did a side-by-side image and the resemblance is strong :)

  57. Alice Quin says...

    This makes me want to call my mom!