As she shares her family’s experiences, Stafford reveals how the act of traveling with loved ones can be a transformative experience that helps deepen connections and understanding. With warmth, humor, and sensitivity, she reflects on the challenges, joys, and complexities of these trips, as well as the lessons they imparted.
Stafford’s beautifully written memoir offers a refreshing perspective on the mother-daughter relationship and will resonate with readers who have ever traveled with loved ones or who have yearned to do so. “Who Will Accompany You?” is a heartwarming celebration of family, connection, and the power of travel to transform our lives.
What inspired you to write “Who Will Accompany You?” and what do you hope readers take away from it?
After returning from my trip to Nepal and Bhutan with Kate, who was then 17, I realized that we had some interesting parallels in our travels. She was literally sitting and meditating at the Kopan monastery while I was trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp, but my trek was also very meditative because of how few people were in our little group, and how many hours we spent on the trail.
We also both addressed the issue of being far from home and how that formed our experience and our relationship with each other. I thought it would be interesting to see our different perspectives side by side, and the original title for the book was Sitting on Top of the World.
After a bit of work with it, I realized that it would also be compelling to hear about my older daughter, Gale’s time in Colombia as an observer/witness, and my thoughts about her being there, as well as my visit to this remote part of the country which involved a 45 minute open air jeep ride and an hour an half hike to the community. So the second half shares both of our thoughts and feelings about this unique (and scary!) situation. The title was actually lifted from one of Gale’s blog posts, because it is about who she was literally accompanying, but also encompasses the broader question of who we choose to accompany in our lives.
I’m hoping that people will feel like it’s possible to travel, encourage their children to travel and to do this together as a way to share time and be with one another. It doesn’t have to be far. It can be to the local park as long as it provides time to really listen to each other. We can be open to new experiences anywhere, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It just requires making the time.
What challenges have you faced while traveling with your family, and how have you overcome them?
One of the darkly comic times was when we were traveling in the highlands of Scotland during the week when we were dropping off Kate who was about to start four years at the University of Edinburgh. There was very little cell service and I had received a phone call from our neighbor that our dog was very ill. We were all in the lobby which was the only place there was service and I was trying to navigate the calls to our neighbor and our vet. I had to talk loudly for them to hear, but I didn’t want to disturb the other people in the lobby. I had to say over
and over that they should not just keep the dog alive for us. It began to feel like a comedy sketch. He ultimately was fine until we got home, but he was 18, so it was not a given. That same trip our flight home was canceled, and we had to spend an extra night in Edinburgh. That was inconvenient, but we got to sneak in an extra visit with Kate.
We went to visit Kate when she was taking her first gap year, which was in Cape Town. She seemed particularly happy to see us, and we found out later that she was actually mugged on her way to our bed and breakfast, but negotiated to get her phone and iPad back. It was tough to learn that, and there was nothing we could do. She was clearly upset, but unharmed.
There was a time when Gale was in Chile, and we learned later that she was put in an uncomfortable situation in terms of where she would be spending a two week internship. I wrote some angry letters afterward because it seemed that it was avoidable, but she was okay, and not as upset as I was. She found a reasonable place to conduct her work, but I felt she should have had more support as a college student.
We had to trust that our daughters were navigating their way because there were a number of times that they were out of cell service range.
How has traveling with your daughters impacted your relationship with them?
I have learned more about each of them when we have traveled. It gives us extended times to be together, and that extra time is so important in really being able to dive into particular topics we might not get to in an afternoon, or an evening. Plus it’s SO fun to see new things and figure out new places together. They have interesting ideas and suggestions, and I learn very different things about the place, too, by paying attention to what they might want to see.
I’ve really appreciated what they point out in a city, museum, restaurant, or country hike. It builds connection and trust in each other.
What advice would you give to other women looking to strengthen their relationships with their mothers?
If it’s possible to be curious about what they’re thinking and feeling, that is a huge help. Again, it can be fun and bonding to go somewhere new together. When we are in a new place, it is easier to be fully present, because there is nothing we take for granted. It pushes us into a more open place, and that sets up a great way to be with each other. Expectations are lowered, and we are learning about
a place at the same time. This provides terrific material to talk about, understand how we see things similarly, or differently. We get to see sides of each other we might not otherwise get to. Sometimes it requires patience because our paces might be different, or our preferences for how soon we need food or rest, and it’s important to remember that we don’t always need the same things.
You discuss the transformative power of travel in your book. Can you share an example of how travel has transformed you or your relationship with your daughters?
Nepal is such a different culture in so many ways. It was fascinating to learn how they take care of their dying, and what kinds of rituals that entails. Or what kinds of foods they eat, or how they practice their religions. We happened to be there during the festival of Holi, when people throw water balloons filled with red, orange, and yellow dye at each other. There is nothing like that in the States, and once I was hit in the head with a balloon, I realized that I wanted to take a cab instead of walk to where we were going. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of interaction after the quiet of being in the mountains for 10 days. I think Kate would have been happy to engage with it, but she was willing to stay with me, and she negotiated the cab because she had experience with it, whereas I did not because I had been trekking. The time spent just built more trust and ease with each other.
When I was in Colombia with Gale, it was meaningful to be with her in the community where she was living. It’s such a different lifestyle to have animals roaming around, or whacking papayas out of the trees, or living in a hot and humid climate. I needed to see where she was living, and it was important to me to meet some of the people she was working with. They depended on each other, as they assessed the risks in the unarmed accompaniments that they agreed to. It has always been important to me to see where my kids are so that I can picture them in my mind’s eye in a clearer way. It makes it easier for me to send them all my good thoughts if I can really envision them.
Your book offers a unique perspective on the mother-daughter relationship. How do you hope your book will contribute to the ongoing conversation about this important bond?
I’m hoping that people will see that it’s possible, and such a doable thing to connect with our children. All kids need structure and support as they grow up, and they need increasing amounts of space to make their own decisions and feel confident about them. We all need practice at this, and the more we can provide choices for our children when they’re young, the more skilled they get at it. And believe that they can make good decisions. Just as important is for us all to know
that if we make decisions that don’t work out, that we have the ability to change them. It’s not failure, but a time to try something different. It’s invaluable for our children to know that we have confidence in them, that we trust that they can learn, and do things for themselves. We’re in a unique position to support them because we live with them. Because it’s an evolving and ever expanding relationship, we can’t ever make assumptions about what’s important to them. But we can always ask. Being willing to ask questions about both difficult topics as well as fun ones puts us in a great position to know and support our children. If we remember that our children want good relationships with us as parents, that’s a helpful place to start.
You write about the complexities of traveling with loved ones. Can you share some tips on how to navigate these complexities and create meaningful travel experiences?
There is no shortage of opinions in our family, and I’m grateful for that, and also sometimes daunted by it. It’s so fun to hear what the others have to say, what they think, but we also sometimes need time to ourselves, or we need to do different things on a particular day. Allowing time for that is important. Whenever we’re tired we know we’re at a disadvantage, because who doesn’t get cranky when they’re sleep deprived or in need of a meal?! We need to keep listening to each other, and be willing to compromise on plans, or even scrap a plan entirely if someone is really not up for it. We used to go to family camp for a week in Maine in the summer, and one of the great things about it was that everyone helped each other out. If one child didn’t want to hike, and another family was going sailing, we might swap children for an afternoon. Or if one person really wanted to go swimming, it might mean putting off going to town. Knowing that everyone has an opinion, and that we can try to accommodate that is important, even if it doesn’t always work out easily at first. It’s worth taking the time to make a plan that people can live with. And although we need to listen to our children, it is ultimately up to us as parents to make a lot of the decisions, and the clearer we can be about which those are, the easier it is for everyone.
Creating a time to talk about what everyone has experienced makes the experience meaningful. I know one family that regularly (usually at dinner) asks what each person’s favorite and least favorite thing about their day has been.
That can open the door for more conversation about any of the topics that arise.
What’s next for you as an author, and do you have any plans to continue exploring the mother-daughter relationship in your writing?
I have written a column called “A Moment’s Notice” for over 25 years, and have recently compiled them. I’m going to put them into categories and write more about those categories as I introduce them. It’s been fun to share some of the columns that were about the girls growing up and the joys and challenges of parenting. They’ve never read them, because some of them were before they could even read, so it’s fascinating to see their reactions. I still remember trying to convince Gale to wear her favorite dress for her kindergarten picture, because on that day she decided to wear something which I thought was not as nice. I ultimate gave up that notion because what did it really matter? Why not go with what she wanted? Wouldn’t that be just as representative of that time as the dress she formerly wouldn’t take off?!
I’m also writing more about my relationship with my own mother, which continues to evolve even though she died a year and a half ago. Finding photos, and seeing the totality of her journey and the choices she made is enlightening, especially since she required much more care in the last couple of her 93 years. My editor is encouraging me to explore this space more, and she has never steered me wrong, so I’m jumping in there! I’ll let you know when that book is out!