travel

"How travelling overseas with my little sister restored our bond."

“You’re doing what? How are you going to not kill each other?”

That was my mum’s response when my sister Bethany and I informed her we were going to travel around the USA together for about a month.

She had justification for that incredulous reply; my little sister and I didn’t exactly have a track record of “getting along”.

As children and teenagers, hardly a week went by that didn’t include a screaming match (or five).

But we were adults now. Both of us had moved out of home by autumn 2014 and our passionate fights over clothes, personal space and irritating habits were distant memories.

Listen: This couple retired in their 30s and travelled with their baby. (Post continues after audio.)

Another thing had changed since we both resided under Mum and Dad’s roof: we’d each moved on to separate universities, homes and lives. Inevitably, it seemed, a distance had grown between us.

Despite our fights, we were close as kids. As adults, we still knew what was going on in each other’s lives and could still could hang out together without any awkwardness, but it was different. Indescribably, yet noticeably different.

I think I was starting to miss my little sister. Maybe that was why, when I had the batshit crazy idea of quitting my job to go travelling, the first thought that popped into my head was, ‘I could start in the US and travel with Beth’.

Beth and I had always dreamed of going to Walt Disney World. (Image supplied.)

As '90s babies we had grown up in the renaissance age of animated Disney films, and became massive fans. Since I can remember, it had been our shared wish to go on a holiday to Walt Disney World.

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Wouldn't it be amazing if we could go there now, together? Beth was about to turn 21 (the legal drinking age in the US), so the timing was perfect.

A quick call to my sister confirmed it was indeed a great idea. She was just as excited as me.

We made it to the Grand Canyon. (Image supplied.)

Cue months of planning - booking tickets, excitedly sharing links, sending itineraries back and forth, and evenings spent huddled around a laptop together.

By January 21 2015 the day had finally arrived for us to jet off to Los Angeles. Mum and Dad saw us off at the gate and for the first time in a long time, we were completely on our own - together.

Our careful planning saw us travel to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Austin, New Orleans, DISNEY WORLD, Washington DC, New York and Boston - all in the middle of a freezing US winter.

The lake near Washington monument was frozen solid. (Image supplied.)
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I'm not going to pretend the whole trip was incident-free. There were two memorable arguments (including the time Beth wouldn't eat anything at a particular restaurant) and probably some minor disagreements I can no longer recall.

There was also the very stressful afternoon we had to figure out a way to get to the West Coast from Boston, after a snowstorm on the East Coast meant we would not be going to Chicago anymore.

But for the most part, our holiday together was everything I'd hoped it would be. We saw amazing sights and experienced totally new things together.

Disney World in Orlando, Florida was, of course, the highlight of our trip. To any Disney fan who hasn't been there yet, please take my word for it: just go.

We so didn't play it cool. (Image supplied.)

For us, it was more than just a fun place to visit. Beth and I used to watch the same Epcot and Disneyworld ad at the end of our Disney VHS tapes and beg our parents to take us there.

"It was incredible to do that while we're young enough to go wild, but old enough to really appreciate all the little things," Beth told me.

After 23 days of travelling together we parted ways at Atlanta airport - she to San Francisco to meet a friend who was living there, me to LA and onto Tokyo to continue my trip.

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I immediately felt sad after saying goodbye to my little sister. As I boarded my plane I realised I missed her already.

Beth ice skating on the Trump rink in Central Park. (Image supplied.)

During those weeks we lived out all our childhood dreams, as Beth put it.

From ice skating in Central Park, to retracing the steps of National Treasure's lead characters in Washington DC, to hugging Mickey Mouse himself - it was all truly magical.

But there was another bonus to the trip: something had changed between us. I hadn't set out to restore our sisterly bond when I suggested we gallivant about the US together, but I think that's exactly what happened.

Freezing through a Boston winter night.(Image supplied.)
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Maybe we weren't in danger of drifting further apart. Maybe our adult relationship would have stayed exactly as it was, and maybe that would have been fine. I'm glad I don't have to find out.

It's not as if Bethany and I returned to the closeness we had when we were little. I know there are siblings who are closer, but they're also usually the siblings who live in the same city or have kids the same age.

Perhaps the best way I can describe the impact this trip had is that it solidified our friendship. It made me realise the value of having a relationship with your sibling as adults, and what needed to happen to keep that relationship strong. Shared traditions, making time for each other, little messages to say 'I'm thinking of you' - all these things help to keep a sisterly bond alive.

Sisters and friends. (Image supplied.)

The experience also helped me appreciate my sister in a new way. I discovered things about her I didn't know and realised that she had, in fact, changed as she grew up - though some things, like her insistence that she was always right, were exactly the same.

I lived out my childhood dreams with my little sister, and we didn't kill each other in the process. If you'd have told 12-year-old Jess that, she never would have believed it.

Now I have a memory I'll always treasure with a sister I know I can always count on.

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