You Can Be a Legend by Inspiring a Young Traveler

This is the story that started it all.

I share this story to inspire more adults to travel with the kids in their lives. I also share it to ensure that my grandmother's legacy keeps on traveling.

"Inspire a child to travel, and you will forever be a legend in his eyes." 

I grew up deep in the suburbs in Southern California.

When I was a kid, I imagined that in other countries the sky was a different color, the water tasted different, and that people’s lives couldn’t possibly look anything like mine—because it was all just so far away.

Worst of all, I was convinced that I would be envied anywhere in the world simply because I was an American. I had absolutely no perspective.

Then, I started traveling.

Aaron Schlein & family on a plane
Family trip to London (1989)

time to travel

My grandmother shamelessly gave me travel fever when I was 12 years old.

She had been all over the world and always brought me souvenirs from the countries she visited.

I got a gondolier shirt from Venice, a kilt from Scotland, and a beer stein from Germany—just to name just a few items.

Sometime in 1988, she decided it was time for me to stop experiencing the world through cheesy keepsakes from places I’d never seen.

It was time for me to start traveling for myself.

conquering london

My virgin passport got its first stamp at London’s Gatwick airport in March of 1989.

A couple of months earlier, Grandma had surprised my family on Christmas morning by announcing that we would all be going to England for spring break.

It was that first trip outside outside of my suburban bubble that showed me how little I understood about the world and its people.

One of the strongest memories from that trip is how proud I felt after mastering the art of riding the tube—the subway system in London.

Apart from riding the school bus, I'd had zero experience with public transportation. At the time, it was virtually non-existent in Orange County.

After a few days of riding the tube in London, I felt like the king of the universe.

I was 12 years old and could navigate a major city all by myself. The feelings of pride and independence I experienced were overwhelming.

Aaron Schlein and sister Allison in London
My sister, Allison, and me underground in London (1989)
Aaron Schlein - Family trip to London
Aaron & his new girlfriend
Headed to Russia via Finland on Finnair (1989)
Headed to Russia via Finland on Finnair (1989)

emotionally-charged memories

The following year, Grandma took me to Soviet Russia—mere months before the dissolution of the USSR.

The world got smaller for me on that trip, moreso than it did in England.

For the first time, I began to realize how much we can learn by spending real time with people in other countries and cultures. I also experienced just about every emotion imaginable.

Even today, I can travel effortlessly in my mind to the dim and grim Moscow airport where armed soldiers in long gray coats and fur hats met me at every turn.

There was a chill in both the air and the atmosphere. It was fascinating and anxiety-producing at the same time.

me? a rockstar?

Stepping off our private bus in Red Square, I remember being mobbed by local children—many of them my age.

Day after day, Russian kids followed me around like I was some kind of rock star—which was attributable in no small part to the way I was dressed.

I hadn't gone out of my way to dress like an American — I was dressed like a 13-year-old kid from SoCal — but in Russia I was a novelty.

Nike sneakers, Levi’s jeans, baseball cap—all the things I wore to fit in back home made me stick out like a second thumb behind the Iron Curtain.

I didn’t leave Russia feeling like a rockstar. I left with an understanding of how meaningless some of the things I valued really were.

California kid in Moscow (1989)
California kid in Moscow (1989)
Too cool for Hong Kong (1994)
Too cool for Hong Kong (1994)

endless gifts of travel

In all, Grandma and I visited 12 countries on four continents together before my 18th birthday.

The memories from those trips are treasured gifts that I am still unwrapping nearly a quarter-century later.

That is how powerful the gift of travel is—for every gift you open, two more are revealed.

into the stratosphere (and debt)

At 18 years old, and with a dozen countries under my belt, I was just getting started.

As a young adult, I regularly turned up the heat on my global education by exploring the world with friends and on my own.

However, if it weren’t for the passion instilled in me by those early trips with Grandma, it's unlikely that I would have yearned to max out my credit card and fly off to Europe for the summer—which I did several times in my early twenties.

The financial debt took over a decade to pay off, but the memories of those trips are with me forever.

Note: In time I learned that maxing out my credit card was not very bright, but that is another (and less uplifting) story. Do I secretly blame my grandmother for my inability to manage money during my reckless twenties? Perhaps, but that isn’t the point.

no cure for travel fever

The travel bug may go dormant occasionally, but it never dies.

I now have a family and a career, and I don’t travel as often as I’d like. I am determined, however, not to let the constraints of adulthood prevent me from continuing to discover people and places in this wonderful wide world.

More importantly, I feel an absolute obligation to renew Grandma’s travel legacy by showing my kids the world while they’re still young enough to believe their dad is a superhero.

Maybe they’ll write about me someday.

long live travel fever!

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Post Script

My grandmother, Shirley Schlein, died on September 4, 2018 at the age of 90.

Everything you'll find on this website exists to ensure that her legacy will travel on.

NYC - Our final trip together (2008)
NYC - Our final trip together (2008)

About the author, Aaron Schlein

Aaron's personal mission is to create a freedom-filled life for his family.
His professional mission is to help others do the same.

5 Comments

  1. Fran Berry on 06/17/2019 at 8:03 PM

    Grandma was the happiest when she was either planning a trip, on a trip or just returning from a trip- especially with you kids. Next week I’ll be in Moscow and will pay special tribute to your trip there with her. Like you, I feel her spirit with me each time I travel. Love, Aunt Fran

    • Aaron Schlein on 06/19/2019 at 8:27 PM

      Love this, Aunt Fran! It’s proof that legends live on… =)

  2. Marti Sullivan on 07/12/2019 at 12:48 AM

    Aaron, If only your Grandma were able to see your tribute. You and Allison were the light in her eyes and she was so very proud of you.
    I miss her everyday but know she is smiling and saying ” Oh Precious I am so glad you are traveling.” Memories that no one can take
    from you. Keep her legacy alive.

    Marti Sullivan

    • Aaron Schlein on 07/17/2019 at 10:49 PM

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Marti. Beautifully said.

  3. Fran Berry on 07/13/2019 at 1:13 PM

    Re-reading your post. Now that I’ve just returned from Russia and stood on Red Square where this picture was taken, I could feel Grandma smiling and approving of how we are choosing to honor her memory. I hope you can return to Russia one day and witness the excitement that is in the air. Truly a magical and inspiring. I can’t wait to share our memories soon. 💕🥰

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