I’ve Flunked Traveling
Ask anyone what they would do if they had the leisure, and what do they answer? That’s right: “Survey says: Travel!”
I’ll bet nine out of ten Americans see themselves traveling the world, broadening their horizons by visiting countries not as great as this one and posting pictures for their friends and family. (Too bad their selfies keep being photobombed by intrusive objects like the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower.)
To be sure, it’s a big, wonderful world, and I myself have yearned to see storied places that I’m now reasonably sure I will never visit. My beloved and I have each gone a few places and often enjoyed the journey.
Our strategic retreat
Now? Well, I just don’t want to go anymore. Neither does my beloved. We’ve come to terms with that decision, though we are amazed at how horrified others appear to be when we mention it. It’s as if we had said we like to eat human flesh and then troll people on the internet all night long, like Russians or something.
So why don’t we want to go anywhere anymore? For one thing, we’re not made of money. Yes, yes, we know there are ways to live frugally and travel thriftily: stalking airfare sites; hosteling; making our own cleaning products and such. We think it’s cruel to stretch our dollars on a rack that way.
We subscribe to a kinder, gentler financial strategy, namely, “Easy come, easy go.” We choose to spend our money on other things.
Road trips are a simpler and more convenient way to expand your carbon footprint if you feel it has gotten too small. We’ve had the memorable experience of witnessing the natural grandeur of the Grand Canyon in the morning and then plunging into the consummate artifice of Las Vegas that night. Now that’s a trip.
But most significant travel — especially air travel — is simply not for us, primarily because we’ve each been scarred by some trips from hell. Technically, I suppose they were trips through hell, which perhaps we deserved since, on reflection, we were usually trying to get from one perfectly decent place to another for reasons we now cannot recall.
We have identified precisely the conditions that have convinced us to stay out of the airports, the airplanes, and the air. Until these conditions change, we’re staying home, where we belong. You guys feel free to go on ahead. We’ll water your plants and look in your medicine cabinet while you are gone.
Here’s what I hate about traveling these days:
- TSA, the Transportation Security Administration. This is the agency we all love to hate and will pay good money to avoid. Investigations over the years have shown that the TSA is ineffective and corrupt, but no one seems to care any more. Apparently, years of docile shuffling through the lines has completed the Pavlovian conditioning that driving in rush hour traffic began. (I always felt we were being treated like cattle, and had to resist the urge to begin lowing softly, to see if anyone would join in.) Now, fliers accept any new enhanced scan or search for the chance to use a Groupon. Not me. Nobody pats me down without my say-so.
- Flying itself. Everyone knows the airplane seats are shrinking, the legroom is crippling, and the airlines are lying liars about scheduling delays. They can and will imprison you in that tin can for hours, on the ground, with no regard whatsoever for your claustrophobia or your IBS. Or your seatmate’s IBS.
- The destruction of my youthful memories. It used to be fun to fly. As a young adult, I could grab a cab, lope through the airport, hit the gate five minutes before takeoff, and fling myself into a seat at the back of the airplane in the smoking section. If the row was empty, I could put all the armrests up and recline with insouciance. You can’t do that now. (By the way, I’m sorry for the respiratory problems we smokers might have caused the stewardesses. We didn’t know. And I’m sorry we called you stewardesses. But you said you were stewardesses, and you knew we were jealous because you were stewardesses. So I’m not that sorry.)
- Being a tourist. The problem with traveling is that you always bring yourself with you. At best you will be only an observer of another culture; at worst, you may be seen as an intruder, an exploiter, or just another mark. So it’s difficult to blend in. Oh, some people can do it, and they will be welcome everywhere. But on my single lovely trip to Paris, as I was privileged to walk down the Av. des Champs-Élysées, I was keenly aware that I was a stranger there, and I would never really belong. I was an American in Paris, but I wasn’t Leslie Caron. I wasn’t even Gene Kelly.
And then I saw the MacDonald’s, right there on that iconic avenue, and I despaired. This was now the real American in Paris. Defeated, I ordered a Royale with Cheese anyway.
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again…”
My beloved and I know ourselves fairly well by now, and we know what we need to do to be our most peaceful, most productive selves. We can do most of those things at home: reading; writing; working on our side hustles; guilting our descendants into coming over; monitoring politics and ideas and the Red Sox and other crucial issues. We’ll even spend time with quality television; I won’t lie. (And I will kindly ask that you judge not, lest ye be not judged, smartypants.)
What about museums? Well, walking hurts, and we are not ready for wheelchairs just yet. As for beaches, we don’t like to be hot, wet, or sandy. If you like those things, knock yourself out.
Our real homeland; our real security
My beloved and I have redeemed the problematic term “homeland security” by interpreting it literally. That is, we are secure at home. We like to be home. So we will be staying home most of the time.
We are therefore doing the world a public service. We are voluntarily thinning the herd of clueless Americans swarming through the narrow streets of ancient towns and flip-flopping through the cathedrals in their cargo shorts and fanny packs.
On that same visit to France, my daughter and I were walking the cobblestone square in Avignon, in search of a croissant on a peaceful Sunday morning. Suddenly, the peace of the square was shattered by the clarion tones of a stalwart Midwestern matron, ringing out above the civilized murmur of the citizens:
“How’d we get all the way over HERE, Barb?”
We collapsed with laughter, nearly becoming uncivilized ourselves, and have snickered about it ever since.
I do not wish to risk becoming that person.
Perhaps by relinquishing the illusion that we are “citizens of the world,” we are sinking into the stereotype of provincial Americans. I hope not.
We stay home because we know what we need and want out of this world. We appreciate its distant wonders and its diversity, but we intend to leave those distant wonders just the way they are.
We will travel in our own minds, exploring the universe from here, without dragging our awkward, high-maintenance, fleshly baggage with us.
I’m happy with that for now. Oh, we may change our minds. You never know.