The Joys of Travel

Just before COVID shut down travel, I spent three months circumnavigating the globe. When I returned home, I found mixed in with the mountain of junk mail a few birthday cards and several Amazon packages containing things I had ordered (like my favorite hair gel, so the stuff would be there when I got home) as well as a large UPS box postmarked Nepal. Christmas came early, and I must admit I felt relieved that I had ignored my pledge not to shop while wandering around the planet.

In each country I visited, I had used an app to send postcards to the fourth graders at the inner-city elementary school where I read to them weekly. When I returned, the kids added up the distance I had traveled from point to point—a total of 27,000 miles. One little boy raised his hand, apprehension darkening his face. “Yes?” I asked. “Dr. G., do your feet hurt?” I thanked him for his concern and, trying not to laugh, reminded him that they were air miles, not hiking miles.

When I was a young mother living in Miami, Florida, I would pack my toddler daughter into her car seat, grab a couple of PB&J sandwiches and a thermos of milk, and head for the airport’s perimeter road. There I would park, turn the car radio to the control tower frequency, and listen as we watched the planes take off and land. It was one of my favorite activities. At that time, these excursions were about the only kind of travel I could afford. Oh, there was the occasional family outing to one of Florida’s famous tourist attractions, but I found them too plastic, too phony. Except for Cape Canaveral. Back then, I wanted to be on one of those planes taking off from Miami’s international airport—or, better yet, at the cape, strapped into a rocket ship to the moon.

It wasn’t until midlife that I had the opportunity to travel, and travel I have—by car, rail, plane, ship, and on foot. If someone asked me whether I wanted to go somewhere that I had never been, there was only one answer: yes. When yes was my response to an invitation by a friend to visit her home in Isfahan, Iran, at the height of the Iraq War (amid some widely televised beheadings), my children had panic attacks. On another occasion, I went to Mexico with an artist friend. We took only pastels, no cameras. Since we had no itinerary, we just crisscrossed the country from place to place as transportation became available or the spirit moved us. One night, after arriving too late in a town to find a place to stay, we convinced a young man to take us to his tia’s house. She and her three small niñas were away, so we slept in tiny beds with tiny pillows. Sometime during the night, the young man panicked and begged us to leave. I think he thought we were hatchet murderers. We managed to convince him to let us stay until dawn.

By the time I took my first trip around the world in the late 1980s with my mother, I had done some academic traveling—mainly to destinations in the United States and Canada. I began crossing states and major cities off my wall map, along with some Western European countries. On the round-the-world trip, my mom and I traveled for several months, staying mostly with former physics students who had studied with my then-husband. As the professor’s wife, with the additional advantage of traveling with an elderly mother, I was hosted and entertained in China, Hong Kong, India, and Thailand. That was the trip where I left her in New Delhi and went alone to Nepal. Mom and I were compatible travelers, except that she had a strict rule about not going out at night. We didn’t then. Now I don’t, either. 

Another time, my elder brother invited me along to be my mother’s roommate on a trip to South Africa and Rhodesia, when she wanted to go on safari for her eighty-fifth birthday. On that occasion, I had a bit of a tiff with my sister-in-law because I wouldn’t pull my mother’s carry-on bag. Mom and I had long ago made a pledge never to pack more than we could carry ourselves. Marlene was so put out with me that she thrust my brother’s photography equipment into my arms and ordered, “Carry this!” Since they were footing the bill, I carried my brother’s camera equipment; mom took care of her own stuff. Consulting with the military on women’s issues provided a free opportunity to travel, courtesy of the Department of Defense, as did volunteering for UNTAC, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia. I traveled to military bases the world over and, after UNTAC, I set out to visit the distant friends I’d made while supervising the Cambodian election.

I never gave wandering much thought. You travel somewhere; you marvel at the sights; you inhale the smells and taste the flavors of your surroundings. You make friends of strangers and renew ties to old friends. I am not a careful traveler. I don’t have specific agendas for must-see places, and I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on what I have seen. I read less than fifteen percent of the little placards in museums, rarely sit for long in front of any masterpiece, or prepare myself for an exhibit. Shamefully, I’ve been known not to get past a museum gift shop, without seeing any galleries whatsoever. But I do know this with certainty. I will continue to be a wanderer . . . until I can’t.

In October of this year, I will turn eighty. I am fully vaccinated and running out of time. COVID be damned! I’ve got my mask, and I’m on my way.

Published by Carole J. Garrison

I’m a conversationalist, an observer, a passionate participant in life. And now, in my later years, I’m a recorder of the lessons of my life through essays, stories, and novels. I live in the fourth moment of life, just outside the normal distribution of most people and it is from this place that I write.

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