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Feeling Lucky to Be Out In The World

In March of 2020, when Donald Trump banned travel from Europe, we reluctantly cancelled a long-planned trip to Paris. At first, it seemed like we would just be postponing it a few months, but then the reality of the pandemic hit, and the Parisian adventure quickly dropped off the table. We held tightly for many months after that to a post-Christmas trip to Hawaii. We carefully followed every news item about required pre-flight COVID tests, and we finally managed to find one that could happen within the 72-hour window that the State of Hawaii required. So, we double-masked, got on the plane, and felt blessed. It was an amazing trip, and we were fairly isolated in a VRBO house we rented on the North shore of Oahu. I don’t think there was a better moment in all of 2020 than the one when the public health workers at the Honolulu airport read our test results and cleared us to leave the airport.

Simply sitting in the sun in a place that isn’t my house or my yard or my town is one of the most freeing experiences I can have.

I have been lucky to get to travel in Europe and Hawaii, a little bit to Mexico and Panama, and even twice to Samoa when my parents were teaching there. The first big road trip adventure I had was when I was in my early 20s and my partner and I drove a little Ford Courier camper pick-up across the country to Nova Scotia and back. From those early days of travels, including a 30-day American Express tour of Europe with friends when I was 19, I was hooked on the idea of being someplace that wasn’t my home. I don’t always relish the work it takes to make the plan and get through the sometimes-exhausting travel part of the excursion, but once I’m there, I feel like the most fortunate person in the world.

Last week, right in the midst of these weird days when the Delta variant is beginning to thwart everyone’s plans again, we took a quick trip to San Diego to visit some close friends who are our frequent travel companions. I often associate them with seeing someplace new for the first time—and I always know we will feel the same enormous sense of gratitude for getting to see the sunset from that angle, or for standing in awe next to that centuries-old building.

Travel is humbling. No matter where I've been, I feel at once powerful and insignificant. For a person who doesn’t love chaos and shudders at even a bit of disorder, it’s funny to me that I like traveling as much as I do. And of course, I plan and structure the experience as much as I can. Still, there’s a point at which I just have to give up control and be in the experience. Simply sitting in the sun in a place that isn’t my house or my yard or my town is one of the most freeing experiences I can have. I start thinking of new ideas—different ways to do things. I see color and light and people I might not notice on my regular morning walk or my weekly trip to the grocery store.

We didn’t travel when I was a kid—we were always broke, and my dad usually had too many jobs for us to be able to take family vacations. Maybe that’s why I like traveling as much as I do. One of the weirdest parts of the pandemic is not being able to move as freely as I normally imagine myself able to do—especially now that I’m retired. But this is not a complaint about being unable to exercise my extreme privilege. More than anything, it’s a statement of thanks for having been able to travel as much as I have. It’s an appreciation for the rich opportunities I’ve had to sit at a sidewalk café, hike a wooded trail or jump into the ocean.

I also know that travel is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly now when public health is so much in question. But I’m still hopeful that I can continue to be in places that are not my home—partly to see new cities, different architecture and a unique view of the sun. But mostly travel keeps me creative, awake, and inquisitive. It reminds me not to take for granted what I have, and to fall to my knees in deep gratitude for the way the world continues to turn.


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