“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain
When I was working for a freight forwarder in the nineties, I had an air export job at the corporate building. One day the senior vice president of operations asked me if I had a passport. “No,” I told him. “Well, you better get one,” was his response.
Like many Americans, I could not imagine why I would want to leave the continental US. “Why should I go somewhere else when there is so much to see here,” I might say. That would just be parroting what I had heard so many say as I grew up. It’s true, of course. I will never see the whole country. I never knew that I should still go beyond our borders.
By the time I had applied for a passport, I really had not seen a lot of the US. My parents went on some ultimately unpleasant car trips when I was young, and I can not remember seeing much of the country then. When I was trying to make a living and not rely on help from my father, I neither had the time nor the money to go anywhere. I was content with seeing the regional points of interest.
Since the head operations guy and part-owner of the company did not sound like he was making a suggestion, I got my first passport in early 1992. Each year he would send someone from the Corporate International group on the Sabena Airlines Familiarization tour (Fam Trip). It was more of a week-long social event than work. We landed in Brussels, went to Bruges. The group later went on to Spa. From Bruges the VP wanted me to make a side trip to Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Okay. I was going to a foreign country, would then would find my way to another foreign country to meet a foreigner. I knew no other languages and couldn’t imagine this would go well. There were frequent travelers in our group to advise me. There were enough English speakers in Belgium and The Netherlands to help me along my way. I saw cultural differences, but we were all pretty much alike.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”― Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
Having not gotten lost, kidnapped, imprisoned, or any other imaginable horror non-travelers might tell you, I was ready to take to the skies again. That passport has stamps from London Gatwick from a Northwest Airlines “Fam Trip,” and Mexico City from a Mexicana “Fam Trip.” I won a trip to Italy on Alitalia Airlines and took a comrade from work to Milan, Rome, and Florence. The European countries had not yet adopted the euro when I was there. England never adopted the euro. Italy still had lire. Mexico was changing from the old peso to the new peso. We figured it all out. There were other trips to London (Heathrow) and Mexico (business).
“Life is a journey, not a destination” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
At my next employer, I was asked one day if I had a passport. “Yes, I do!” It was my second passport in fact. They were looking for someone to carry a small package to Paris for a well-known manufacturer. I hurried home, threw a few things in a bag, grabbed my passport, and hurried back. The shipper was charged enough for a business class ticket. This was the way to travel! That second passport also has stamps from Customs at Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, and London Stansted (our Olympics 2012 trip). I made it from Frankfort to Strasbourg several times to visit my close friend.
“Don’t listen to what they say, go see” – Chinese Proverb
My current passport has stamps from Frankfort and Paris from my various trips to Alsace, France. It also has a London Heathrow stamp. Yes, I have been to all three London airports. I also traveled to Montreal. One year I had to take a few days of vacation in December or lose the vacation days. My young friend in Colombia learned this on one of our SKYPE calls. “Come to visit me. I want to see you. Please. I like you so much. Please.” I never had a desire to go anywhere in South America, but my friend was persistent and I decided to be adventurous. I went to Medellin two times. I used some of the vacation pictures in a series of short stories about an American visiting a handsome South American.
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
Right before the pandemic started to close everything down, I applied for a visa to go to visit a friend in St. Petersburg, Russia. I never got the visa and fear I will never get to go now. We have had many visits via computer. In the breather between Delta and the surge of Omicron, I made one more trip to France. I am not sure there will be any more international travel for me.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
With the pandemic dragging on through a second entire year, I have spent time traveling on my computer. Many groups offer virtual tours to various places on the globe via your computer, for free or for a small fee. I have chosen to experience other cultures through their movies and television. This has taken me all over the world.
I have been to Argentina (My Best Friend), Germany (You and I), Israel (Snails in the Rain), France (Hidden Kisses), and other places for movies, plus a variety of countries through YouTube and Amazon Prime short subjects. Television series have taken me to China (Dive) and Thailand (Bad Buddy). What have I learned from all my travels?
“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”― Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
We are all alike. We want the same things. We want health and happiness for ourselves, family, and friends. Governments may hand us a distorted view or corrupt some of their citizens. Mostly, though, we are the same under our different shades of color and various features.
“So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”— Jack Kerouac, “Desolation Angels”