I recently returned from my first trip overseas. That may surprise a number of people who know me and who know how much I’ve traveled, but up until now the four corners of North America have sufficed. In addition to traveling, I’ve lived in the south, the Pacific Northwest, the mid-Atlantic and the northeast. I have logged my share of airplane miles (mainly before they counted for anything) but I make no claim to being a world or even frequent traveler. I have friends, real and virtual, who have more stamps in their passport than I have lines on my EZ-Pass statement. Furthermore, and more to the point of this post, I’m not sure any of us “travel” any more.
Most people didn’t know that I was traveling, and even people around my home base wouldn’t have realized I was gone, if I hadn’t told them. Between vacations, telecommuting and domestic meetings, my being away from the office for a week is just not a big deal. The technology in my bag let me participate in essential business; a couple of conference calls, email and document review. Perhaps the only person who was really impacted by this trip was my wife – I wasn’t here to fix the dripping shower. If our dog hadn’t passed away before I left, she (the dog) would have missed me, but I don’t think our cats did. They seem to regard 8 days as a long nap – “Oh, there you are, can you brush me?”
Of course I knew I was traveling, and although I fretted about this trip more than most, I really wasn’t worried. I knew what to expect. I knew how I was getting to and from the airport. I knew how I was getting around once I landed. I knew how much cash I would need, I was able to get it before I left and I knew that I could get more over there if I ran out. People in England and the US speak a similar language and I knew that I would have Internet access in my hotels, meeting rooms and periodically while on the move. I was carrying my iPhone and even though I skipped adding a data roaming plan, I could call and text my wife and daughter.
The most difficult thing that I did in London was walking about 2 miles to a train station for a train to Bletchley Park (think Alan Turing, Code Breakers, WWII). I mapped the trip out in my hotel, wrote down the instructions and despite a huge mistake counting the exits at a rotary (sorry roundabout – which they enter going clockwise), the trip was painless. I was proud of that trip, and several people told me that I had done a good job. Contrast that to trip my grandmother made 115 years ago and you will start to see why I’m not sure mine counts as travel.
My paternal grandmother and a few (some say two, some say three) of her sisters were taken to a dock in Syria in 1900 when she was all of 14 years old. While at the dock, the sisters were married to a few men who happened to be brothers and then the whole lot boarded a ship to America. I can only imagine the dockside goodbye:
“Someone will write once we get settled and figure out how to use the Post Office. I’ll see you later…well, I don’t actually know that but I’ll hold it as a goal.” – “OK my children, have a nice life!”
My job in England was to spend a few days in meetings in a London Hotel and then take the train to Ipswich for some additional meetings and a little sightseeing. My grandparents had to make their way to Pittsburgh, PA, find work, open a shop, have some kids and join their friends and extended family in building a church.
My grandmother didn’t travel much once in America – trips to Atlantic City, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky and the drive to NY to the airport when she did visit Syria in the 1950’s. Still, she did most of her travel in the US before Interstate highways, before direct-dial long-distance, before ATM’s and before cars were generally reliable.
The closest I came to being a traveler of my grandmother’s caliber was when I moved from NY City to Seattle, Washington. I made that move in the late 1970’s but there were very few unknowns involved. We didn’t have the Internet, but we had maps, Interstate highways, credit cards, pay phones and family to visit as far as Iowa. We had signed a lease on a place to live near Seattle, and we had jobs. OK, in retrospect, that’s not close at all to my grandmother’s experience.
I don’t know when I will venture overseas again. I’m sure that I will keep my passport renewed, but I doubt I will be collecting many stamps, or spending much more pretty currency. Truth be told, I don’t even like domestic travel these days, especially when I have to fly. I’m glad my grandmother isn’t here to hear me complain about how my flight to London was an hour late, how I waited for 1:45 at Immigration at Heathrow and how the cab (sorry taxi) from the airport couldn’t drop me at my hotel due to a parade. I’m sure it took her a bit longer to be processed at Ellis Island and I don’t know how she got to Pittsburgh. At least I came out with my surname intact – hers had been changed. Yeah, I’m a travel wimp.