Less Traveled

My wife and I have had extremely good fortune with regard to travel. We’ve been lots of places, both together and separately, that would cause a lot of people to express envy at our good fortune.  But the degree of our travel does not necessarily equate to the breadth of experience we absorbed as we wandered the globe. Let me explain.

My first international travel was from Houston, Texas to England. I made the trip over the Atlantic to London several times while I lived in Houston, employed by the National Association of Corrosion Engineers. I visited London, Harrogate, Brighton, Ambleside, Leeds, and other places long since lost to poor memory. My wife joined me on some trips and we took time off to travel by train to the Lake District and to wander north, just a bit. We spent a little time to visit with friends in the midlands. We were young and lucky. We didn’t, with one exception, extend our travel by much to take advantage of our good fortune. We stayed as long as we were required to do my business, then came home or, in a couple of cases, spent an extra weekend to see the sights.  We should have taken weeks off. But I was too bloody obsessed and engaged with my job; I had to do a GOOD job and I had to emphasize my dedication to work. I could not let opportunity get in the way of duty.

The same job took me to Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of one of the trips to London. I hated it. I could explain, but I’ve written about the miserable experience before, so I’ll forego reliving it, thank you.

And that same job took me, several times, to Germany. Those trips were worth taking. I learned a lot and felt myself getting acquainted with the sense that international travel was an eye-opening experience, though I made sure I didn’t stay too long; I didn’t want people to think my trip was for my enjoyment.

And then I changed jobs/lives. Fast forward a few years and I found myself regularly  making trips to various parts of the world: England, Germany, Portugal, Spain,  Australia, New Zealand. I was traveling to wonderful places and getting paid for it! My wife accompanied me on a trip to Australia and New Zealand, where we sampled the cuisine in ways we never expected. Kangaroo actually tastes good, we discovered. We felt remorse for days afterward, though, when we were reminded that we had eaten Skippy, a favorite Australian children’s television show character. But we took some personal time (a real rarity) to see a bit of the country and never regretted it. On one trip, to Austria, I was on the ground for only twelve hours before I ended up in the hospital for five days before being taken to the airport for the flight home. I had to speak to the pilot and convince him I was well enough to fly before he would allow me to take my seat on the plane. Ah, memories of travel!

After I started my business, one of my client associations was global in scope and, therefore, my service to the client went global. I traveled to Cancun, Moscow, Stockholm, Montreal, Beijing, Helsinki, and Dubrovnik, as well as all over the U.S. But, again, I allowed my guilt and my need to be seen as ultra-dedicated get in the way of enjoying the opportunities those travels offered. With uncommon exception, I traveled to the site of meetings, participated in meetings, went out to nice dinners in the evening, in some cases saw the “must see” site, then returned home. Little time for real exploration. Little time to get acquainted with a place.

Though I’ve tried to get in the habit of taking photographs of interesting places and pictures of my wife in interesting places, I’ve failed badly. Consequently, I have few pictures to remind me of the places I’ve been or we have been together.  Cameras require more attention than I’m willing to give. The advent of smart phones with built-in cameras increased the number of photos I take, but I still tend to view the process of taking pictures as intrusive to the experience of being in a place. Of course, given that I rarely allowed myself the time to experience much of the places I visited, any images I might have taken would have only offered evidence of an experience I didn’t really have. Maybe it’s best I didn’t take many photos while traveling. They would have been visual lies.

Though the limits on my personal time were largely self-imposed, they were based on taking the temperature of my employers and/or my clients. Neither would be pleased with me if I were to take too much personal time after they paid for my round-trip tickets to exotic places. So, rather than try to judge what was just enough, versus too much, I erred on the side of too little. It’s too late for regret now—well, it’s never too late for regret, but regret accomplishes nothing. I tell myself that. I try to use that mantra to clear my mind. It works sometimes.

Now that I have ample time to travel (if my wife and I chose to arrange our schedule to do embark on travel adventures), I have no income. Every dollar we spend shrinks our retirement savings. The calculation then becomes, “how much can we spend on travel and maintain the likelihood that we will not die in abject poverty?”

That possibility, abject poverty, calls to mind my fictional town: Struggles, Arkansas. I should be writing about the struggles taking place in Struggles. I should be writing about the owner of the Fourth Estate Tavern, Calypso Kneeblood, and his efforts to keep his place afloat while being overly generous, though gruff and cranky, to his down-on-their-luck clientele. Yes, that’s what I should be doing. Instead of reminiscing about the many trips I barely remember to places I hardly saw, I should be writing about a place that is so clear in my head I can smell the state beer as I enter the front door and walk across the worn, creaky wooden floor.

All right. I convinced myself to do something other than write in my blog. I should write my fiction. And I will. But perhaps I’ll shower first, as I have commitments this afternoon at which an unclean man would be unwelcome.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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