Lately, I have been mostly enjoying the Apple TV reality series The Reluctant Traveler, starring the great Eugene Levy, comic actor and co-creator of the sitcom Schitt’s Creek. The premise of the show is that Mr. Levy is someone who is deeply averse to new experiences, but nevertheless willing to move far beyond his comfort zone for the sake of entertainment, with each episode being filmed in a different far-flung locale. It seems a shade improbable, at times, that anyone could truly be pushed to the limit of their psychological endurance by being “forced” to stay in luxurious five-star hotels from Finland to Venice. Still, Mr. Levy is a funny and oddly charming man, well worth spending half an hour with, at least. And, contrived as it might be, I love the overarching theme of the show, that overcoming one’s fears and inertia can open the door to memorable and transformative experiences.
I think many of us can relate, at least to some degree, to this idea of being a “reluctant traveler”. Going on a journey can, after all, be a pretty stressful endeavour. My own recent travels, for example, have involved brushes with lost luggage, delayed and canceled flights, uncaring and unhelpful airlines, and a night sleeping on the baggage room floor of the outer circle of Hell (otherwise known as Toronto Pearson Airport).
Even assuming you make it in a timely fashion to your destination, there is always the possibility of a disappointing hotel or Airbnb, or a host of other potential irritations. Surly TSA agents, stomach churning in-flight turbulence, miserable customs officials, misguided guidebooks, crowded, overpriced tourist traps, potential illnesses, exorbitant currency exchange rates. You name it.
It is a human peculiarity, definitely shared by me, to focus too much on the frustrations and minor calamities of life and not enough on the joys and wonders, and I think traveling is a profound illustration of that. Sure, airports are a nightmare, and airline food is crappy or non-existent. But, on the other hand, you have the chance to experience the technological miracle of soaring, godlike, through the clouds in a sleek silver machine, and waking up the next day in some wildly different location half a world away. One day you may be playing computer solitaire behind a desk, and the next day looking out your hotel room window at an Icelandic fjord or the Matterhorn. Perhaps one afternoon you’re microwaving lasagna for lunch, and the next you’re looking at a stuffed crocodile or ivory-handled walking stick in a curiosity shop in Montmartre.
In some course or other in my MFA program, it was noted that there are really only two types of stories that we tell ourselves as human beings, with one being “a traveler goes on a journey,” and the other being “a stranger comes to town”. Either way, it’s a tale of the ways that dislocation and change can both upset us and transform us. Travel is one of the surest means of bringing ourselves face-to-face with the unexpected, in ways that can be both intensely beautiful and fraught with distress. It’s also one of the surest ways of creating indelible memories, learning about ourselves, and enhancing our personal resilience and sense of wonder. Reluctant or not, what could be more worthwhile?