I suppose, if I’m being honest, I have had more bad travel experiences than good. COVID or no COVID, travel of any form can be a fraught endeavour. On the first night I ever spent in Paris, a man was beaten to a pulp across the street from my cheap hotel room.
Another time, I took a flight from Winnipeg to Atlanta during which the airplane seemed to hop from air pocket to air pocket. We were flying through the heart of a thunderstorm, and lightning was exploding nonstop, like a disco strobe light outside the cabin windows. Alarmingly bright. Almost bright enough to see each other’s shadows. Everybody aboard the flight, except for myself, seemed to be airsick. I was far too terrified to vomit.
Again, my partner and I were taking a road trip through the Four Corners area of the American southwest, when we stopped to fill up our water bottles from a tap outside a service station on the Zuni tribal lands in Arizona. A few miles down the road, after we had been rehydrating in our non-air-conditioned Subaru, we heard a report on NPR about a severe outbreak of hantavirus, the epicenter of which was the place we had slaked our thirst. As we couldn’t afford travel insurance at that time, I will never know for certain why we were both sick as dogs for the next few days and couldn’t manage to leave our hotel room in Santa Fe. But sometimes, you just know.
At different times of my life, during various vacations, I have been stung by jellyfish, attacked by hornets, pickpocketed, nearly mugged, chewed on by bedbugs, ravaged by food poisoning and fever, conned out of cash, knocked nearly senseless by waves, and broken up with lovers. More times than I like to think, the vagaries and challenges of travel have left me feeling drained, unwell, disillusioned, and half-dead.
On the other hand, I have seen the sun rising above volcanoes and hoodoos, from Iceland to Mesa Verde. From the decks of boats and outlooks on soaring coastal cliffs, I have seen whales breaching. I have witnessed glaciers and monsoons. I have seen the midnight lights of Manhattan and the midnight sun of Husavik.
I suppose a life without travel would have made me a more financially secure human being. Except for memories, I have very little to show for a lifetime of hard work. I realize, of course, that this is a champagne problem. I can afford housing and food, and even some more travel. Sadly, the ability to access decent education and health care, not to mention experiencing some adventure and pleasure in this all too short life, is becoming no more than an opulent pipe dream in this obscenely wealthy land. I feel sorry and angry on behalf of all those who have been shortchanged by the rigged game of capitalism.
Nevertheless, there is beauty left in this world if you care to find it. For myself, I’ve spent the last few days looking at old road maps, looking for my passport, searching in the basement for sleeping bags and the camp stove, dreaming about another upcoming road trip across Canada and the U.S. As with all leaps into the void, who knows what we can expect? Tornados? Wildfires? Biblical hailstorms and locusts? But you can be damaged by standing still, as well. And perhaps there will be unexpected delights along the way, and possibly even friendships. As always, it’s hard to tell.