Back in my Golf Channel days, when I knew flight crews by name and their usual routes, the part of my life that made it seem charmed to viewers was the travel. I got to go to dozens of interesting places, and often play golf there. In all those years, I can think of only one destination that I could find nothing good about (I won’t name it; it’s not worth getting sued by the local tourist board). Everything else was fantastic.
Contrast my wife’s experience during her career as a food scientist: two flights and a drive to get to Hutchinson, Kan., where she showed up at a dairy/ice cream plant at midnight to conduct a trial of a new product at the only time of the day the production line could be spared. This is why I never complained to her about travel tribulations. It’s hard to be credible when your delay, lost luggage, or crappy rental car is on the way to St. Andrews or Bandon Dunes.
What I never discussed with admiring viewers, and what my wife knows all too well from her extensive business travels, is that it ain’t all glamor. I have no significant complaints, but there are prices to pay. As I write this, I am away on Mothers Day, hoping to get back in time to add my wishes to the well-planned pampering my son is administering. Couldn’t be helped; the trip got shifted on the calendar. The other hassles of travel, ranging from minor inconveniences to full-on away-from-home illness, need not be listed here. They’re not enough to sour me on travel, but to deny that they exist and annoy is dishonest.
But there is an upside. Experienced travelers know that the more miles you amass, the less touristy your travel becomes. You get more involved in the life of the places you visit. The roads, the eateries, the coffee places…you begin to consider yourself less a visitor and more a guest. You may notice things the locals have taken for granted for decades. You find the drugstore when you’re out of Pepto. (You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to explain diarrhea in a drugstore in Matsuyama, Japan.) You eschew the beaten path. You live where you are, instead of stopping by, until you go home.
And if you’re lucky, and you handle it right, you meet the travel angels. These are the people who do kind things when they really don’t have to.
Oh, it’s simple stuff, really. When I was a YMCA member, I could go to any Y in the country, show my card, and work out. Offered to kick in a few bucks, but not one Y ever accepted it (and it’s not as if most YMCAs are rolling in extra cash these days). Then there was the nice lady yesterday at West Hartford Public Library. I must have found the only Starbucks in New England without wi-fi, and I needed to get work done. So I went over to the library in the hope that they might have a network connection I could latch onto.
“Certainly,” the lady said. “Do you have a library card?”
“No, not here,” I said. “I’m from out of town. If you can connect me, I’d be happy to cover the fee.”
“That won’t be necessary,” she said with a smile. “Here’s a username, and as a guest, you won’t need a password.”
This kind of thing happens all the time. Fellow on a bike saw me and my family looking at a map in downtown Montreal; he stopped and asked if he could help. Young waitress offers more coffee; laughs when I ask why the grilled sandwiches on the menu are called “Pittsburgh Melts.”
“Oh, I dunno,” she said. “Owner is from there, I think.”
“Me too,” I said. “Tell him I said hello, and this is a nice surprise in a diner in East Windsor, Connecticut.” We both laugh again.
Which brings me to the most important truth of travel. You know what goes farther than any long-haul 777?
© 2013 Adam Barr