“What on Earth were you thinking?”

The irony of beginning a Travel bLog in the midst of a pandemic is not lost on me. In this ToC, (Time of Covid) travel for pleasure is a futile enterprise. Literally I’ve been stopped in my tracks (more actually in Virginia, on a tract of land a little less than a half an acre). I feel grateful for everything I have, to be where I am and appreciate having had the opportunity to travel more than ever.

Once, a long enough while ago, I sat in Iceland and lunched with another female traveler. “This is my 160th plus something country…” she began as envy made my head swim. I thought ‘Wow – what an amazing accomplishment!’ Iceland was my third country, I was just getting started, and woman’s stories about the places she’d been fascinated me, I took notes. Oh, I thought – the nomad life – with no ties and the freedom to go where one wished when one wished it.

Reality check: It’s entirely reasonable to believe I will not visit 160 plus countries in my lifetime…and the real me knows that’s going to have to be okay.

My daughter was ranked in her high school as the top tennis player on the girls’ team. Proud of her ranking we had serious problem. She loved tennis; turned out though she did not want to play in the number one spot! Not while the #1, #2 and #5 girls in the state – and very likely in the country – played in her division and all year, would be her opponents.

My daughter does a lot of things – and a lot of things well. So I told her, “While you were at band with your friends, #5 was on the tennis court. The years you spent on the cross-country team and working on the yearbook, #2 was on the tennis court. The years you spent on the forensics team, the debate team, at vacation Bible School, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, etc., etc., the year you were a Page for the House of Representatives, #1 was on the tennis court (in her backyard).” Our daughter set aside her pride and played with a champion-like attitude.

What more can you ask for as a parent but why do I mention it? Because it’s exactly what recalled after eating lunch with the #1 travel lady. For some time I’d desired visiting every country she’d called on. She inspired me to get busy and I mapped out all the interesting places in the world she’d seen and added my own. I envisioned heading out for a month, or two – or a year! My mother had traveled the world when my kids were little. Students study abroad, why couldn’t I just go live in some exotic place for a while? Iceland was cool (literally) I thought, I could stay there and see every inch of Iceland. Why didn’t I do just that?

Because raising a family is important, and I’m married to a pilot who went regularly around the world and my work kept me, well – where I was working and, and, and. Someone had to be home for the kids, stability is important. It was my honor to be there for my children but also I dreamed that once they were old enough, it would be my time to explore the world! When I did, I met my passion.

I love traveling, SO MUCH! Let me describe how much.

Recently I held a discussion with my five-year-old granddaughter. It’s beyond her to understand how her uncle’s dog appreciates being petted lightly – but don’t touch her ears or she’ll snarl, and limit it to one hug cause it’s enough, and so on, and so on into infinity. “Oooo, Gjee,” my darling girl cries out, “I love her…SO MUCH! I just want to…squeeze her!” Tell her to stop touching the dog when she ‘loves it SO MUCH’? What kind of a Gjee am I? A grandmother who knows exactly what it’s like; she gets it honest, this feeling of ‘loving things SO MUCH’. (One long ago Christmas in Texas I found myself hostess to five stray dogs.)

I can’t hug or squeeze travel, and if I did it might bite me back right now with Covid 19. But I certainly tried to squeeze in a lot of it after a late start, and just this year returned home from a trip in mid-February at the beginning of the pandemic.

I did not grow up in one place, and ironically thought kids who did were lucky. As a military brat I moved plenty around the United States, and indeed my family bound a truck and camper, ‘North to Alaska’ via the ALCAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway). But did I really consider traversing Canada as leaving my country? I was a little girl and it didn’t feel like it to me. There were a lot of trees, so maybe I just didn’t get a good view of Canada. I never got a passport stamp, and I’m not sure today if I had or needed one to enter Canada at the turn of the 70’s.

Subsequently as a military spouse, I moved plenty of times again – and moving is technically traveling, but not, you know…. traveling. And the word vacation for military families is cipher for trips to see grandma, (yet to be fair, did include a couple of trips to Florida).

So it’s fair to say I didn’t fully appreciate the traveling I was getting in while seeing my own country and continent; I had this yearning to go anywhere elsewhere, “Name the place, I’ll go!” My mother was corresponding from places world-wide, my husband exchanged flying military jets for cargo planes that took him on trips literally around the world. He’d head west-bound and deadhead home from Cologne, or zoom straight to Paris and drop in all over Asia and return via Anchorage. And then there were the boomerang trips where he’d go far-flung one way and return. From home base I carried on living vicariously through pieces of mail with foreign stamps and with an oh-so-bad-case of the ‘I want it SO MUCH’ feeling inside me growing.

It’s not hard then to imagine that I barely contained my joy when I applied for my first passport. I couldn’t stop smiling for my photo. And off I was! I was nineteen years married with high school-aged children before I ever flew from the shores of North America…all the way to Puerto Rico. (Which as we know does not require a U.S. passport.) But my plan was to launch from there and add up stamps on my passport in the Virgin Islands!

It was January 2002. A tough year for my nascent wanderlust to finally emerge from its’ cocoon. We almost didn’t go. And when we did, it was with new truisms; trepidation & the TSA. The fear of terrorism abounded throughout the travel industry. Thankfully my inaugural voyage went swimmingly, and incredibly I racked up several stamps on my newly minted passport. (Never mind how difficult it was for me to find the places that would comply and give me a stamp!) I learned passports are not always a necessity for those entering a country from a cruise ship. Hard fought for, my first stamp was a treasure – my at long last coveted souvenir.

I’ve mixed it up since then, a jaunt to Mexico (stamp), a few cruises, many solo sojourns to meet my spouse in an airport somewhere (stamp, stamp). My above-average-tennis-player daughter was one of those who did study abroad – in Spain – so (stamp) I had to go there! (I’ve been back to Spain several times because this daughter came home with not only a master’s degree, but also an MRS and eventually blessed me with the granddaughter who shares with me ‘I love it SO MUCH’.)

I’ve learned to travel on my own to places, to meet up with others and after accomplishing traveling alone have come to appreciate the aide of travel companies. I’ve been many times to Paris, have lately been exploring Africa and of course remember fondly my early trip to Iceland where I met the very kind and very lovely #1 travel lady. Stamps were adding up but I still felt I was just getting started.

And then came Covid 19 (don’t squeeze too hard).

The upside to being stationary again is that it has given me time to actually reflect on my travels, why ‘I love it SO MUCH,’ and what exactly propels one to leave ones’ home to go see things – what is that? To me, it feels dangerously like an ‘ism’; something that once you catch it, it’s hard to stop because you just can’t get enough. But seriously, as I ponder about all the things in the world I might not have a chance to see, I try to reexamine my own advice.

When #5 blogger’s photos of Bali beaches leave me bleary-eyed, I try to remember being on the bleachers at a baseball game (watching my son cover first). And when enticed by #2 travel trekker in Istanbul, I place value when I installed computer labs and once hauling my family cross-country in a rented RV to Indiana so my dying grandmother could meet her infant great-grandchild.  When I feel taunted by #1 tourist temptress’ time in Panama, I remember pre-school drop off’s and PTA prom planning, or preparing Power-Points for my job, or painting for pleasure or prompting public funding for the arts. All those things, in their time, took precedence.

My wayfarer fever has subsided long enough for me to acknowledge that for me travel is one of the many things ‘I love SO MUCH’. It’s no longer important how many countries I’ve been to, how many stamps I have. I’ve visited some countries for only a day before moving on. To say that I’ve stepped into those countries, snapped a photo and perhaps collected a stamp on my passport, does that mean I’ve really been there? In ToC I’m just grateful for having been anywhere at all.

When I am off seeing anything, all I really want to do is share it with the people I love. I send home countless postcards (which, mind you are NOT easy to find, let alone score a stamp and send!). I take a bazillion pictures to show my children and grandchildren, “This is what I saw and this is what I learned…are you listening?” I drag home food and spirit samples, regional cookbooks; and once home follow the recipes and share the food with friends (who knew I’d like pickled herring?). 

I’ve shared email addresses with my guides, sometimes people I’ve known for only an hour,  a practice that’s become a foundation for friendships that have now for lasted decades!  I invite people to visit me, in my country. One fortuitous parlay led to a visit from an Icelandic group and I was able to host, in my home, 26 musicians and dancers!

“What on Earth was I thinking by starting a bLog?” Well about this good earth, the people on it and how connected we are; especially when a hitch-hiking virus can affect us all. Traveling to see the world is important; I believe it’s helped me to understand more of it and I feel fortunate to have traveled my fair share. I’m thinking that using the knowledge I’ve come away with and how it’s reshaped my life is more important than my actual journey. I have found connections everywhere I’ve been – similarities with even the most dissimilar cultures to mine. I find like things or don’t like things, and I’m thinking about why that is.

I’ve found pictures are helpful and at the same time don’t do places justice – it’s really about the history of the country, the wars they’ve fought, how they’ve come to where they are now; it’s about the people you meet. I’m thinking I want to share these bits of history I’ve not known about before, I want to pass on new food favorite recipes that have changed my Mid-Western farmer’s-daughter kind of diet. By writing and sharing my photos and memories, I hope not to evoke anyone’s restlessness or discontent about the ability to travel or not travel, but to establish new understandings, help some prepare a visit, to spark a memory for someone (maybe without a camera) who was once where I was, but most importantly to form new connections and friendships. Time is precious, and there are so many things to do. Travel is but one thing to do, my Travel bLog is another thing.

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