On Travel

What does travel to do you? It changes your insides, yeah. But what does it do to my mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly, I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent, supremely competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh, painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers — all three of ’em. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not my insular, small town any longer: it’s the Nile, man, the Nile — and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.

Even the tyro film buff will know this writer stole and adapted the above from Ray Milland’s character, Don Birnam, in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. As a reminder for the uninitiated, the character spoke the lines above about alcohol because he was a hopeless dipsomaniac. He could as easily have been speaking of travel.

Like alcoholism, travel is an addiction. Like alcohol, travel alters reality–usually when one needs it the most. It resets the horizon, it cleans the pipes, it takes us out of ourselves. Travel changes us, or, at least, the experiences one encounters whilst traveling should.

The McDonald’s of travel, or the Wal-Mart of journeys, if you prefer, is, of course, modern-day cruising. Truly, these floating mega-resort liners have a place in the quest for The Great Distraction that many mistake for travel and seek today. True, this writer has even rather enjoyed several “voyages” on them, albeit a few short weekend jaunts and one grand trans-Atlantic crossing. However, these floating, sometimes neon-clad bars/casinos/hotels often fail to show us something fresh, something challenging, something different than the world with which we surround ourselves during most of the year. The beds, the food, the shopping, the simple sterility, the puerile entertainment, and the overly-efficient mass-production of it all speaks to a world and even a culture we already know well (even if the odd shore excursion is taken).

Some package holidays would also fall into this fast-food/mega-store category of travel, especially the “all-inclusive” trips that whisk you to some foreign shore where you never leave the compound and get blistered because, “I never burn at home, so I didn’t think I needed sunscreen,” all the while verbally bludgeoning the pool barkeep to, “Hit me again,” as he enables you to actually become Don Birnam. Offering little that is new to us, we can’t be surprised when we get home to find that there has been little that has changed in us. Then, we start to count the days until our next uninspired and uninspiring “vacation” because this past one left us so empty and, in fact, made us almost more emotionally and spiritually dead than when we left–which was why we took the damn vacay in the first place.

No, travel involves experiencing something there that we can’t get here, something a gentleperson cannot find at the local Walton’s Market or the nearby McMeat. Perhaps that something is the experience itself, but not in the usual sense, perhaps. A quick look at a thesaurus shows that many synonyms of the word experience explain what this writer means when discussing the benefits of travel, and they explain it far better than his words are doing now: Background, context, involvement, participation, reality, understanding, exposure, seasoning, forbearance, and even savior-faire and sophistication, if those types of things appeal to you. This is what experiential travel shows a gentleperson. And they are all things this writer finds he needs in his life.

That’s what true travel should do for one.

Carry on.

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