Fifty years ago I got my initial passport in anticipation of my first trip to Europe with my parents and brother over the Christmas holidays. Of course, I was already well on my way to qualify as a member of the Travelers’ Century Club with three countries on my personal list – the United States, Mexico and Canada!
This pocket-sized government document (along with my father’s TWA employee pass) would soon open up the world of travel and adventure and a pattern of life-long learning. I would add four more countries on that trip – Spain, Greece, Italy and Vatican City but just miss another due to a familiar foe – weather! Lisbon was fogged in and we could not land, depriving me of Portugal until three summers later.
I was a college freshman with a term paper due in my Art History class but my professor had allowed me to extend his December deadline until I returned since I had committed to doing a report on something I would experience first-hand on this trip. So, undecided on my topic but armed with my nearly two-inch thick, five and a half pound (yes, I just weighed it!) hardbound copy of H.W. Janson’s iconic History of Art, I regaled my family with an in-depth private tour of the museums, archeological sites and historic buildings of Madrid, Athens and Rome. I didn’t get paid for this gig but my “clients” did provide food and accommodations so I couldn’t complain!
When I returned, my professor invited me to show slides of my trip to him and a few other students. As I clicked through the photos, I included a running commentary on the various sites with all the important dates, personalities and history accompanying the locations. At the conclusion of the show, I informed him that I was planning to do my deferred report on Rome’s famous Pantheon and asked him how much time I had to complete it. “Oh,” he replied, “don’t worry; your ‘report’ was your presentation tonight…and you got an ‘A’.” Ah, the joys and benefits of travel!
But now, as I recall these early memories, I am panicked and feel powerless! Why?
I try to combat this anxiety with pleasant travel memories, recalling the next several summers
when my friends and I would travel to Europe, armed with Art Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day (yes, it was possible and we did it!), a Eurail Pass and Youth Hostel card. Anyone of a certain age who once had these experiences will remember the routine: hostel “chores” each morning, sleeping sheets, frantic food shopping before jumping on the slow all-day or overnight train, standing in line for mail at American Express, catching up on news from a copy of the International Herald-Tribune which a previous reader might have discarded somewhere and selectively photographing your memories with a constant reminder of how much each “shot” would cost in film and processing.
But, again, as I recall these later memories, I am still panicked and feel powerless. Why?
Compensating, once more, I remind myself of foreign travel as a young adult to more countries and more continents. Reaching beyond Europe to Asia, Africa, South America and far-flung islands. I remember unique adventures like soaring over Victoria Falls in a small airplane, sailing a felucca on the Nile, riding an elephant in Ceylon and a camel at the Great Pyramids, stopping at welcoming village fiestas on Guam, being the only “Westerner” partaking of a vegetarian meal at a Buddhist monastery on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island or even waiting three long nights in the transit hotel at the Abidjan airport without a visa while my business partner tried to replace his lost passport!
Yes, some amazing stories and unforgettable tales but I am still panicked, especially recalling this passport story. Why?
Finally, I calm myself with remarkable recollections of more recent travel. Yes, some of them were more relaxed – cruises to new Mediterranean ports and around Cape Horn while others would exhaust a youngster – exploring the Balkans by rail (no air conditioning in summer), nine ferries and 3500 car miles through Canada’s Maritime and Atlantic provinces or choking on dust in the open bed of a pick-up truck while racing through dry bamboo forests and avoiding dilapidated or missing bridges over dried-up ravines in remote western Cambodia.
Yet, one more time I am left inconsolable. Why?
Because, at this very moment, no more adventures can be added to my list. Have I run out of enthusiasm? No! Of good health? No! Of all my travel funds? No! The truth is, my fellow travelers … in one week, my passport will expire and I have not yet renewed it!
Trapped at home by the lack of that same little government document I first received fifty years ago, I will gladly pass the time by enjoying your stories, your adventures and your encounters at our next TCC luncheon program.
My two years as your president have been truly wonderful and an experience I treasure. We have celebrated our 60th anniversary, cruised with our international leadership team to Mexico, reinvigorated our Forum and launched our social media outreach. We have added new chapters, new members and…a few new countries to The List.
I thank our Chairman Klaus, our Centurian Editor Lorelli, my active fellow officers and directors, our dedicated chapter coordinators and each of you for sharing your stories as you have let me share mine these past eight issues.
May the sun never set on your travels and may rainbows beckon you on to new adventures. I’ll see you along the way … if I can only find that passport application!