Aren’t there some trips you just don’t want to take?
“Reckless O soul, exploring,” urged Walt Whitman. “For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared go. And we will risk the ship, ourselves, and all.” My mother, who never left the East Coast, had that line scribbled on an index card and Scotch-taped to our fridge. Inspired by her, my older brother traveled around the world alone when he was 26 with a backpack and barely enough money to get him from one youth hostel to another.
Differently inspired, I’ve always liked staying home.
Not that I don’t go places. For example, I’ve taught myself, through therapy and the application of prescribed pharmaceuticals, how to get on planes. I actually have a note from my doctor saying, in effect, “Please allow Ms. Barreca to board early so that she can sit down, shut up and not go into the kind of hysterics that have been known to lower the price of publicly traded airline stock.”
Still, I’ve flown to Perth, Australia, to give a conference keynote speech, which is as far as you can go from my house and stay on the planet. But that’s only because I figure it’s not fair for me to tell others, “Face your fears! But me, I’m taking the bus.”
Some travel companies offer a subset of trips best summed up as “Off to See the Foreigners!” or “Peering at Poverty from a Safe Distance.” These permit rich folks to travel safely and conveniently through miserable areas to witness poor people forge souvenir art and dance in costumes harking back to 1910 (when they were still quaint) or to visit schoolchildren who recite folk ballads by rote. Although the tourists might believe they are educating themselves about changing global politics, what they are actually doing is inoculating themselves against emerging cultures.
But at least these excursions have an ostensible purpose. Many don’t.
It’s easy to imagine trips I wouldn’t take. “Bus Stations At Night: A Walking Tour” or “The Ancient Treasures of Des Moines” wouldn’t have much appeal. But then neither would “A Culinary Exploration of Regional Airport Food Courts.” The promise of “Swimming with Krill” wouldn’t get me out of the house and neither would “The Cul-de-Sacs of Antiquity.” “Haunted Junior High Gymnasiums” might bring back memories, but not good ones.
These are the trips that can be described as life’s anti-goals. Amanda Mitchell’s nightmare vacation would be having to stay at tacky Trump hotel properties and another pal suggested that touring the Betsy DeVos Library would probably be extremely painful, albeit mighty quick. “Any cruise in a ship that holds thousands,” says my friend Gina Rarick, “is a bad idea. I was stupid enough to try it once. Won’t fall for that again. Never go to a party you can’t leave.”
While it’s hard for me to go on uncomfortable jaunts just for fun, my husband loves traveling to exotic places and dreams of adventures even more marvelous. This is one reason Michael often travels with his less nervous friends. Last year, he went to Alaska for a month to camp with an old pal. They took ferries, encountered grizzly bears and flew in tiny planes over icy tundra.
I wasn’t jealous. “Get a look at that tundra!” is not a phrase I have ever hoped to say. Looking at photographs after he returned, however, was dandy.
Planning his next excursion, Michael has recently been looking through a huge paper publication, which unfolds itself to the size of an 16th-century broadside, and contains an extensive list of upcoming voyages. He read aloud some of the more curious options, including one that boasted, “fishing for piranha in the Amazon” after travelers have “walked the jungle.”
“You’d pay for this?” I asked. He looked at me askance.
I envy those with bolder souls than my own. “See the pyramids along the Nile,” I can say to Michael, “But remember, all the while, you belong to me. Also remember, all the while, where you put the bug spray, bandages and Epi-Pen.”
Our personal maps of experience are not constructed by where we can stick a pin on a map but by what has struck our imagination. Bon voyage. Stay away from haunted junior highs.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books.