The Lost Innocence of Travel

After traveling to several countries alone in my late teens and early twenties – those golden times that my mother refers to as “The burning of the trust fund”, I found that I loved being lost in a foreign place with a water bottle, backpack and good shoes. No map, no itinerary, no cell phone, even. Looking back, and with two teenage daughters myself, I’m astounded and a little appalled that my mom actually let me run around Mexico alone, like my favorite travel writer Anthony Bourdain. Of course, he’s from Jersey, stands 2 feet taller than I, and runs with a posse of cameramen that would have his back if anything unsavory happened. I, on the other hand, was seriously alone. And loved every minute of it.

I’ve realized that as I’ve grown older, married, borne my daughters and become a professional serial entrepreneur, my problem has become one of “analysis paralysis”. I have literally stopped loving to travel. I mourn its apparent demise and like the good C.S.I. couch potato I’ve become, I must look back and try and see what caused its death. Let the autopsy begin.

Cause of Death #1: I thought I was pretty dang smart
Since my Great Grandmother was Cuban and taught me Spanish from an early age, I was fairly fluent and could really barter at marketplace mercados. I also grew up in a pretty sheltered place, so I didn’t have the street savvy that some might. Looking back, once I started reading the news and especially with the advent of the Internet, I actually heard about all the terrible things that could happen to people in foreign lands, like poor Natalie Holloway or that sweet child kidnapped recently from her hotel room. Oh, sure, bad things have always happened, but now we have a conduit for instant information 24/7, and you know the old saying, “If it Bleeds, it Leads”. I realize now that I wasn’t smart, I was lucky and it was a terrible realization that I took risks I shouldn’t have taken, getting into unmarked cabs, following a vendor to a back room to look at an onyx and marble chessboard, eating late at night and walking to and from the restaurant and the hotel.

Cause of Death #2: The 9/11 factor
I think we all suffer a little from this one. Seeing planes hit buildings over and over and over again didn’t desensitize us to the horror of it. When I was 6 years old I started taking the now defunct airlines PSA and Air Cal from Ontatio, California to Oakland, California on a regular basis. I was always so excited to get dressed up in my best dress, complete with hat and gloves of course, have the stewardess pin on some souvenir wings, peek inside the cockpit, smile at the crew and chat with my seatmates. Now I don’t look at my fellow passengers with the possibilities of interesting conversation, I look at ethnicity, with fear and trepidation – and I hate myself for it. I’m also sure that I would be yanked off any flight and jailed for trying to chat with the captain and peek in the cockpit.

Cause of Death #3: All those Cruise Line Stories
I am just so frustrated with people who can’t grasp the notion of being on a moving vessel in an ocean. Stop looking at the rail like a limbo stick! Sober up and stay on the ship, would you? I’m sure that all those people that paid good, hard earned dollars for the cruise are really bummed out having to circle the same water for three days looking for you. They have tourism dollars to spend in carefully laid traps on many islands! Which brings me to…

Cause of Death #4: Stupid, Stupid Tourists
I once went to Paris with two wonderful friends. One, like me, wanted to have an indigenous experience – local food, local flavor. One friend couldn’t get to Planet Hollywood fast enough for a Thai Chicken Salad. We lived in a city at the time that had a Planet Hollywood and I almost had a stroke when she insisted on it for dinner. Of course, I ordered the Croque-monsieur for dinner just so I could not break my travel rule of eating as the locals do, but it always frosted me a little bit that I had a dumb poster of Sylvester Stallone looming over me and our server was from our home town and had the thickest southern accent I’ve ever heard. Travel should be about getting away from what you know and learning about what you don’t. If you want the same thing, stay home!

Cause of Death #5: The Hassle Factor
Airports are seriously crowded and everyone’s crabby. I stood in three different lines at LAX for a sum total of three hours to catch a flight that used to take me 25 minutes from car to gate to seat. That’s just sad. I hate taking off my shoes because I don’t know where everyone else’s feet have been. And, I’ve been told; it’s rude to ask. They confiscated my seriously expensive face cream the last trip at the security checkpoint. I can’t take the $8 Starbucks coffee I just bought onto the plane anymore and they want to sell me the notoriously worst food possible, for twice the price I would have paid elsewhere? What kind of madness is this?

I think the investigation is complete. I think now that my loner travel backpack would contain all the stereotypical American “necessities”: Hand disinfectant, (lots of) bottled water, a satellite phone, GPS system, Google Maps loaded on my Palm Smartphone, headphones, my ipod, small containers of my expensive toiletries, and the addresses of all foreign Starbucks locations and yes, maybe even a gift card to Planet Hollywood.

Rest In Peace, Love of Travel. It was wondrous while it lasted and you were a good and interesting friend. Don’t tell my daughters I said this, but perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

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