I’ll be lucky to ever have two out of three ever in my life. I’ll always have to work to get serious-travel money. Work will eat up the time that I’d rather spend traveling.
My parents won the travel trifecta about 10 years ago. They spent the first 10 years of their retirement caring for Nana in her final years. They had money and health, but no time. When Nana left us, they finally had the means to explore the globe a little. They showed no interest, content to watch their Rick Steves DVD box set, but they were generous enough to send me and Paul, unaccompanied, on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate our civil union. I was surprised, because when I was a little kid, they took me on road trips all the time. Nothing exotic, but the White House, Colonial Williamsburg, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and Philadelphia in time for the Bicentennial celebrations. I was the first in my neighborhood to jet off to Disney World. Now, to them, nothing could compare to the simple pleasures of being home, feeding the birds.
Yesterday I made my weekly phone call to a friend of mine. He’s in his mid-80s, about my Mom’s age, but back in 2001, he was a healthy, active clergyman retiring from a late-in-life stint at a cathedral off Yale University’s campus, and his congregation sent him off with a ticket to Venice and Florence. A clergyman has a front-row seat into others’ lives, both happy and tragic. Mostly tragic. He seized the moment.
Not wishing to travel alone, he took me with him. I was overjoyed to finally see Italy, and we had a wonderful seven days marveling at cathedrals and relaxing in piazzas. Later that year, Guillain–Barré syndrome weakened his body and killed his self-confidence. His travel trifecta was brief, but today he still talks about how glad he is to have traveled when he could. I call him each Saturday to check in on his health and to chat a bit. He sounds tired and befuddled, but he is satisfied that his was a life well lived.
About 10 years before that, it was he who introduced me to the concept of leisure travel. He loved Key West, a place devoid of cathedrals and piazzas. And yet this highly cultured gentleman seemed to enjoy an annual pilgrimage. He persuaded me to go along, so wearing my green flannel shirt and a gray New England pallor, clutching some paperwork that I thought I could finish by the pool, I arrived at the Oasis guesthouse in the historic district. I never thought I’d take to this level of mindless hedonism. I was single and just 25 or 26, and a bit of a young fogey. It took an elderly Episcopalian priest, with a sense of formality that included traveling in a blue blazer and striped tie with his school colors, to show me how to relax “on holiday.” We appeared to be an odd pair, and I was flattered that some people seemed to assume I was “paid for,” and in a way I did received a payoff by way of a lesson in how to live. I soon traded the flannel for a pink tank top and tiny trunks and basked in the sun for a week. I never did get to that paperwork.
Now I’m older, and neither Key West nor the Oasis are the same anymore. I’m glad I could enjoy what I could when I did.
Soon, I’m traveling to Yucatán with my dad, who has lower-body Parkinson’s Disease and a weak heart, and a mom who’s prone to falling, which is not such a good thing considering her bone density. They have the time and money, and their doctor assures me that health is still good enough to travel. Just barely. Knock wood.
They’re curious about Yucatán now that I’ve been going on about it incessantly since 2011. Otherwise, they would be staying home. Maybe they’re grounded in a way I’m not, content to live their inner lives and inhabit their immediate world. A vacation spend lounging by the pool is not even in their realm of understanding. “I could do that at home,” I can hear them say.
I can tell you that even on trips that haven’t gone well, I’ve never felt homesick in my life, which is funny because I’m actually a homebody myself. My life alternates between long stretches barely leaving home with about six brief trips a year involving air travel. It would be ideal if those trips allowed me to settle at my destination for a month or two. Lots of people could do that, but it never seems to occur to them. They won the trifecta and never cashed in the ticket.