For me, travel isn’t about running my hands over the walls of the Taj Mahal or zip lining through a canopy of trees in Costa Rica.
It’s the people I have met and yet to meet. It’s the friendships that have yet to unfurl.
While flying from Detroit to Quebec to work on a travel guidebook, I befriended a four-year-old. I know. What could we possibly have in common?
Trick question. We both love pink and purple, paging through the SkyMall and making wide-eyed puppets out of paperbags.
She sat next to me for three hours on the plane as the mom had to sit with the other little one across the aisle.
She spoke both English and French. There’s nothing cuter than a child en route to bilingualism. Gold highlights shimmered in her bouncing curls. She had a list of questions for me: who was my favorite princess (Ariel), did I have a dog (yes), how old was I (31) how old was The Dog (6).
We paged through the SkyMall catalog and doodled. She preferred my butterflies with their long, looping antennas to my lilies. She scrawled a butterfly on my tattered reporter’s notebook and signed her initials. I still have it, somewhere among the books and other things stacked along the walls in my office.
When the flight landed, she walked with her mom through the tunnel. I thought that was it. I magnified the friendship, gave it significance, when it wasn’t mutual.
Then at the gate she turned to me, pushed the curls out of her round blue eyes and asked, “How long are you going to be here?”
“Oh, my mom says we’re here for three weeks. We prolly won’t sit next to each other again then.”
“Probably not.” I suck at lying. At this she looked close to tears. The feeling was mutual.
“Do you think the person I sit next to on the way back will be my friend too?” Friends. I live for the moment when a friend calls me a friend for the first time.
We shook hands. When the family moved on to connect with their other family members, the passenger sitting behind me turned to me, “You were very patient with that little girl.”
I wanted to say, no biggie we’re friends. And really, what did she expect? Should I have put my headphones on and glared at the mother for not being able to control her wonderfully willful little girl from across the aisle?
It’s true: a few turbulent moments used every ounce of my patience, but I am positive, somewhere in the friendship handbook, there’s the line: “be patient, forgiving, and kind.”
Travel with a purpose.
Lost friendships are one of the five regrets of the dying. I think not only of my old friends, the ones I’ve known forever, but the ones I’d never have met had I not moved to Seattle and then to Quebec.
I know somewhere along the path of life death waits for me, maybe crouched, maybe standing there with outstretched arms. I will collide with it and vaporize and won’t even have time to check a bag.
We think of tomorrow as a guarantee.
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, it’s only a day away.”
Until it isn’t.
This is why even though I hate flying, I want to see whatever pockets of the world I can reach. But it’s no longer about seeing the things; it’s about the people, the friendships, brief and long, waiting for me just beyond the terminal.
The cultures where I delight, not in our differences, but in our similarities. The more friends you make, the more you will be able to, in the words of John Lennon, “imagine there’s no countries.”
Travel’s greatest drawback
Never take just hanging out for granted.
The most painful part of going far and wide in search of yourself are the things you miss. Three years ago, a friend of mine passed away suddenly and I couldn’t go to her funeral because I lived in Seattle.
When I think of the last time I saw her, when we both swore we’d keep in touch, but didn’t, my heart shatters. I wanted to run to the place that knew me, the place we grew both grew up in because the memories are the strongest there. I wanted to be with her family, so familiar it feels like my family.
I couldn’t. But I could lean on my friends here.