How Did We Get Here?

A friend of mine went to Europe and when he came back, we sat down for a chat. I asked him how his trip went and he told me the airport in Rome was a mess and his luggage had been lost in Athens. I then pressed him for details about Europe itself and he said in Germany they serve beer in enormous mugs that they call beer steins.

He sipped his beer, which on Broadway was served in a tall glass. Then he fell silent.

I surmised from this that, in trips to far off lands, two thirds of what people remember has to do with the planes, the trains, the buses and the taxis. They don’t remember much about London (it has famous stores, the world’s second greatest theater district, food that stray dogs refuse to eat and a fair amount of history) but everyone has a story about the London underground – and, guess what, folks, it’s usually the same story. (It was crowded, late, confusing and muggy.)

One friend of mine went to Paris. “How was Paris?” I asked, expecting to hear about life in a city sprinkled with renaissance art, populated with debonair men and where the simplest meal is to die for. “Didn’t you hear?” she replied. “My head got stuck in a closing door on the subway and my friend’s arm was stuck at the same time.”

“Kind of a Penny Marshall moment,” I suggested. That cut the conversation pretty short. I guess I don’t appreciate the subtleties of population control in France.

Besides, it’s true. Traveling is exciting, but it does take you out of your safety zone, which is presumably under your bed at home. Every step from that increases vulnerability. In London, a man on the lam is expected to feel safe – or safer – tucked into bed for the night at a hotel where the tea is hot the Benny Hill re-runs on the telly are in English. You are more vulnerable on the sidewalk and more vulnerable still in a taxi. You are more vulnerable if the cab driver speaks no English. Besides, trains overturn and planes represent, pardon the pun, the height of vulnerability. Buses – foughgetaboutit!

On the lam, you might want to do better than an English/Portuguese dictionary as your only defense system. You need comfortable shoes for museums, but you need cozy footwear for stretching out on a long train ride. You also need soundless sneakers for dashing away from mobs headed in your direction.

Anyone can travel with a whistle. While a cell phone has its advantages, a whistle is the universal non-violent defense system, especially in places where phone reception isn’t happening.

In some places, you need to plan for a quick exit. Did I mention sneakers?

If you’re running from the law, traveling light is a must. A lot of guys simply toss a couple of changes of clothes into whatever bag is handiest and then run for it. The problem with that is that ratty old bags are usually heavy. Worse, they’re more likely to break sending your stuff (including, possibly, your contraband) across the road, available for all too see.

This is why, as strange as it might sound, most people on the run find a way to invest in some pretty solid luggage. One of my friends told me that her Rimowa luggage not only held up well after a four (four!) legged flight home, everything in it remained intact—which is remarkable since she brought me home some beautiful glass souvenirs. Good luggage is less likely to be noticed in a crowd. It is also important that the luggage be durable. You might, after all, be traveling for quite a while.

The point is that traveling tests you. You’re streaming through some picturesque Swiss village and all you can think of is a drink or a toilet or 10 hours of sleep. You get by on bread and cheese, but your traveling companions wants five star hotels with saunas and room service. Your dignity can evaporate faster than you had ever imagined and it often does when you are worn down and the destination requires a few more miles to go.

Sure, life is a journey. Come home and compare your experiences on a bus in Malay to a bus in Jakarta. Or the bus down Broadway, now that I think about it.


A generation 'y'er from Ireland, living his dreams and convincing you to do the same. Traveling through more than 90 countries around the world and showing no signs of slowing down