Thursday, November 21, 2013

Never Been to Spain

I am applying for my first passport. I'm 34 years old.

I've never been outside of the United States.


"He had never even been to Canada! How is that possible? Even drunk, on a dare, you make it to Canada!" - Lewis Black, discussing that George W. Bush had never been outside of the country prior to being elected president.


This is not something I'm proud of. If I'm with a group of people, in fact, and the discussion turns to international travel, I either get quiet, or try to change the subject the next available opportunity. I'm ashamed of this, actually.

It's not that I've never had the desire, I've just never gotten around to it.


The discussion turned to international travel on our second date. We were a couple drinks in, at a bar waiting to watch my friend's band play.

She had been to London, Mexico, Dublin, Nicaragua. She tended to eschew the typical tourist locations, favoring a more authentic experience.

"What about you? Where have you been," she asked.

"Well, that's my dirty secret," I said. "I've never been out of the country."

I was afraid this would make me appear much less appealing, and kill my chances with her.

"Well, we can work on that," she said with a smile.


My family did not go on vacations when I was growing up; we rarely went outside twenty miles of our rural town in southern Illinois. My first trips outside of Carmi were church trips: An hour or two away to perform our Christmas show at another church. When I joined the youth group later, we would take summer trips to North Carolina, or Gulf Shores, Alabama, or to Kansas City, Kansas.

I remember being awkward on these trips for a variety reasons. One was, my family rarely went out to eat, not even to fast food places like the McDonalds or Dairy Queen in our town. So the first time the youth group went out of the city, and I sat down at a Cracker Barrel somewhere near Springfield, I stared at the menu and wasnt sure what to do.


Ironically, maybe, my favorite TV shows growing up were all about travel: Quantum Leap, Sliders, Star Trek: TNG.

Time travel, parallel world travel, space travel. Not realistic travel, but travel nonetheless.

These shows weren't enjoyable to me strictly for the content of their episodes. They unlocked my imagination in powerful ways. I fantasized about traveling to the past, to different versions to our world, through the stars to other worlds.


It occurred to me only some months ago that maybe the reason I enjoyed these shows so much - especially Quantum Leap - is that their heroes were people who were otherwise brilliant, but often awkwardly interacting with their surroundings because they were the proverbial fish out of water that didn't quite have a grasp of what was going on.

I often felt like the funny, smart, friendly person I felt like I was in private was frequently locked away in public, in situations where I apparently didn't understand the social rules. 


Let me be straight with you: This experience does not exist entirely in the past; I still sometimes feel this way. But I do feel like I'm now more akin to Sam Beckett from the latter seasons of Leap: I've gotten better at faking it.


The realization came to me some years ago that for someone who apparently loves the idea of traveling so much, and seeing strange new alien worlds, its unfortunate that I havent taken any opportunity to explore the amazing destinations of our own world.


Betsy and I had been planning for the last several months to go to Mexico, either sometime this fall, or in the spring of 2014. Then a couple of months ago, the airfares to Dublin, Ireland dipped low for trips in the spring. Travel sites started sending out e-mails. Betsy forwarded one to me in the afternoon, and we exchanged a few not-serious, wouldnt this be nice e-mails about it. But we got home from work that night, started drinking, started talking about it, and before we knew it, we had figured out a way we could make it work.

Before we booked the tickets, Betsy asked if I was sure about not going to Mexico, because I had seemed so excited about it. I told her, frankly, I had just been excited about getting out of the country, finally. Mexico would be nice, sure, but that it was kind of an easy destination. If we could go overseas for a comparable price, I would much prefer to do that.


I do have my fears about traveling outside of the country, being a fish out of water being awkward and potentially embarrassing myself somehow. But I cant imagine going another year and not getting outside of the states.


Im applying for my first passport. Im 34 years old.

I plan to get good use out of it. 

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