Leaving on a Jet Plane

I was in university before I ever set foot on an airplane. At spring break, my roommate and I booked student standby seats (they were a thing once upon a time) and then tackled the difficult task of convincing our cost-conscious parents that the time saved more than made up for the difference between the plane and train. A 250-mile commuter flight it may have been, but it was our taste of being a world-class traveler set free in the big wide world.

Fast forward. The thrill of that first flight has never been equaled, but the freedom…oh, my. One of the opportunities my life has afforded, has been the chance to travel to places I never dreamed I could reach (especially given my perpetually lean bank account). China’s forbidden city. Savannahs in Africa. Beaches in Cuba. And my latest adventure…the highlights of Italy.

And I went solo. That was as scary as the first flight in terms of sheer daring. I’m not exactly a brave adventurer (even though I’d love to convince you I am), so I gave myself a safety net via a recommended tour company. The fear was not that I would be waylaid by bandits, but that I would be helpless in a strange country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know where anything was. Understand that I am completely okay with appearing like an idiot (I’ve looked that way many times before). My fear is primal – that I would be alone, utterly alone, among throngs of strangers.

But like most fears, the imagining was a thousand times worse than the reality. I chanted to myself to be brave, pasted a rictus smile on my face, and hauled my bag onto the plane.

When I arrived at the Venice airport, there was not a sign of the tour guide who was supposed to meet me. In panic I rooted through my bag trying to find some paperwork, any paperwork, that would indicate where I was supposed to meet the guide. Nothing.

So I looked around at the bustling crowds and strung out every curse I know, all the while trying frantically to decide how I would solve the emergency – some action more practical than whimpering in the corner or begging an airline to take me home.

Okay, the plan became dig out the name of the hotel, figure out how to phone there (I wasn’t sure my phone would work despite a new plan) and if I had to, smile and stumble around until I found someone who could speak enough English to point me toward local transportation…even if it was (gulp) a motorboat. I firmly discarded the secondary plan of calling one of my travel-savvy daughters and crying hysterically into the phone.

Okay, I got this…or I would have if the tour guide had not shown up at that moment. I was saved…and the tour was fabulous.

To back up a little, my husband and daughters traveled a lot. As assorted difficulties cropped up, we perforce adopted the philosophy that if you can solve it by throwing money at it, the situation is an inconvenience not a problem. One daughter on her way to Tunisia had her flights booked and rebooked and diverted to avoid storms, with the result that she arrived two days late; we phoned everyone in the universe trying to find a rescue for her when she arrived. But the person who had hired her to do research met every single plane that she might be on. Crisis averted.

When we went to China, the airline sent my clothes to Japan and it took three days for the suitcases to catch up. I’m not a thin little person and I literally couldn’t find clothes to fit me. A friendly fellow tourist loaned me one of her outfits. We became good friends. When two of my daughters were wandering around Africa, their plane left a day early (things like that happen in different cultures). They begged until they found a flight out that allowed them to connect to another flight that took them home.

So, let me point out that we were never cool, calm or sophisticated. There was even crying and cursing. But we made it home every time and had adventures to laugh about (later). I know that for some, the fears overshadow the longing for adventure, but should my opinion ever be asked, I’ll say every time, get on that jet plane. The world is waiting for you.