Travel is my passion.
Over the decades, I often haven't had the right combo of time and money to make it happen. In the last years, I've stepped it up a notch. Finally getting back to it after damn near 30 years. Making plans. Trying to keep it at the top of my list.
I recently received a brochure in the mail for Viking River Cruises. I've never been a fan of guided travel myself, preferring to book a flight, find a room, rent a car and have an adventure with my husband.
But I've always wanted to help my mother fulfill her desire to travel. She'll be 72 this year, and hasn't been out of the country save the occasional pops across the border to Canada and one trip to Mexico. My dad hasn't been that keen on going anywhere, and I don't want Mom to miss out.
Mom had happened to get the same brochure in the mail, and thought it sounded like a lovely idea. Mom and me, sharing a stateroom on cruise up the Rhine. All meals included. Tours off the boat. Sounded perfect for us.
But I'm a problem child when it comes to planning. I'm never satisfied with the first idea. Are there other river cruise companies? Would we like their itineraries better? How good are their reviews? How do the costs compare? What are the extra charges? The answers were yes, mixed, widely variable, and extensive.
Then I decided to look into other travel - senior travel - with a bit of a slower pace for Mom. I discovered Road Scholar. They're a non-profit, offering (to paraphrase their own description) "educational adventures." The trips they plan cover the planet and accommodate all activity levels. From cooking classes in Tuscany, to hiking through the outback, to a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi. Even my dad might be interested in one of these. Mom agreed.
Our son, since reaching adulthood, lives for travel. It was his adventure bug that led to our trip to Rome. Since then, he's gone to France, Belgium and Mexico (Guadalajara) on his own. Next up, Ireland and England. My mom worries, of course, but also thrills at his trips - living vicariously through them.
"I went on Google Maps!" she exclaimed. This is a big step up in web exploration for her. "I checked out Guadalajara. I know where all the hospitals are." Uh-oh. A word of caution? "And then I found the airport, and the lake he's going to. And I went down to street level and looked at everything. It's so NICE! I'm so excited for him!"
Then came the turn in the conversation.
"You know, though, there are plenty of wonderful places in our own country to see."
I'd heard this before. Each time my husband, our son or daughter, or I talked about traveling outside of the U.S.
Mom and Dad are both religiously and politically conservative. Dad more so than Mom. Patriotism, American values and the ardent belief that no matter what, we live in the best country on earth. They watch far too much Faux News. Our little clan (my husband, son, daughter and me) are on the liberal side politically, not religious, and have world views that would give my dad angina. As you can imagine - we tread lightly when discussing religion and politics over the holidays.
Mostly its fear. Fear of terrorists. Fear of the other. Fear of just being outside their comfort zone. Fear, I think, that what they hold to be unquestionably true about life in the U.S., just isn't true when held up to the light of day. And perhaps a little fear they may... actually... like it.
So, for Mom, I backtrack - a little.
"Take a look at the site. See what appeals to you. You and I will make plans. Maybe Dad'll find something that appeals, too? You and I can still take a trip abroad. Just you and me."
I hear her hesitate.
"I'd love that. I really would. Tuscany sounds nice."
"It is, Mom."
Cautious hope creeps into her voice.
"And maybe your father would like to do one of these ones in the states. Maybe it would get him wanting to travel again. So we can see something before we can't go places any more. We're not getting any younger."
"I know, Mom."
And it was that conversation that helped me prepare my answer for the next time she says, "there are plenty of wonderful places in our own country to see." It's not an answer she'll like. It'll scare her. But the truth is sometimes scary.
She's right, of course. There are many wonderful places in the U.S. I want to see - but they'll wait - and here's why.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. For years, I've been incredibly fortunate. I can walk. My energy is good most days. I have little to no restrictions on my every day life. But I know that it can change with no notice. I could lose my ability to walk, to see, to talk, to think. It's much more difficult to travel the world with those kinds of disabilities than it would be to travel domestically.
Last year my husband was treated for cancer. Yes, so far so good on his follow-ups - and we hope that will continue. Our daughter had major surgery, too. We ended up canceling travel plans for recovery. You never know what will happen to change your life and what may stop you in your tracks.
I want to hike Hadrian's Wall. I want to wander Florence. I want taste wine in Germany and drink Guinness in Ireland. I want to see the wide world while I can. I may never lose the ability - but then again, I may.
I'm racing against M.S. Mom is racing against age. I don't want those things to get in the way for either of us. Right now we're good. Let's see the world while we can.