We like to travel, exploring new places, meeting new people, and discovering more about the world we live in. It’s especially rewarding in retirement because we have time to be tourists in ways we seldom had before. The popular and famous places all over the globe are popular and famous because, for the most part, they’re worthy of being seen and experienced. We’re doing our best to do just that. So friends find it a little odd when they ask if we’ve been there or seen that, and we haven’t, at least not yet, because they know our adult lives have been spent on the road and in the air all over the place. But it was a different kind of travel, a different kind of tourism, and in some ways just as interesting.
My wife can speak for herself about the places she’s been and experiences she’s had. As for me, for nearly fifty years I observed, visited, and paid attention to the way people live, work, and hope. One way or another I’ve been through all fifty states, and a good part of Canada, generally bypassing popular tourist and cultural sites, unless I had a spare day. Being a tourist was crammed into an hour or two of free time eked out of a busy schedule. Like many others, I joked that I was more familiar with airports, motels, and meeting rooms than anything else.
It was the price paid to spend serious time examining, up close, big cities, small towns, huge corporations, factories, local stores, farms, ranches, forests, rivers, mines, and all the other miscellany of everyday life that drives the life we live, connecting us to each other. With them came hours of conversation with community and business leaders, workers and top executives, and politicians of every stripe. From them I learned about their worries, hopes, and dreams for themselves, their businesses, and the communities they lived in.
Recent articles have asserted that we live too much in bubbles that separate us from one another, limiting our ability to understand one another. Maybe, but I’m reminded of a public television series called “Connections” hosted by James Burke. It was popular in the late 1970s, and popped up again in the ‘90s. Each episode explored the webs that connect us to history and each other. Whatever bubbles we’re in, they are linked to all the other bubbles out there in the most amazingly intimate ways, so maybe they’re not bubbles at all. In any case, my work-a-day version of travel was a constant learning experience about the connections that bind our lives together, for good and for ill. They form an incredible organism, never still, always changing, resistant to our planning, command and control.
It’s not that we can’t plan or should’t; planning is essential. But the best and most well executed plans can do little more than influence modest course corrections we hope will be beneficial in the long run. We delude ourselves if we think it can be more than that. But I digress. This is about travel and tourism, and maybe connections.
That phase of my life of travel ended some time ago, but what an adventure it was, leaning about so many things in so many places among so many people. Now we get to be more ordinary tourists, wandering about, mouths agape, looking here, poking there, taking photos, following guides, and visiting places we used to fly over or drive by. National Parks, scenic rivers, off shore islands, they’re all on the list of places seen, and places yet to be seen. A jungle lodge in Costa Rica, the museums of London, villages in Tuscany, rounding Cape Horn, and Gaudi’s amazing architecture have delighted us beyond measure. China and Southeast Asia have called to us, and we have answered. The Great Barrier Reef, Tasmania, and the fjords of New Zealand await.
What makes it even richer is that I’m never anywhere that I don’t see and experience the connections that tie us together organically, wonderfully and intimately. It may not have happened had it not been for all those years traveling to communities, meeting with companies, working with leaders to plan as we were able for a future life. So here’s to travel and tourism. As Rick Steve’s always says, “Keep on traveling.”