This I Believe

Mary - Glen Gardner, New Jersey
Entered on June 19, 2006

I believe travel is seriously over-rated. I marvel at television images of lottery winners as they excitedly proclaim their vacation hopes; envious not for their windfall, but for the normalcy of their plans.

I am hard pressed to explain this pathology. As a child I have no memories of being abandoned at a rest stop. I had the typical childhood vacations…Luray Caverns; the Catskills; Niagara Falls; all without incident. My parents argued equally on vacation as they did at home.

Nor can I blame it on the TV exposes of pathogens on hotel toilet seats or body fluids dried into blankets. My travel angst is not the fear of missed connections or lost passports or even terrorism.

My reluctance is dual-edged…odd anxieties mingle dangerously with a aching penchant for my home. It is a parasitic self-feeding relationship. Case in point…timing…. leaving home is difficult in leaf season and snow season (who would rake and plow?) and near painful in the more seasonal weather (when the coneflowers are in bloom and the afternoon sun enters the windows at a particularly delightful angle).

Neuroses are partially to blame. Marriage to a man equally obsessive has not helped. He worries about frozen pipes and ant infestations. I imagine letters from the IRS accumulating in the mailbox. I call home every three days to a neighbor looking after our home for reassurance that the water heater hasn’t exploded and lightning has not felled any of the giant oaks in the front yard. I am too embarrassed to ask about the IRS.

So mix this angst with love of hearth and home; then toss with a big dose of performance anxiety….the fear of “not getting it quite right”. “You didn’t get to Muir Woods when you were in San Francisco?’ I am asked. The person smiles in mild surprise; and I see I am less in her eyes. “Bu t we did see the Japanese Tea Gardens and the Palace of the Fine Arts” , I am quick to add. No matter; the damage is done.

Oh, to be a carefree and casual traveler. Instead, my heart is heavy with longing, for both the security of routine and an abundant contentment of house and home. I have gazed at the gardens of the Newport mansions and longed for my yard. I have slept in a Vermont country inn and missed my bed. And I have returned from Herrods; not with clothes or jewelry but with a porcelain teapot for my curio cabinet.

It is not that I don’t try. My magazine rack is filled with thick packets from “Elder Hostel” and “Overseas Adventure Travel.” I cut out articles from the Sunday travel section about driving tours of New Zealand. I nod in uneasy agreement to friends’ urging to try the bike and barge tour of Holland. I am tempted, and sometimes, I do go. But mostly I don’t.

Ah, to be like the man in the commercial for the discount travel chain; the one who randomly throws a dart that lands on the map of a Nordic country and then proclaims he should pack a sweater. Such casual nonchalance, such enviable élan. Instead, I am Dorothy, back from Oz, stoutly insisting that her heart’s desire is no further from her own backyard.

But I do know this much is true: If the best thing about traveling is coming home, then you likely don’t need a subscription to Conde Nast. And if the second best reason is just to say that you’ve been there; then you’re traveling for all the wrong reasons. For me, for now, the place that heads “One Thousand Places To See Before You Die” is the back porch surveying my own field of dreams with a glass of Merlot in hand. Priceless.