Pat Stuart

Books and Columns

Travel:  That New Normal


by Pat Stuart

Living in Park County once meant … well, living in Park County.  We had our homes here, our employment here, our schools, recreation, and vacations here.  If we left at all, it was to visit relatives or find employment.  In the latter case, we returned for holidays.

Almost without our noticing it that way of life has shifted, and a new essential has been added to our lives—travel. 

With globalization, travel has become a new normal.  How often do you hear:  “Where are you going this winter/summer/spring/fall?”  Or, “Will you be in Florida/Paris/Portland/wherever over Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving?”  Then, there’s the biggest and broadest new normal of them all:  “We’re going to retire and travel.” 

Those types of plans point to the new normal; tell us that travel has become a key element in the life cycle.  Once, a child could expect to grow up, marry, work and raise a family, retire, and die.  Now, our youngsters look forward to growing up and travelling, working and raising a family and travelling, retiring and travelling and … .

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not knocking travel.  Nor am I being one of those old ladies who say, “Now, back in my day … .”  Absolutely, not.  Me?  I could hardly wait to start accumulating my frequent flyer miles (or would have if they’d had such things then).  Besides, without travel we’d have no tourism and, while our economy might not tank, it would seriously suffer.  We don’t want that. 

Absolutely, Let’s Go

So, no, I’m not suggesting we turn back the clock or call this aspect of globalization a bad thing.  By all means, we should retire and travel; should go to Florida to experience spring break or Paris for the spring shows. 

The key word is “experience.” 

We once said, “… see the world.”  But that was before the world came to us in the form of hundreds of wonderful documentaries that take us into the gold souks of New Delhi, the savannas of Kenya, the back alleys of Paris, and on and on.  In one hour of a good documentary, you can “see” more of any given area than you will ever “see” while you’re travelling and stuck on an itinerary being herded along by a tour guide.

Seeing in real life, though, has its advantages.  We nod and say “nice” when we see the Alps.  We have a hard time absorbing the height of the Himalayas—the horizon is simply not where our mountains lead us to think it should be.  We stare at Burmese temples and Egyptian mummies and saffron-robed monks.  We “oh” and “ah” over the architecture of Singapore and hold our purses tightly against our chests in the souks of Algiers.  Driving through African game parks, we wonder if there will be any large animals left when our grandchildren grow up, while in another game park in northern India we catch a glimpse of a real, live tiger—one of the few that survives now.

Was that sighting, which I had a few years back, worth a day that included having to bribe our way past a roadblock, freezing in an unheated hostel, suffering sore legs from hours standing around waiting for our very late guide (at least he did eventually appear), and pushing aside an inedible dinner?

But, Then …

I later watched a TV program featuring what was probably that very same tiger.  He was on screen, not as a flash of color but as a vital part of our world.  And I was at home where I was warm, comfortable, and munching on popcorn. 

Yet, even on a seeing tour in the hands of a guide, you can experience a lot–like defying death in a Cairene taxi, jumping open gutters flowing with sewage, breathing pollution so thick it shrouds the landmarks you’ve come to see.  Likewise, you can experience missing reservations, rude guides, dirty hotel sheets, squat toilets, canceled flights, sand storms, and the list goes on. 

If you don’t have a travel companion, it can be worse because there’s no one to blame but yourself when you find the high point of your day is watching from a tuk tuk (as I did one day) and cheering with a crowd as two trucks blocked the road trying to kill a snake with their tires.  Tricky that!

At least, it was something you wouldn’t experience at home … I don’t think.

All of the above aside, I love travel when it incorporates living and working or at least meaningful interaction with the local people, when the days are full of not just seeing but learning, when I can return home feeling I’ve accomplished something or racked up memorable moments to fill my notebook. 

Thankfully, it’s no longer necessary to work hard at developing meaningful travel plans.  The same globalization that added travel to our lives, gives us plenty of lovely possibilities, ones as simple to find as switching on a computer and asking Google. 

So Many Choices

Air B&B and other web sites, for example, connect us with local lodging and home owners from Bali to Brazil.  Specialized tours vie for our attention, promising to let us pursue a passion while experiencing unique cultures and unfamiliar environments.  Most of them deliver, too.  We can, for example, write in Tuscany; paint in Rome; dance in New Delhi; sail in the Bahamas; ride in Germany; worship in an Nepalese ashram, and the list goes on. 

Now that I think about it, of all the new normals, travel may be one of the best. 

Back to the Top


Ideas and words to provoke thought…