I’m back to making a large trip, though due to unfortunate timing and work schedules, this time without my beloved wife. One of my best friends had planned his wedding for just about the busiest time of the year for my wife, and sadly he won’t have his life revolve around ours. So it means that I’m writing this blog now sitting alone at the terminal at O’Hare.
regular facial expression without the wife
And after traveling so long with someone, it’s such an empty and lonely feeling traveling alone. Don’t get me wrong, traveling before I had got married was also lonely, and all these little feel-good books claiming that it isn’t are filled with lies.
There are different kinds of lonelinesses though, some can be positive, leading you along weird and exciting paths, and of course, some can be negative. Some can be the feeling of when you don’t have half of yourself present, that it’s just a ghost-limb operation of half of your body and soul and even when traveling is one of the more exciting prospects in your life, you want to be back at home and in bed with your loved one. Obviously, I’m not speaking about you, but rather about me.
waiting at the terminal
So finally, my readers are again subjected to one of my travels without my wife, not that I’m so prone to talk about personal things, but still.
Layovers are probably the most painful thing for me about air travel. You have to spend hours and hours stuck at a place with no purpose but idleness, a panopticon you're forced into, unable at all to leave without endless more hassle. Surrender comes. As it’s a prison, the best habits then are from prisoners.
Chicago O’Hare offers 30 minutes of free wifi per device. With my phone and tablet, that gave me an hour to kill on Facebook, reading the news, and listless swiping on social media. When that died, my next mission was to walk the complete length of the concourse, but very slowly. I mean at such a speed that it’s deliberate. I’ve read that prisoners in the gulag and elsewhere become masters of this sort of walking, since that was the only real entertainment they were given for years at a time. The gulag stroll.
not quite boarding
And luckily I found a bookstore. They’re not always around, and they don’t always have good things in them. But you can at least browse all those books you weren’t planning on buying but your friends told you to check out so you could “check your privilege” or whatever. That means scanning through any book with a Ta-nehisi Coates quote on the cover, or anything that said “feminist” or “feminism”. Just a brief browsing though, don’t want to waste too much time wasting time, because maybe there is a diamond in that rough of pencil scratchings.
We’ve been hosting an old friend and blogger, Terra, from a Spork in the Road–check it out, the blog is packed with a lot of great cooking tips. It’s her first time really and truly abroad and it’s been making me remember all those random things I’ve taken for granted. All those things that seem easy and done without thought today were, at some point in my life, quite difficult and stressful ordeals. It’s true that taking up the traveling life is not a necessarily easy thing.
There are lots of things out there written about traveling, and a lot of it is rubbish and nonsense and most of it is clickbait. I’ve hit this topic over again, partly covered in the trend I’ve discussed that I call “disaster porn”, when travelers or pretenders write about how awful and terrifying certain situations are, highlighting only all of the bad aspects, when it’s really simply not that bad. They want to do this to drive traffic maybe, or maybe just make themselves appear all that much more suave and heroic of people themselves.
I used to obsess about pickpockets over here. I had a cash belt that I was always carrying around, and I used to make sure that I kept portions of my cash in each of my socks, in the belt, and—I learned this one after some time—accessible so I could actually use it.
After never actually losing money to thieves but only losing it to sweaty balls and laundry runs, I realized that maybe a lot of the things I had assumed I should be paranoid about maybe I shouldn’t. I’m not saying to develop a complete aloofness—always maintain some situational awareness—but at the end of the day, if you’re something of a budget traveler and aren’t flashy, all likelihood is that you’re probably not going to be someone’s first choice target and you’ll get along alright.
For money, best advice is to always have some spending cash on you that’s easily accessible, in your front pocket, and in small denominations—lots of places around the globe tend to have chronic problems breaking any bill worth more than 50 dollars.
It’s hard first-time traveling. I’ll admit it. I was once a first timer. And the best thing that happened to me in introducing me to this life was my time in Peace Corps. Peace Corps holds your hand at the very beginning, does everything for you, and then slowly disengages you at almost your own pace. Then afterwards, you’re quite prepared to take the big dive into the real world, apart from Peace Corps, handling everything from foreign medical insurance, to taxes, to setting up shop and finding a job wherever you roam. And it is a skill you have to study and work at, to observe.
But the biggest skill I’ve found is abject humility. You have to accept help from others, you have to back down and understand that maybe you don’t know anything about life outside your comfort zone, outside the United States or Monrovia or wherever you've come from. That was my biggest struggle, and I think that’s everyone’s biggest struggle. The older you get, the harder it is to surrender, to ask for and receive help, and to be grateful and gracious. But just because it’s harder, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s always been one of my struggles, and it’s a struggle that I hope I’ve had some success with.
It might seem counterintuitive when traveling to unknown lands. But the biggest help is to trust in strangers. Understand not everyone is a thief, not everyone is out to dish you a piece of disaster porn. In fact, most people, deep down inside, wherever you are, are decent people. Maybe they’re not that good, or that bad, maybe they’re just busy and caught up in their own lives, but that doesn’t make them any less decent, and most strangers will aid each other at least in little ways, and a collection of little helpings equals one big one.
When I was walking away from the electronic customs computers at the airport, an old lady called out to me. “What am I doing here? I’ve never seen this.” I came back over. “Me too, it’s new to me, but let me help you.” And when you rely on the decency of others, it starts to transform you, hopefully into a more decent person yourself. And by all these “yous”, I mean, of course, me.