The travel bug is not simply a contagious virus that sends us packing our bags for one destination, infecting us, and sending us on a whirlwind tour of places unseen and cultures unheard. The bug carries with it benign side effects, none better than the chance to let the mind wonder while it wanders.
Consider the time factor. During a visit to the other side of the world, I embarked on a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney and never experienced the 23rd day of August, 2000. The most I recall of that Thursday some six years ago was sitting in a window seat marked 23C with empty plastic water glasses on the tray table in front of me. In my first encounter with the International Date Line, I woke a couple hours later staring below at white arches scattered across a tossing turquoise ocean before we met land. Countless hours before, I remembered seeing white arches of a wave’s crest at the start of the daylong crossing of the Pacific Ocean. I felt like I had not crawled an inch.
The physical transfer in travel can boggle the mind. So too can a new culture and the people that form it. A friend of mine who was traveling in Belize, a diving hotspot in Central America, came across a local man with dreadlocks wearing a wide-rimmed sombrero. With a strut and a classic Creole-accent, he introduced himself, “Hey man, I’m Happiness.” And my friend, accustomed to the more traditional greeting in which names are swapped rather than emotions, responded with a half-smirk, hesitant-smile, “Hi, I’m Christian.” (Not the religion, that happens to be my friend’s name.) The reggae man continued, “Hey man, if you’re sad…I’m just around the corner.” Mr. Happiness walked away from the bar and took his place where he promised, just around the corner.
Travel is an activity that keeps you guessing. A good man I know from northwest Uganda sat opposite me at the breakfast table one morning and began to reason that you have to have at least one vice in your life. “You have to have something to waste your money on,” he quipped, “or you wouldn’t work hard to make it.” My mind stumbled with this for a while until he put it clearly and not far off from my own culture’s habits. “We wouldn’t work hard if we didn’t have money to waste.”
Travel and the contagious bug issued as carry-on luggage, plays with time and characters. Even in temporary encounters, something as simple as an introduction strikes us, welcoming what it is to be happy. And that, we already know, is just around the corner.