Growing up, surrounded by forest and birds of passage, I yearned to travel. I wanted to be a tourist, complete with both still and movie cameras. I dreamed of going to Alaska, of discovering a Polynesian island I could claim as my own, of being a world traveler with the multi-lingual ability to move easily in any culture. One day, some day, I would do it. Actually, to be a summer visitor with tennis rackets tossed casually in the back seat of a convertible would have been a thrilling adventure for me then.
Later, seeing the tunnel vision of most tourists, I redefined my objective : I wanted to live and work in a foreign country. As things turned out, I’ve lost track of the various places I’ve lived in over the years. I’ve spent most of my adult life as an expatriate. Interestingly enough, I was rarely a tourist. People will ask,
Oh, but when you were in Africa, why didn’t you go to Victoria Falls?
Because and because and because. Because learning how to function in the new city/culture/work place is exciting/frustrating/challenging enough. Because working six days a week and partying seven nights leaves precious little time for tourism. Because travel in many places without the protection of an organized tour is both expensive and dangerous. Because when you do have vacation time available, you want to go somewhere civilized and get your teeth fixed. Because and because and because.
And then I got married. Jean-Alfred was French and had been an expat in even more places than I had been, but he had never truly visited the United States. I had family in the States, an employer-furnished airline ticket to Europe could be extended across the Atlantic at little cost, and we had two 28-day vacations each year. We became tourists in America.
I have photos from that era. Photos of me sitting by hotel pools, of Jean-Alfred in fat-ass American rental automobiles, of Liberty Hall in Philadelphia and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Stuff that can be seen on any travel channel. I have memories of hours spent in airport bars, of explaining why I had no accent when I had a French passport, of being disappointed with the rain forest in Orlando’s Disney complex when I had experienced the real thing in Africa.
What did I learn/experience/treasure? None of the big stuff. Nothing I would go around the world for again. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Sure, why not? Everyone develops their own point of view.
I lived in Europe for a number of years. Sometimes I took organized tours to neighboring countries. I visited Venice several times, and what I remember best is sitting in St. Mark’s Square with a little old lady who was a member of the tour. She couldn’t keep up with the others, so I volunteered to baby sit her for an afternoon while the rest of the tour group did some exhaustive sightseeing. Looking back, that was a nice afternoon. Sitting at a bistro table in the sun with a ten dollar bottle of mineral water. Just like the real tourist I had always wanted to be.