A vacation trip doesn’t begin with buying tickets or packing a suitcase. It starts with an idea. One moment, you’re the same old you. Going through the motions. Taking care of business. Living your life here in the Inland Northwest.
You know, the usual. Should I try drinking skim milk or stick with the 2 percent? Is that SRS light on the dashboard anything to worry about? What exactly is SRS anyway? Did I mail the Visa bill? Did she say she needed the whole report done by Tuesday or did she say she wanted a summary by then?
And so on.
Then it happens. Perhaps prompted by a passage of music or something on TV, a wide-screen picture appears in the theater of your mind.
It’s you. But you’re in Scotland, standing in front of what appears to be a castle. You’re wearing a sweater you don’t recognize and you are smiling.
You look happy. You aren’t thinking about dashboard lights or reports.
“I should go there,” you say to yourself. “Soon.”
And thus, your journey has begun.
Such moments can change a person.
Even if you subsequently learn that your house needs a new roof and find yourself letting out a sad, resigned budget-reality sigh.
But you know what? That time you spent thinking about museums and pubs was not wasted. It helped you lift your gaze above your routine. It gave you a chance to imagine.
And it reminded you that you are not defined by the mundane.
Sure, you spend a lot of time nagging your kids to pick stuff up and thinking that the refrigerator shelves need cleaning. But your data banks also include see-the-future visions of you strolling through those unbelievably non-junky little towns you admired while watching the Tour de France on TV.
They say that travel is broadening. Well, so is thinking about travel.
OK, I need to make a distinction here. I’m not talking about fleeting daydreams.
There’s nothing wrong with those, of course. Where would we be without them?
But to derive the outlook-expanding benefits of theoretical vacations, I think you need to be at least half-serious about your intention to rent a cottage on Prince Edward Island or tour 16 Civil War battle sites in five days.
When you actually start considering costs, itineraries and pet-sitter options, the what-if train starts to pull out of the station. Next stop: “Maybe we really could swing this.”
Then something else happens. Once, say, Montreal or Thailand is on your radar, you start learning about your destination. A lot of that is the result of intentional research. You know, picking up travel books, scanning Web sites, et cetera.
Whether you ever actually go or not, you can wind up knowing a fair amount about ferry connections in Greece or what London bars to avoid when Arsenal is playing West Ham.
Something else takes place as well. Without making any sort of conscious effort, you start absorbing news and information about, say, Belgium or Brazil.
Sure, there were stories in the paper before about the language/cultural schism threatening the nation’s future or about the scrape-off of the rain forest. Now, though, you really soak them up.
All right, nobody would suggest that tourist guides, novels and Jason Bourne movies are a substitute for true, in-person travel. They aren’t.
There’s nothing like meeting real people and wondering if they are ripping you off in the currency exchange.
All I’m saying is that the mulled-over desire to visit Machu Picchu or Alaska can be a catalyst for changing how you see yourself.
Others might view you as Bob or Karen Humdrum. “Never been past Tum Tum.”
But they can’t see your dreams.
Maybe they don’t know that, someday, when you have the time and money, you are going to tour the great cathedrals or visit your great-grandparents’ hometown in Norway.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Some people who talk about trips they would like to take are never going to follow through. Perhaps they will not be able to afford it. Or maybe their honest opinion is that travel is mostly about missed flights, lost luggage, bungled reservations and bad guys plotting to blow up the plane.
Still, that’s not everyone.
For some, the desire to take that dream trip is sincere.
They’ve been whetting their appetite for ages. It is not a belief in the pleasures of delayed gratification that has kept them home. It’s just that something always seems to get in the way.
One year, it was an illness in the family. Then, another time, both cars died at the same time and the healthy bank account suddenly caught a cold.
Maybe that has been you.
Well, I’m here to tell you, your anticipation has not been for naught.
When the idea of going somewhere really becomes an invisible dimension of who you are, you walk around with it. It becomes a part of your world – a realm that’s much bigger than dear old Spokane.
It’s possible, after all, to hear bagpipes in silence.
And who knows? Maybe the stars will align in your favor one day.
You’ll step off a plane and a sparkling young woman holding brochures will greet your tired-but-excited family, “Welcome to Scotland.”
Her accent will make you smile.
“Thanks,” you’ll say. “I’ve been on my way for a long time.”