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Do I Need a Passport to Go There?

By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer

I used to love to travel. It wasn’t just the planning, anticipation or excitement of the unknown. The very act of stepping onto a plane and taking a huge sniff of jet fuel gave me happy shivers. Travel didn’t have to be by air. I was equally excited to fill a cooler with dollar-store snacks, go to the library for audio books and settle in for a long ride across the country.

Attitudes change. Maybe it’s because I am older, tired or simply cynical, but the very thought of venturing out and going somewhere new breaks me out in hives. Perhaps it is due to the fact that my two children, whose behavior is unpredictable at best, are capable of mithering each other like it’s an Olympic competition. Either way, my delight with traveling has been replaced by a dread of leaving the house.

In the olden days, I also did not have to arrive at the airport five days early simply to make sure that I could pass a security inspection. And when the fields were resplendent with dinosaurs, gas was cheap enough that a jaunt hither and yon was not an unreasonable financial burden. (Please don’t point out that gas and oil would not have been available in the Cretaceous period; I am choosing to ignore that. I am just pointing out that seeing other parts of the world was neither difficult nor expensive in days of yore.)

Many years ago, when I lived in rural North Carolina, I met a young man who could not understand what I was doing in his state. Not only did I hail from D.C. and was, therefore, a Northerner (although I was technically south of the Mason-Dixon line), but he could not think of any reason ever to get on a plane or leave one’s hometown. I tried to explain the joy, but I made no sense to him.

It was a fascinating conversation, albeit primarily one-sided because mostly he just stared at me as if he could perhaps better understand my motives with his laser-beam gaze than his ears. He could not grasp the desire to listen to a different language or experience a new culture or taste different foods. He didn’t understand my descriptions of clothes worn overseas or traditional music that may involve the Hawaiian ukulele or the Italian mandolin.

I was the polar opposite. I found it confusing to deny wanderlust and adventure because of some idea that travel is dangerous, arduous or unnecessary. Then, I had children. Spontaneously and joyfully experiencing the unknown became a hazy memory. I was convinced those days were over.

But then I joined a gym. Age, medications, poor coordination, sloth, gluttony, etc., have caused a mild increase in girth over time. Nothing terminal, but certainly distressing. So, in an attempt to slow the progression (of age) and improve flexibility, I actually paid money to an institution that has a goal of making me sweat.

Just a few miles down the road to being slimmer, I considered the distance remaining while working on a formula to evaluate my potential dedication to this gym. I looked at available child care and the hours of operation. What I failed to recognize was that I needed a Rosetta Stone course in “GYM.” It is no longer necessary to leave the country, state or even county to cross the threshold of a foreign land.

Those familiar with “GYM” speak the language with fluency. Phrases such as “circuit training” make me think I should have paid better attention in physics, but I am pretty sure that is not what they mean. Apparently  “reps” and “sets” are different, though I cannot figure out how.

Foods can be vegan, organic or both. Smoothies can be healthy, and Omega-something is important. Regardless, both television and “GYM” tell me that red meat should be ingested sparingly, if at all. The Midwest will be disappointed.

Electrolyte-laden fluids are available for half a paycheck, but I still can’t figure out the required clothing for this strange land. Some people wear tight, dark layers. Others don almost nothing, which forces me to look in their direction.

I clearly stand out as a tourist, toting my plastic water bottle, wearing Walmart shorts and reading the directions on the machines. I don’t own cool earbuds. I did figure out how to use the big earphones with my phone. I wish sunglasses were acceptable so I could stare at the natives and learn the culture without being obvious.

The only difference between my travel today and what I experienced years ago is age. I have learned, though, that there is a middle ground between the beliefs my friend in North Carolina held and the ones I espoused decades ago. First, you don’t have to go far to experience a new culture. I am thinking that next week I’ll try navigating a hospital as a patient.

Second, and most importantly, travel may be a fun adventure, but in the long run, there’s no place like home.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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