Trip Tips for Coming Home

by Judith Fein

The worst part of travel isn’t the security checkpoints with prison-issue wands, puffs of air blowing in your face or gloved agents pawing through your belongings. It’s not the airline seats with their lumbar supports that spear your spine or the $2.25 you pay for a small bottle of filtered tap water at airport restaurants.  It’s not the jetlag—which can be so brutal that your left foot doesn’t know where your right foot is walking—or the suitcase that vanished with the travel clothes, gadgets and gear you have spent half a decade assembling.

The worst part of travel is actually coming home. One day you are in Peru, gaping at Machu Picchu or in Quebec City, learning about why the English and the French both coveted the area. Maybe you’ve been cycling in Italy, trekking in Nepal, cruising down the Nile in Egypt, or sauna hopping in Finland. The next day, you open the door to your digs and…chaos.

The answering machine is blinking, there are hundreds or thousands of emails, the snail mail spills over the edge of a huge tub and stares at you from the floor.  There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met, appointments to be kept. Your hair needs new highlights, your car is due for servicing, there’s a leak in your office, you forgot to send your sister-in-law a birthday gift. The exotic fades as you slip into the quotidian and start trouble-shooting, catching up, returning calls, and squirming in the dentist’s chair.  Hooray! You are home.

I have not yet figured out how to make homecoming a celebration.  But I have a few tips if you are as overwhelmed as I am when you step over your own welcome mat.

1) Even if you are committed to NOT being wired when you travel, try to check your email at least once before the big return.

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Living With What Is No Longer Mine

by Bethany Ball

While walking across the Mont Blanc Bridge in Geneva this spring, I saw a beautiful, chic young girl saunter by. The bridge, dividing the two centers of Geneva, is the perfect place for people watching. It's long and the walkway is narrow. The foot traffic is swift. Audis and BMWs and buses buzzed by, carrying bankers and watch executives from the old city to the new, or maybe to the Alps to rest and relax.

photo via Flickr by Jonathan ZiapourWhen I saw this girl walking past me, I had my usual response. Appreciation mixed with a little envy and curiosity: where did she get that gorgeous scarf and where could I find one just like it? Would I achieve the same affect if I wore the same clothes as she did? My son and my husband were tagging along behind, my husband trying to console my son who was crying. He was jet lagged and wanted to go back to the hotel where a magnificent box of Legos, bought as a gift by his grandfather, was waiting.

At the moment that I saw the beautiful girl, I was furious with my son. But the sight of her had buoyed up my sagging, jet lagged spirits and brought something else into focus: beauty and beautiful objects and youth. Perhaps it was because I was there with my son, now six years old. There was no pretending anymore that I could ever be as young and carefree as that girl. Or that any outfit I put on would transform me into youth. That world belonged to her now, not to me. My world was just behind me, dissolving in sniffles. I reached my hand out to my son and he ran and grabbed it gratefully. He was six years of my new reality, condensed in the form of an intelligent and sensitive young boy.

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Fresh Eyes

by Jules Older

When you live in a place, after awhile, you lose your fresh eyes.

© Jules Older. 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CAIt doesn't mean you're dumb or insensitive or unaware of your surroundings. Unless you work hard to correct it, sure as fog, sooner or later you're gonna misplace your awareness of what you see and smell, hear and taste on your way to work or walking home from school or going out for the Sunday paper.

Sometimes it’s actually a relief. As one travel-writer friend sighed about her blissful oblivion to her hometown surroundings, “Ah, the luxury of not seeing!”

But, ah the pleasures of seeing through fresh eyes. Everything is new, everything is fascinating. Every pungent smell from a Chinese grocery, every touch of salt spray on a beach, every clang of a cable-car bell and visual surprise of a public wall mural — they all capture your attention, alert you to what makes your new home different from the old place.

My old place is rural Vermont. More, it’s the coldest, snowiest, most isolated part of Vermont, the northern end of the three northern counties known collectively as the Northeast Kingdom. That’s where I've lived since 1986, that’s where I was a justice of the peace, that’s where I grew garlic and basil and tomatoes. Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom: where I've shoveled snow off the roof and cowshit out of the barn. The old place.

The new place is San Francisco. Yeah, I just moved here.

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Just Because You're Poor Doesn't Mean You Have to be Stupid

by Rachel Dickinson

My mother was always an intrepid traveler, which seemed odd because in other aspects of her life she is so passive. For her, I think getting in the car and heading out of our tiny village in Upstate New York was a way to escape poverty. With the windows open and the radio blaring and a cigarette propped between two fingers she'd begin the journey, which was often home to Washington, D.C.

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A Year On The Ground: Rail Riders

by Sallie Bingham

In the diner car somewhere in Georgia, Keith, the kindly, amused and amusing steward, explains the exigencies of Amtrak, under funded, according to Jimmie, the sleeping car porter, since its inception.

“Did they get rid of your chefs?” I ask Keith, having heard on an earlier east-west trip that chef losing had been one of Amtrak’s attempts at economy.

“Not our chefs but our chef’s helpers, the ones who used to make salads, things like that, and wash dishes, the same time they got rid of china and glasses and linen table clothes. Now we just wash the wine glasses and the knives and forks and throw everything else away—a big waste,” he adds, before I can comment on the vast bags of non-recycled trash the new system must produce.

I commiserate before going back to the dinner menu.

“I recommend the steak,” the big, brightly colored and adorned woman next to me says with authority. The steak is amply promoted on the menu, its description outclassing the chicken, pasta and seafood, so I order it and it is delicious, as well as free. Our first class tickets entitle us to three meals a day.

My seatmate is traveling from Miami to her home in New Jersey. She speaks with a familiar accent. When the roommate who refuses to bow to political correctness asks her if she’s from Mexico, she replies with a flash of pride, “Cuba”.

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Learning to Navigate Airport Security

by Andrea Gross

My four-year-old neighbor, a cute kid with the nicely old-fashioned name of Billy, knocks on my door. "Wanna see what Mommy gave me?"

"Sure," I say. (His mother is looking across the yard to make sure her child has safely navigated the few feet of space between our front doors. Can't be too careful these days.)

Billy is carrying a huge box, nearly as big as he is. He hands it to me, I wave to his mother, and we go into my living room.

He unpacks the box. "It catches 'terrists,'" he tells me. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature airport security check point station. I kid you not.

It has seven parts: a baggage x-ray machine, a people metal-detector, three plastic people, a rolling carry-on suitcase that fits in the x-ray machine, and a chair for the person who watches the suitcase in the x-ray machine. The people consist of the following: a traveler, a TSA agent, and a policeman with a gun.

The possibilities for creative play are obviously endless. Traveler tackles policeman. TSA agent gets trapped in metal detector. Policeman shoots x-ray machine. Child has nightmares.... (All people are white and male, but that's a discussion for another time.)

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