I looked at Cheryl in stunned silence.
They were just a few words, but they got my attention. “I don’t even know why I want to travel, anyway.”
My mind went into overdrive. Had I wasted $15 for the wrong domain for this blog? Was it to be NoPensionNoTravel.com? Would I have to travel alone? Was our whole retirement plan in ruins before we’d even retired?
The trouble was: I knew exactly what she meant.
This trip was to have been an experiment – a taste of our carefree travel-more, spend-less lifestyle. We were on the edge of the French Mediterranean in late April, ready to enjoy a weeklong bike-and-barge trip through sunny Provence. We’d packed for the near-tropical weather the region enjoyed two weeks before. Now it was seven degrees Celsius and a chill wind drove the rain through our light windbreakers. My audio guide for the medieval wall tour had just shorted out from the water running through it.
In the six days since we’d left home, we’d been singled out for random customs inspections, had our overseas ticket canceled during our connector flight, and had the bag with all our biking gear disappear at our transfer point at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Travel glitches notwithstanding, we’d made it to Barcelona prepared to make friends with the locals with our passable Castilian Spanish, only to find that the locals viewed Castilians a bit like imperial occupiers. And we hadn’t learned a word of Catalan.
We’d looked forward to getting to know our live-in AirBnB hostess, only to learn on meeting her that she’d lost her job and been forced to move in with her boyfriend and rent out the rest of her apartment to other travelers.
Having heard endless warnings about swarms of pickpockets, we’d wandered around the City of Gaudí with safety pins on all our zippers. The watchword was “situational awareness” – and at times, we’d felt like I Spy‘s Culp and Cosby, back to back with our guns pointed outwards. Despite our precautions, we ended our five days stay with a lot less money than we’d planned – although I’m sure the pickpockets got none of it.
The pickpockets probably stay home when it rains. “So should we,” I’d muttered as we dashed from the shelter of one overpriced Catalonian clothing store to another.
En route from Spain to France by bus and train, we’d paid a fortune for indifferent sandwiches at a gas-station pit-stop that could as well have been in Ohio, and almost missed our connection when the 501 irregular French verbs Cheryl had been studying for the past six months proved inadequate to the task of finding the right train to Aigues-Mortes.
Aigues-Mortes. Literally “dead waters”. Dead in the water is how we felt as we searched our tablet for the least depressing weather forecast for our upcoming week of cycling. The Provençal sun was missing in action.
A lot of things had gone missing. Missing flights, missing baggage, missing hosts, missing toilets. Even missing fiber from eating nothing but white bread. No wonder public toilets are so hard to find in France! No one needs them!
Most of all, we were missing someone to talk to besides each other. To talk to in a language we felt at home in, that is. A week of “Bonjour! Ça va? Il pleut beaucoup!” – or the Spanish equivalent – engenders a certain social isolation. I think that was the crux of the matter.
So why do we want to travel anyway? Are there things we need to do differently when we travel now? Is much-anticipated travel really going to be a big part of our upcoming retirement? These questions we pondered as we scoured the tourist shops for waterproof sweaters and gloves that hadn’t been displaced by high-priced French bikinis.
(To be continued…)