Lessons from an anxious traveler

June 12, 2022

When I was a child, I once got separated from my mother in a shopping mall. Instead of panicking, I sat down on the carpet in front of a display of color televisions and waited.

Her advice, “Don’t go off with strangers,” was foremost in my mind, yet everyone around me was a stranger. I finally stood up and looked for a nice stranger. Just as I was about to approach her, my mother appeared.

What lesson did I learn then? What lesson did I take with me to Paris and Spain last week? I got lost more than I want to admit and was surprised at how my instinct was to panic. Where was the positive attitude I wrote about in one of my recent columns?

Before embarking on this trip, I knew that I would be alone part of the time in Paris. I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, aware that I have long struggled with any reasonable sense of direction.

Much of my anxiety before travel was because I had tested positive with COVID two weeks prior to the departure. I had recovered, quarantined, but knew that I needed to a negative COVID test to re-enter the United States.

At the same time, I wanted to stand in awe of the architecture and grandeur of Paris, longed to see my family in Spain, and to feel a part of my daughter’s life and play with my granddaughter Zoe.

Also, I looked forward to practicing my classroom French despite the fact that 40 years ago, I had felt like a failure when trying to learn the new language.

After two years in high school with a sweet, petite Parisienne who romanticized the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysée, followed by two more years in college, I was failing French.

I hated the language lab, the endless hours listening to tapes, unable to grasp specific words because they were spoken so fast. My sophomore year, I went to the teacher and told her I must drop her class.

Her face aghast, she spluttered, “No, you cannot! The entire faculty looks forward to lunch when we read your essays, which make us laugh! Let’s change the course to pass or non-pass so it doesn’t affect your grade point average.” Her face brightened at the plan. “I promise I will pass you!”

How should I feel? Embarrassed? Flattered? Well, my writing got their attention! In addition to my inability to conjugate a verb or use the infinitive, I was highly entertaining.

Twenty years later I would obtain a third degree as a certified teacher of English as a second language. I spoke so slowly with the beginners that my fellow teachers teased me, but my program was highly successful. My students succeeded in part because I had once failed. I gave them confidence and strategies and time.

So what strategies did I employ in Paris? I said “Bonjour” and “Merci beaucoup” to every clerk and waiter. I tried to speak French. I set up a long-distance plan on my cellphone, so I could use GPS and type in the name of my hotel or my daughter’s school, and it would speak English to me. “Turn right in 370 feet.” How comforting the familiar sound was!

The dot on the phone became me. It was me. When the dot veered off the path, I steered the dot (which was me) back onto the right path, except sometimes I went around the roundabouts two, maybe three times.

I was forced to apply my own advice about keeping positive. It is a grand accomplishment to try something new and to trust in your own abilities to solve a problem.

When I got that negative COVID test result 90 minutes before takeoff, sailed through security, stood at the correct gate in the right terminal, I had an epiphany! Lisa, you much prefer to travel with someone you love. When you get home, strive to be more appreciative of those loved ones, and never take for granted the comforts of your own home.


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