BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (Aug. 20, 2016) - My wife and I have embarked on a 40-plus city, six-continent world tour as part of our one-year retirement, and inside of 24 hours of departure we received multiple reminders that we have no idea what we are doing.
I spent months planning an itinerary, reading travel blogs, and soliciting advice from friends and travel experts for this around-the-world journey. I developed a multi-tabbed spreadsheet with what I thought was every conceivable major element to plan for the trip. I went through multiple checklists and countdowns, informed from my research. After just 12 hours of a one-year journey, my wife and I were staring down the barrel of these facts:
My wife lost her iPhone within an hour of departure, in the middle of a “Flight of the Bumblebee”-inspired moving and packing spree. I would put losing a smartphone somewhere between losing a pet and losing one’s virginity on the scale of personal loss. There was panic, profanity, confusion, tears, and finally acceptance within the course of about 15 minutes, because that’s all the time we had available, as we had to rush for the airport.
I forgot sunscreen. We were going to be in Costa Rica, the Virgin Islands, and Ecuador in the next three weeks. Good grief, the last one has “equator” in the name, for crying out loud! We extensively planned a trip to spend extended periods of time under the equatorial sun and sunscreen apparently didn’t make the cut under “important items to pack.” I know, travel experts say you can always buy sundries when you need them, but I had planned to go golfing within 16 hours of departure. This was a bush-league mistake.
I packed my bag for a year’s travel in five minutes, about three minutes before walking out the door. Not how I envisioned that going. Two weeks before, I had conducted a “test pack” to see what size of bag I’d need. We had purchased a few different types of bags, intending to return the others. Over the busy final week we kept pushing back our luggage decision to the eleventh hour. By the time we finally decided we both liked the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, it was departure day. We had no car (sold ours at CarMax the night before) and found ourselves borrowing a car to get the correct bags. My wife had already packed the first bag, and although I had put everything aside ready for packing, by the time we’d made the run for the second bag, we were minutes from departure. I maniacally threw everything into the bag while my wife was going through the stages of smartphone loss grief. It reminded me of the great Seinfeld scene where Elaine woke up late for an airport run.
Before departing on our first of 40-plus flights, my wife inadvertently threw away her boarding pass. We had to go get another one printed. At this point I started to empathize with those eastern European immigrant families I sometimes see in the airport who are clearly on their first airplane flight: They walk in a tight formation for safety, the grandma is wearing a babushka, and they’ve packed a giant trunk that may or may not include a live chicken. They have this continual look of fear and confusion. You look at them and immediately feel compassion as they seem utterly overwhelmed at the task of airport travel that most of us find routine. I looked around and thought I saw some travelers giving us that same look.
Those fantastic noise-canceling headphones we bought each other for our birthdays since we’d be on so many airplane flights? Oh yes, we brought them. Didn’t forget those beauties. At Washington National, as we buckled into the first of 40-plus plane flights over the next year, we both realized we left them in our checked bags. Perfect.
There’s nothing like absentmindedness to make you realize you are not fully prepared for the journey ahead – that you are basically a toddler stumbling around the floor of a stock exchange, completely incapable of completing even the simplest tasks, much less the expert maneuvers of a seasoned traveler. At least I can say that we’ve got ample time to get our traveling act together. We’ll look back on this day as a healthy wake-up call. If we don’t, I might be back in the working world sooner than I'd planned. At least there I don't have to remember to bring sunscreen.