On an Ambassadair trip to Athens, Greece, in 1987, one of the tour members suddenly got up from the breakfast table, saying he had to hurry to a class he was teaching that morning. After he left, his wife explained to the puzzled group that he had Alzheimer’s disease, which was diagnosed the year before his retirement in 1986. She said wistfully that they had saved their money so that they could travel after he retired from his job as a university professor in Bloomington. This was their first trip and probably his last. He had always wanted to visit Athens, but they agreed to delay travel until they felt they had sufficient time and money. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to us when we are making other plans.”
Newsweek reported the dying words of the former president of France, Francois Mitterrand: “We only know when it’s too late that the marvel is the passing moment.” To which I would humbly add: Now is the only time we have for sure. Now is the time to travel and to do the other things we have always wanted.
Partially because of the professor’s sad story, my wife Katrina and I now travel at every opportunity. In addition to the pure enjoyment, excitement and thrill of experiencing other places, cultures and people, we receive another benefit, as stated by Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to bigotry, ignorance and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
While traveling to 162 countries on all seven continents from Bhutan to Bosnia, Antarctica to Greenland and Serbia to Syria, we have had more than our share of interesting experiences: Being arrested in a train station by the police mafia in Kaliningrad, Russia; awakening in the Cairo Hilton when the bed started shaking from an earthquake; taking a risky overnight bus trip from Sarajevo to Kosovo. We were caught in the middle of gunfire between the police swat team and the French separatist terrorists in Ajaccio, Corsica, and we were questioned and almost not allowed on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in November 2001 because our passports contained stamps from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan from trips earlier that year. And we experienced a wild cab ride from the airport in BogotÃ¡, Colombia, to our hotel at 1 o’clock in the morning.
Much of what we’ve seen-and most of what I’ll write in this occasional column-isn’t material you’d find in guide books. The tour director in Tibet, for instance, explained that the “peace monument” we were looking at was erected to celebrate Tibet’s “liberation” by the Chinese. And you won’t read much about being on a small Russian ice breaker cutting through the frigid waters in Antarctica or being searched by AK-47 rifle-carrying Columbian police who wanted to know if we were carrying more than $10,000 while dogs sniffed our luggage. We feared for our lives when our pilot, who was making a third attempt to land at the airport in Asuncio, Paraguay, in bad weather, assured the passengers that “This landing is within the capabilities of the crew and equipment!”
But don’t ask me to name my favorite destination because we’re not through traveling. I would respond much as Frank Lloyd Wright did, at age 89, after completing the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, when a reporter asked him which of his buildings over the past half century he considered the best: “The next one!”
We find that travel never gets old or boring. No matter how far or often we travel, the thrill of adventure and discovery intensifies with each visit to a place we have never been. I look forward to sharing some of those experiences with you and, I hope, inspire you to experience your own adventures.
Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist and senior vice president of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column will appear in this space whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. The next one will be in the Oct. 29 issue. To comment on this column, send e-mail to email@example.com.