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THE TRAVEL BUG WILL BITE
YOU IF YOU DON’T WATCH OUT

by Rose Madeline Mula

I was thirty years old when I took my first trip to Europe, and I did so with reluctance and misgivings.

I had never had any desire whatsoever to roam. I’m not sure why. Fear wasn’t stopping me. The word “terrorist” wasn’t yet part of the travel vocabulary in that innocent age, and the thought of flying intrigued rather than intimidated me. But it didn’t tempt me enough to want to leave the familiar, comfortable confines of home, so I kept turning down invitations to join friends with wanderlust — until I had a run-in with an impossible boss who drove me up the wall with unreasonable demands.

As his overworked and underpaid secretary, I never took coffee or lunch breaks, and I always toiled way past the closing bell (yes, I actually toiled and, yes, we actually had a bell), as well as on several weekends and holidays — all without extra compensation. I even typed his wife’s weekly nursery school association newsletters on my lunch hours. One day, goaded by his command to draw a school bus on one of said newsletters (despite my protests that I had no artistic ability), I perversely told him I’d like to take an extra two weeks’ vacation, without pay, that year to travel to Europe with my friend Sally who had been begging me to accompany her. My request was not unusual. Many others in the company, which had several overseas divisions, did this regularly. His immediate response (which I, of course, had anticipated) was, “Absolutely not. I can’t spare you.” “I understand,” I nodded, and then went directly to my cubicle and dialed Sally. “Make the reservations,” I said.

Thus began my long love affair with travel. I owe that boss big time. I forced myself to take my first trip to spite him, but I ended up loving every minute of it and making up for lost time since then by trekking to far-off lands whenever I had the chance.

It’s incredible how travel has changed since my first trip. Interminable, noisy, propeller- powered flights have been replaced by swift, quiet jets — with movies and music to make the time seem even shorter. Light-weight suitcases (with wheels!) have made our rigid, hefty luggage obsolete. Comfortable clothing has superseded the dresses, high-heels, nylon stockings — and girdles — which were de rigueur back then (at least for females). In one way, I miss the former formality that lent a touch of glamour to travel. However, I do not miss being pained, pinched and constricted from head to toe — not only during a transatlantic flight, but also after arrival while seeing the sights.

And I’m deliriously happy that those comfortable clothes are also carefree, thanks to fabric blends which resist creasing, even when crushed into a suitcase, and that dry wrinkle-free a couple of hours after being dunked in a bathroom sink. No more need to tote cumbersome electric current converters for those small, but heavy, travel irons we lugged and had to spend precious minutes using before we were able to go out and see the wonders of Paris … the grandeur of Rome … the cute surfer dudes on Waikiki…

Neither do I miss having to pack (and keep track of) a couple of dozen rolls of film and worrying about having my pictures destroyed by the security X-rays at airports. Today, an X-ray-proof miniscule memory card in my tiny digital camera captures hundreds of images. What’s more, I can see the results immediately on the camera’s LCD screen and re-shoot if an unexpected snag has sabotaged my first effort. This is so much better than being kept in suspense until I get home and have film developed only to find a close-up of my camera strap instead of a shot of the Eiffel Tower, the corner of a carabiniere’s wind-blown cape instead of that great shot I thought I had of the Pope, or my tour leader’s alpine hat obscuring the Matterhorn.

Another boon to modern travel is the ATM, which eliminates the necessity of carrying large amounts of currency — dollars, pesos, euros, yen — whatever the legal tender of the country you’re visiting. Pickpockets aren’t too happy about this, but you didn’t travel all that way to enrich their lives, did you?

Not all the changes are for the better, however. Take, for example, cell phones, laptops, Blackberries, and other communication devices. At first we might think they’re a boon because no matter how far we roam, they keep us in touch with our families, friends and business associates — which, come to think of it, is exactly why they’re a terrible idea. When you’re on vacation, do you really want to hear that your son flunked his finals (right after your $40,000 check for that year’s tuition cleared) … your daughter is thinking of moving in with that loser she’s been dating … the nursing home is threatening to expel your grandfather because he was streaking through the halls again … your company is downsizing and your job is on the line …? It was better before when the only way anyone from home could reach you was via a prohibitively expensive transoceanic phone call that was so static-ridden, you couldn’t understand a word.

There are exceptions, of course. My friend Jean recently went to Venice — a magical place her incapacitated grandmother had always dreamed of visiting some day. Jean couldn’t help her fulfill that fantasy, so she did the next best thing. While gliding along the Grand Canal in a gondola, she slipped her cell phone from her bag, dialed her grandmother, and asked the gondolier to serenade her. He happily obliged, and Granny was thrilled. “Even Pavarotti never sang O Sole Mio as beautifully,” she blubbered. “It’s almost as good as being there!”

Almost isn’t good enough for me. I still haven’t recovered from my decades-old bite of the travel bug. In fact, if it weren’t for financial concerns, I’d hop on the next jet to almost anywhere. Well, maybe hopping is out (bad knees), but I’d clamber aboard somehow.

I’ll be back in Capri tomorrow if I win the lottery tonight.

But first I have to buy a ticket.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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