To be a truly fascinating person, it seems, one must have come from Somewhere or gone Somewhere. Books are far more interesting when the writers have traveled to distant lands to learn important life lessons. The life lessons picked up after hours in a Best Buy parking lot, while valid and pertinent, are not so easily romanticized. Sunsets viewed from the window of TGI Friday’s are not as breathtaking as when viewed from the balcony of a hotel in Greece. Or so I assume. I’ve never been to Greece. Or anywhere else east of the Atlantic Ocean. I am not yet a fascinating person.
I could bemoan my lack of a jetsetting lifestyle. I could whine about not having the opportunity to take class trips abroad. I could shake a fist at my mother for not getting involved in a foreign exchange student program. Instead I’ll remind you (and myself) that international travel is not a given. Traveling overseas is still a privilege, a luxury afforded to those with expense accounts and independent wealth. It just seems a more tangible dream thanks to globalization, modern air travel and credit cards. It’s easy to forget that some people have never ventured farther than the neighbouring town.
Vacations should be fun and relaxing. I’ve seen brochures with blissed out people, scantily clad and frolicking about in glee. What the vacation brochures should show are late night scrambles to find empty motel rooms on a questionable stretch of interstate and hordes of cranky American tourists queued up for theme park rides. Family vacations were not the norm amongst the working class in Alabama. It was a big deal for the land-locked to visit the beaches in Fairhope or Gulf Shores. Extended families would load up a convoy for north Florida and squish into motel rooms, Spring Break-style. With no extended family to speak of, my mother and I were unable to put our CB radio slang to use. Through some of her work friends, my mother discovered the joy of cruising and we were soon international travelers.
I have been to the Bahamas five times. Now you’re wondering why I love the Bahamas so much that I would go there five times. I don’t. I haven’t found anything to love about the Bahamas. No offense to the tourism board and their attempts to make their country appealing to visitors. Granted, I have not been to the ritzier parts of the islands. My experience has been limited to Nassau’s Centreville, where the cruise ship passengers are dumped off and left to seek out parasailing and moped rentals. My travel companions could not be persuaded to explore the island beyond the dinky souvenir shops as we eked by the hair braiding pavilion. The desperate aggression that the islanders resort to for tourist dollars is sad and a little off-putting. I have been to the Bahamas so many times because those cruises were often cheaper and the right length of time to be trapped in the middle of open waters with cranky family members.
As a moderately intelligent, liberal, white American, I carry some guilt over not immersing myself in some form of international culture. I still haven’t learned a second language. I stuff my homemade quesadillas with pineapple and coconut. I put ketchup on my Kraft Dinner. I spend my toonies at Timmy’s for iced capps and double doubles. Wait a second…could Canada be considered a foreign culture?
To make up for my lack of exposure to true ethnic diversity, I now live in a cultural mosaic. Toronto is a prime example of what would happen if Epcot’s World Showcase were applied to the real world. Condensed cultures from various countries are contained to neighbourhoods throughout the city. We’ve got Little Italy, Greektown, Koreatown, and two Chinatowns. And none of them are in geographical relation to their national counterparts. Americans complain about Spanish infiltrating their conversational air space. In Toronto, dozens of accents and languages filter through the air. If you don’t like the language, walk five blocks and it’ll be something different.
With so many countries represented in Toronto, I’m hard-pressed to find reasons to travel abroad. I suppose I’d like to see the Irish countryside in person. From what I’ve seen in calendars, there are lots of kitty cat faces to smoosh in Greece. But does the beauty outweigh the inconvenience of the actual traveling? Just to take a two-hour flight from Toronto to Atlanta means getting to the airport two hours in advance, thanks to terrorism and threat-level orange. I would need to stay in a foreign country at least three weeks to make up for all the stress of travel. I would also require a wealthy benefactor and lively companion to fund the trip and make sure I didn’t get abducted by swarthy men in dark glasses who feast on the flesh of pale friendless ladies. Since I don’t anticipate the acquisition of a wealthy benefactor in the near future, I will settle for bubble tea, saganaki, and poutine while wandering the streets of my favourite city.