CHARLOTTE, NC, October 28, 2018 – Someone once wrote that “Travel is travail,” and to a certain extent he or she was correct. Travel done properly is hard work by any measure. Travel not done right can be a nightmare. Combined with the added elements of moving around the globe with a disability like ALS can be frightening. Nonetheless, it should not deter you when you consider the rewards of completing a successful journey.
Traveling when you can
For more than 25 years, my former business partner was the east coast PR rep for now-defunct Pan American World Airways. Nobody loved to fly more than the employees of Pan Am and none of those folks enjoyed travel more than my partner.
One weekend, when the airline announced it was ceasing its round the world service, he picked up his kids at school, drove to the airport and circumnavigated the globe. It was a jet-lag nightmare, but it was also a once-in-a-lifetime never-to-be-repeated experience.
Imagine show-and-tell on Monday when the teacher asked students for a report on their weekend and my partner’s kids casually said, “We flew around the world!”
The biggest thing I learned from my partner, however, was his personal philosophy that
“if you have a compatible, friendly group of travelers,
you will never have a bad travel experience.”
Traveling back to Normandy
Over the years he demonstrated that philosophy time and again, but I never truly realized how prophetic and poignant his words were until I returned from a recent trip to Normandy’s World Wars I & II memorials. I have been to Normandy on many occasions. Each time I have discovered something new and learned something more about myself.
However, I knew little of the “Great War” from 1914 to 1918.
The combination of those two historic events are of such magnitude it is almost impossible to comprehend that mankind can be reduced to such savagery, and has, apparently, still failed to learn the lessons of the past.
Yet, amid the reflective moments of visiting those sites, I also learned about compassion, caring, the human spirit and love from a group of friends I have known for years that somehow serendipitously reunited to share those precious venues together.
A group of friends finding new memories
There were 13 people in our group; seven were former high school classmates who reunited after five decades of separation to experience and share together what were once little more than classroom textbook lessons, the other four were longtime friends with similar passions for travel as my own.
We were an eclectic group; college professors, nurses, sportswriters, businessmen, teachers, and entrepreneurs. But the common denominator was a caring for our fellow man and a desire to discover more about the realities of the history that preceded us. A history that was a living memory for our own parents.
Disability travel is still travel
Europe is not designed for disabled travelers. Tour companies, airlines, cruise lines, and hotels have, and are, adapting more and more to allow curious handicapped travelers to explore the world with as much comfort as possible. Once on the scene, however, you will find steps, cobblestones, uneven ground and other unanticipated hazards that can make the effort seem daunting at first.
Then incorporate my former partner’s philosophy about compatible, caring travel-mates and the rewards will blossom as never before.
During the 12 days of our World War adventures, I subliminally evolved into a new phase of ALS disability. That’s the way ALS works, one-day things are one way and the next they are another. It’s a topsy-turvy existence that happened overnight during the course of our trip.
In the end, however, it became a blessing, for what I, and my dedicated care-giving wife, learned is that compassion truly exists, even in places so horribly scarred by historical treachery.
Awareness leading to Random Acts of Kindness
To a person, my traveling companions voluntarily took turns pushing my ALS necessary wheelchair across bumpy streets, curbs and uneven ground. The group would also assist me at meal time so my wife could also enjoy the pleasures of our trip. Believe it or not, in some cases, even assisting in getting to the restroom to avoid any international inter-continent incontinent incidents.
These random acts of kindness and compassion ultimately brought new meaning to the closeness of our group. Through unanticipated random acts of kindness, we bonded as the “dirty baker’s dozen” in ways that left an individually indelible mark on each of us.
The four outside members of our “team” immediately blended with my former classmates and quickly became honorary alumni. My sense is that they are proud to be included in our group. They, as I have secretly known for half a century, become a part of something intangibly larger.
Back to our past future
Our principal during the 60’s was a man named D.K. Pittman whose words of wisdom have long been remembered by each member of our class. He often would say:
“Remember who you are and where you are from.”
Mr. Pittman would have been proud, for my traveling partners, indeed, did remember and lived those words for 12 magical days in the October sunshine of northern Europe where the world once clashed for the first part of the 20th century.
My business partner had it right. Travel may, indeed, be travail, but only when you fail to do it properly. As one sign on a monument in Belgium pointed out,
“It is true that you only live once, but if you do it right, once is all you need.”
Thank you, my friends, fellow alums and traveling companions. You did it right.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up