Culture / Travel

When Wanderlust Wanes

I came by my love of wanderlust innocently enough. One of my earliest memories involved Sunday drives into farm country, my parents explaining that we were driving toward the place where the sun set. I imagined a giant metal trivet upon which the sun rested. But I digress.

What began as leisure drives into the countryside west of Chicago evolved into drives across the country, including the South, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. On all of these family trips, we spent a lot of time on side roads, visiting historic sites, small towns, caves, vistas and little museums.

The first roadtrip I took on my own—to Alaska—followed the pattern my parents had imprinted on me. I rented a car and brought along a pup tent, taking roads that looked inviting and stopping in towns that I found interesting.

Travel to me was always about more than the destination, even if the ultimate destination was pretty fabulous.

I still suffer from an acute case of wanderlust. But these days and with our country the way it is, I think twice about traveling so freely.

I went to school in Mississippi for a few years and prior to that, my mom and I drove the Natchez Trace, wandered through small towns, and explored the countryside. The last time I visited the state was in 1990, and I’ve felt an urge to return.

But I’m not sure traveling there is such a good idea. When I’ve looked at small hotels and inns in that state and in neighboring Louisiana, I’ve had to wonder if my husband Scott and I would be welcome to wander in such places. As I contemplated making a reservation at an interesting antebellum mansion in Louisiana, I considered asking the owner if we would be welcome.

Ultimately, I decided that if I felt the need to ask, then maybe it wasn’t the place to vacation.

I know, I know. You can find hate and discrimination everywhere, even in northern and west coast states. But there’s no denying that the Fred Phelps and hate spewing homophobes of the world are more numerous—and perhaps even politically powerful—in certain parts of the country. And doesn’t it stand to reason that traveling to such spots is taking a risk? Then there’s the other issue, too, of whether gays ought to spend money in such spots, thereby providing economic support of such cultures.

Recently, I mentioned this to my friend Dave who suggested that perhaps it was just this sort of thinking that was creating an increasingly divided country. If we want to self-segregate and hang out only with people that are like us, then how will we ever get to know each other, and what hope is there then that we can get along and live together?

His suggestion stopped me in my tracks (well, truthfully, it stopped me mid-drink through a tasty glass of red wine.) Maybe spending time with those who despise and discriminate against us would help them to get to know us and thus realize that we’re not monsters, pedophiles or America-hating, Christ-burning communists. If they saw that we’re nice people, that we work hard, that we want to raise upstanding kids, and that we’re not so different from them, then maybe they would change their minds.

Another friend, Bob, thinks that mingling and making ourselves known is the very thing that’s changed our country’s view on gay marriage.

Well, both friends make good points. And so I’m thinking again of indulging my wanderlust.

But I’m still not sure about Mississippi.

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  1. Holly enichen says:

    I liked your travel story very much, Al. And I’m so glad you are getting such good advice from people like Bob Enichen. But when it comes to poximity to lions my advice would be to error on the side of safety and get the hell out!

  2. It’s true that visibility changes minds, and I am grateful to all those who pave the way and plan their travel itineraries without fear. But if I have to pack our marriage license and adoption papers instead of another pair of shoes, I choose shoes.

  3. Alan Shannon says:

    Great point, Deborah. I neglected to mention a consideration that might trump all others: children. When kids are involved, then it’s probably not advised to travel to unfriendly states and countries. I’ve read several stories about children being denied access to a hospitalized gay parent because they were vacationing in a Red State that doesn’t recognize gay marriage–or gays.

    @ Holly, please don’t blow my cover by revealing my poor decision-making vis-a-vis how close one can approach lions in the wild.

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