LESSONS LEARNED FROM A SEAT BELT
My first trip beyond the borders of Canada was to Florida. The year was 1995 and I was going to Disney World. One week at Disney was about as awesome of a trip as a 10-year-old could wish for. As soon as I found out my old man and I were going, I started saving my money. At 10, I wasn’t really bringing in the big bucks but I did what I could to make sure my piggy bank stayed brimming. I scraped up every bit of loose change that found its way between the couch cushions and every dollar from the tooth fairy was tallied and add to my hoard. Each penny I passed on the street was diligently collected, and every few bucks I made doing chores was saved. Come our departure I had a few hundred bucks to blow at the most Magical Place on Earth.¹
¹ Magical for those privileged enough to visit. Disney is significantly less magical for the kids in sweatshops making all that merch we buy, or for the underpaid and overworked employees sweltering in ridiculous, oversized costumes all day.
What stands out in my mind now, some twenty years later, isn’t any of the main attractions from that trip. It isn’t the sudden plunge of Splash Mountain or the sickening spins of that stupid teacup ride. It isn’t even the delicious (and overpriced) beer nuts you could buy every twenty paces at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. And no, it isn’t even the JAWS ride, though that shit was epic and terrifying. The part of that trip that stands out in my mind the most, the memory that is supremely vivid and profound, is the automatic seat belt from our rental car. Seriously. Sure, spending quality time with my dad was great, and something I’ll cherish til the end of my days…but those seat belts! Our car was a Saturn, a company that doesn’t exist anymore no doubt because those seat belt contraptions were terribly impractical but that’s beside the point. The point is, this car had a seat belt that automatically slid up and down whenever I entered the vehicle. Open the door and the little motor buzzed to life, chugging along a track to allow me to sit down. Close the door, and it would reverse and lock me safely into my chair. I was in awe, truly, every time I entered the vehicle. The future was happening, then and there, and it was mesmerizing. Outside of the ten minute drive to and from Disney World an automatic seat belt was probably an unwieldy contraption but for 10-year-old me it was the most incredible thing. God Bless America, etc.
Looking back, I think that story sums up the reason why I – and many other people – travel. More often than not, the best things we discover are rarely what we planned and almost never what we expect. I’m sure that very reason keeps a lot of people from traveling, for who wants unexpected headaches and the insecurity of serendipity when they can have the tyrannical comfort and pseudo-security of a well-oiled, modern-day routine? Don’t get me wrong, I love it when things go smoothly; when a plan is seamlessly executed without a hitch is an amazing feeling. But over the years I’ve learned to fall in love with chaos. Because that’s what life is. It’s a big, chaotic mess chock full of weird and fun and terrible experiences that mold and shape us in more ways than we can ever comprehend. Being alive is ridiculous, plain and simple. There really is no rhyme or reason to it, and that visceral ridiculousness is forever amplified on the road. Travelling, backpacking, vagabonding, whatevering – it’s there where you will discover the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. You will see beauty and tragedy, poverty and affluence all ebbing and flowing as you wander this wide world of ours. Most of that stuff you will never even see coming. No matter how much you plan, how much you prepare, you will inevitably encounter situations that drop an emotional roundhouse straight to the feels. I suppose that’s why I still travel: I have come to love and appreciate the value of being blindsided by the overwhelmingness of being alive. Call me old-fashioned.
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Chris is the less-attractive half the backpacking couple from Lessons Learned Abroad. Straight edge, vegan, Buddhist, and balding, he is presently roaming the globe on a budget with his partner Christine in search of adventure, vegan snacks, and the art of being human. For backpacking advice, calamitous tales, and philosophical reflections on the world of travel you can check our their blog or find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.