Up the down staircase

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 25 of the August 2021 issue.

Sometimes I happen across a title or phrase which sticks in my mind as though it is trying to convey a personal message. That happened while I was trying to think of a topic for this month’s column. When my mind free-floats in this manner, I typically just follow along to see where it leads. What began to play repeatedly this time was the phrase “up the down staircase.”

“Up the Down Staircase” is the title of a novel published in 1964 that was released as a film in 1967. However, I was free-flowing with these words in my own direction, relating it to coming back from the restrictive sheltering of COVID-19 lockdowns to begin exploring the world again. I’ll share where it led me, addressing all ITN readers but, in particular, my fellow US citizens.

Civility’s unexcused absence

For much of the period since the pandemic began in early 2020, many of us have been largely physically isolated from family and friends and the wide range of liberties that have always been a fortunate norm of life in our land.

All the while, the world above our shelters was continuing to change.

We now emerge to a world in which the last vestiges of innocence seem to have suffered an untimely demise, and events such as mass shootings have become a previously unimaginable norm.

Front and center is the truth that our diverse citizenry has always depended on certain minimum levels of physical and mental/emotional restraint to peacefully coexist. When this delicate truce breaks down, the chaos of modern-day societal divide ensues, often with disastrous results.

The desire to both hear and understand opposing points of view is commonly now treated as a weakness and not the strength it must be in a free society. Around the world, observers are asking, en masse, “What is happening in and to the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Upward and onward

Regardless of your level of concurrence with the above observations, you are likely at this point asking what any of this has to do with the subject of travel and, especially, getting back on the road after a long forbiddance. Well, I’m glad you asked!

Most readers would agree that when we travel to lands afar, we are ambassadors of our nation of residence.

My thesis is that, as travelers venturing back out into a, now, less innocent world, we carry with us a burden of increased travel-ambassador responsibility. When we travel from this point on, we need, more than ever before, to consistently display the best versions of our interested and caring selves.

When we do so, we are also presenting to all those we encounter the best ideals of the country we represent. We have the privileged opportunity to practice, in real life, kind and caring American values at a time when such national attributes are far too seldom on display for the world to see.

Since we all are capable of individual improvement, this is a time and chance for each of us to reinvent the best possible version of our traveler selves. By doing so, we can cast broad, positive shadows laced with optimism and fueled by gratitude.

Brew it. Do it

Following are just a few examples of improvable traveler characteristics and behaviors.

When on the road, we need to be travelers who vow not to sweat the small stuff, realizing that most issues — such as delays and inconveniences — are simply no big deal and may even provide unexpected opportunities.

Even if it is not your normal M.O., become a bastion of patience and flexibility, especially during trying circumstances, by modeling those two attributes to all you meet along the way.

Pre-trip destination research may not be your strong suit, but commit to learning more about the peoples, cultures, history and geography of the destinations you will be visiting. The increased knowledge will serve as confidence-building bedrock for enhancing your interactions with the local population. The more educated you are, the more you can seek out and take advantage of special exploration and other opportunities that might present themselves.

Simply put, the question is, “What can we each do to become an A+ version of our traveler selves?” The answer is to do more than before — in some cases, much more — and with passionate commitment.

Find and own what that is and means for you. Know that the model traveler within resides in a state of perpetual gratitude. Even after nearly 200 international trips, I absolutely know I can do better. How about you?

At this summary moment, I wish to invite each of you to join me in venturing up the down staircase to a world truly in need of the A+ version of your model traveler self. Accountability, in its many forms, is a gift of opportunity and indeed a beautiful thing.

Share your thoughts regarding the topic of this column by email. A future column may share some of the responses received.

Contact Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350, randykeck@yahoo.com.