I’m Leavin’ On a Jet Plane (Italy #1)

My black Travelpro 19” International Carry-on lies open and empty on the bed.

My wife packed her desert taupe Monos Carry On days ago.

In packing for this three-week trip to Italy, my wife has been intentional and precise, developing a colour palette, and carefully selecting tops, bottoms, and shoes that pack easily and can be mixed for a dazzling array of outfit combinations. She will look stunning every day. Curling iron, and toiletries, sit in their assigned place, nestled in packing cubes.

Usually, I am first off the line in terms of preparation. Not this time. And it is not because packing overwhelms me. In the end, my wardrobe consists of jeans, a pair of Tilley long trousers, 2 shirts with collars and 2 t-shirts. Throw in some underwear and socks, and my list is complete. The other half of my suitcase contains electronics - a CPAP machine, adapters for Italian outlets and cords to charge my phone, watch and tablet.

Something other than packing trauma nags.

For months, the word “Italy” blazed across the calendar; then, it was abruptly, unavoidably here. As a trained professional, I rationalized that more immediate, legitimate things required attention: sickness, financial setbacks, and family issues. Unintentional distraction.

Still, the departure day crept closer. 

Sobering to realize how much of life I have pretended not to know: weight gain, finances, health, and relationships. My mother-in-law tried many times to testify that growing old was not for the weak. My head acknowledged the possibility. After all, I could see it happening to my friends. But my heart and spirit proved more resistant.

The marketing of travel highlights consciousness-shifting results. Exploration, discovery, and horizons broadened to the breaking point. And, for the most part I have found truth here.

This time, however, my hunched shoulders and shuffling steps reveal a lack of enthusiasm.

Matters that once would merit five minutes of problem-solving now gallop through my peaceful slumber at 4:30 am. Covid restrictions, travel insurance, the cost, a sore foot and a dismal attitude prevail. I never used to spend time on the teeter-totter between “yes” and “no.”

Shame was enrolled. "You get to go to Italy! Do you know how many people would love the opportunity to visit Italy?" Arrangements had been made; airplanes were fuelled, accommodations booked, and cancellation dates passed. The moving walkway of life continued to roll. 

So what was the source of my resistance? 

A decline in physical strength resulting from ageing and the pandemic certainly contributed to diminished emotional and spiritual resiliency. 

Another part of my unease undoubtedly came from one of the advertised benefits of travel. The experience takes you out of your comfort zone. 

Why would I want to do that?

I like my comfort zone. I've worked for years, creating the illusion of safety and permanence.

No doubt, more anxiety than I care to acknowledge lies with the absence of the familiar. In particular, I miss the ability to communicate beyond the obvious. From previous experience, I know I can “get by” with English and a smattering of Italian - Marguerita pizza, panini, Coke Zero per favore, Grazie, and prego. 

I mourn most acutely the loss of humour. I rely upon quip and wit a great deal. Establish a quick connection through a shared joke or observation, turn of phrase or absurd comparison. Without this resource, I become just another tourist pointing at things and attempting to convey a version of the words offered up by Google translate. 

Somewhere in the night, I realize that I feel some disempowerment and loss of a strand of identity. And with those has there come a leak in my reservoir of confidence that I will be able to engage constructively with whatever may emerge?

The parallels to ageing feel unavoidable - the diminishment of physical capability, financial unpredictability, loss of comfort and familiarity, and diminished ways of being known and establishing relationships.

Such feelings may be part of this liminal stage of the journey. But I don't like them.


I'm leavin' on a jet plane

Don't know when I'll be back again

Oh babe, I hate to go

(John Denver on the album Rhymes & Reasons)

Do all liminal periods provoke questions of capability, unpredictability, discomfort and displacement or do these belong primarily to ageing?


  1. Keith! I’m so glad to see you. Perhaps my fb algorithm has blocked you because I haven’t seen one of your inspiring posts for some time. To your question, having just completed a 40 day trip in Europe and Morocco, I think age not only makes us feel more vulnerable because of diminishing strength, etc, but it also makes us more aware that we were vulnerable all along and just were blissfully ignoring the capriciousness of life and living

  2. Hmm.. I had to adjust to your personal references to aging .. But decade birthdays can be inventory times.. And naming an official entry into ageing ls certainly a leave behind, don’t know what’s coming experience, complicated by a great number of people who are happy to tell you what is coming, often as they try to sell you something for that..

    I wonder if traveling with its sense of the unknown, and removal of day to day ritual , with added communication challenges, heightens the experience of ambiguity and and disorientation of the liminal state. Maybe crowds out or diminishes curiosity and wonder

    Such interesting times we live in..

    1. I think you are correct that the ambiguity and anxiety of a liminal time make the pursuit of wonder a real choice

  3. I can agree with all that you say Keith. Is that why I am so happy just to stay on beautiful Vancouver Island?!
    However, your title immediately takes one into song , folk music, the magic of those early Hippy days where love and joy filled the soul. Friendships were made over shared experiences of music. Nothing else mattered.
    You will have this same feeling now – shared experience of travel as you meet folks along the way. This brings back those youthful days.
    Blessings on you both.

    1. Thanks Pearl. As you are probably well aware, the “experts” on retirement name the ability to be in community, aka have friends, as one of the most important “survival”/happiness skills in this stage of life. Singing all the way 🙂

      1. For sure ! It is a pity that your guitar couldn’t be part of your luggage. You and Gordon definitely bring joy and happiness with your music. The “sing for Joy” group really proves this.
        I like to be reminded that we can’t always be together with friends but that community can come in different forms. This is one of them.

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