I thought I knew all the benefits of travel but a recent trip to England introduced me to one I had yet to consider, travel as an act of faith. In its theological meaning, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
When I said good-bye to my checked baggage in Boston, the substance of my hope was simply that we would meet again in London the next morning. Between now and then, both of us would travel on the same two airplanes, my wife and I in a pressurized cabin, our baggage out of sight in the luggage compartment.
We would land in New York City and then board our plane for London seven hours later. Not having to claim our luggage at the New York airport would give us time and the freedom to explore lower Manhattan. When we returned, we could check in more quickly and not have to handle our bags until we touched down on English soil. The process, like our two suitcases, would remain unseen except through the eyes of our faith in the system.
I had hoped for this kind of arrangement but was prepared to be told that we would have to claim and then re-check our luggage in New York. The attendant in Boston knew the drill and, before I could ask my first question, she tied destination tags marked “London” to each bag. Would you like the flight number for the New York to London leg of our journey, I asked. Just so they know which plane we’ll be on so they can put our bags on the same plane. Not necessary, she said. It’s all right here.
Right where, I wondered, but then quickly decided it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t understand anyway. It must have something to do with special codes and computers talking to the cloud about our luggage. Although I had no evidence for the credibility of the agent or the reliability of the system she served, I believed her. Perhaps this was because she was offering something I wanted very much, the gifts of time and unfettered mobility. Or maybe it was the assurance she radiated through her quick, efficient movements and friendly manner.
It all happened as promised and my faith was rewarded by the substance of my hopes, two wheeled suitcases waiting beside the baggage carousel. An airport worker must have pulled them off the conveyer belt while we were still waiting in an hour-long customs line.
The trip had started well and the smooth beginning filled me with hope and faith that it would continue that way. Outside of my usual routine where things seemed to happen automatically, I was beginning to notice how much I depended on people and systems to perform as expected, how much I relied on faith that others would see to the details that enabled me to focus on my goals.
The first of these details to come to my attention in London was my phone, specifically, how to make it work an ocean away from the people I wanted or needed to communicate with while I was away.
Before leaving home, I purchased an international calling plan that provided talking time, text messages and data. The plan came with an email explaining how to configure the phone’s settings to enable these features and I had faith that it would all work as advertised if I followed the directions.
It was all pretty straightforward until I came to the part about turning off a feature that I couldn’t find on the phone. My wife suggested a visit to an Apple store that happened to be near our hotel. Since this was the company that manufactured and sold the phone, we reasoned that they would be in the best position to find the elusive widget.
The salesperson was pleasant and sympathetic but, after a few attempts to solve our problem, she remained as puzzled as we were. She finally suggested we consult with a British phone service provider where a young man casually handled our phone, slid a few buttons to the on or off position, and pronounced us wired and good to go.
And we were, in a fashion. There were still a few glitches but most of them were fixed after calling the help desk of our U.S. provider where a series of pleasant and knowledgeable people gave us conflicting instructions until the phone worked well enough.
Two days into our vacation and I was acutely aware that I was running on faith, faith in products, services, people, and in our own ability to meet the challenges that are always waiting to surprise even the best prepared traveler.
Disappearing bus stops, double charging travel cards, tube train doors that don’t open when they sense a passenger caught in their grip, all of these and more are no match for the person who travels with faith.
Sometimes our faith turns out to be misplaced but, even then, other more reliable objects of faith can change the course of a bad day. I am grateful to the good people at the Apple store, the phone service providers, the man who pried open the train door, the men and women who offered us their seats on all manner of public conveyances even though we didn’t need them and our friends who gave generously of their hospitality during our visit.
You don’t have to leave home to find these people. They are always with us but we see them best through the eyes of faith with a vision made more acute by travel.
Alan Bodnar, Ph.D. is a psychologist formerly at the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital.
By Alan Bodnar Ph.D.