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Experience April/May 2023

Why Travel?

Joe Weeg


  • Go on a humorous yet insightful journey through the author's chaotic train travel experience in Paris, France, highlighting the challenges and rewards of traveling.
  • Explore the question of why people embark on adventures and various motivations, from the checklist traveler who seeks to tick off famous sights to the travel junkie who craves the adrenaline of unfamiliar experiences and the student traveler who seeks to learn about other cultures.
Why Travel? Henderson

Jump to:

“It’s not opening,” my wife says with just a tinge of panic, as the glass doors allowing us to leave the Paris train station stay firmly closed.

That’s not the advertised deal. You’re supposed to put your train ticket in the slot just like you did 10 miles earlier, when the glass doors slid open and you got on the train. Now you’re supposed to put that same ticket in an identical slot so the doors open to let you leave.

I try my ticket in the slot. The machine grabs it and shoots it back out. Nothing opens.

OK, I get it. Being a criminal prosecutor of more than 30 years with a wealth of training and experience in complicated situations, I say, profoundly, “Yikes.”

My wife and I look at each other as the few remaining passengers who got off the train put their tickets in the slot, the glass doors open, and they walk through to freedom. Not us. We’re trapped.

Old? Me? I’m not old!

Trapped on the train tracks of Paris, France, that is. Backpacks on our backs, heads heavy with jet lag, and feeling just a wee bit old.

I should say I’m feeling old. Not so much my spry wife. I frequently try to pretend I’m not old, but then I attempt to pull on my pants in the morning. Yup, that’s me dancing around the room with one leg in my pants and one leg doing the Macarena. But what the heck? Life is short.

So my wife and I fly to Paris…and, of course, I can’t successfully stand and take off my shoes at airport security without first doing a 30-minute stretching routine with a warmup and cool down and a special protein smoothie. So I sit with the other old men and fumble with my laces. It could be worse. I could fall asleep while sitting with the other old men fumbling with their laces.

I don’t believe I did.

Twelve hours later, the bright lights of Paris shine under the wings of the plane in the early morning dark. We unpretzel our too-big bodies from our too-little economy seats and flip our backpacks over our shoulders. Time to jump head first into traveling.

And that’s really the issue. Why in the world would a person ever do this?  Why go through the aggravation? Why not stay in Des Moines, Iowa, where a retired prosecutor’s life is easy, the coffee shop is minutes away, and my dog is wagging his tail waiting for me to toss the frisbee?

There’s also that small problem of being trapped on Platform 2 at some godforsaken train station in Paris. Well…

The checklist traveler

Some people travel so as to fill in their bingo card. Ah, there’s the Picasso Museum.

Check, B35.

And over there is a Rodin statue. N22.

Two butter crepes from a street vendor. G12.

Yahoo, we’ve almost won!

Look, there’s a Parisian woman tap, tap, tapping with high heels on a cobblestone street while wearing a wide-brimmed red hat.


This isn’t a silly way to spend your life. Sometimes, not always, you’re lying in the dark on the grass with your sweetie, a glass of wine perched next to you, bread still hot in the paper from the boulangerie, and soft cheese tasting like dairy butter on a warm July day in Iowa. Suddenly, the Eiffel Tower lights flash and blink and dazzle—and you’re transported.

Bingo, indeed.

But back to our present problem. Charles de Gaulle Airport isn’t Des Moines International. We bend our heads back to take in the large space. Now how the heck do we get out of this airport? We walk and walk and walk to find the Metro into Paris.

Of course, we can’t figure out how to buy the tickets once we find the Metro. Of course, it’s all changed since we were last here. But look, a kind French lady who’s employed to help the hopelessly befuddled comes to our rescue. And we’re off on the Metro to Gare du Nord, a train station on the other side of town. We hope.

We sit on the Metro as it rumbles to Paris. The stops are a blur of motion and whooshing brakes and stale air. It’s early morning rush hour. Our Metro car fills quickly. The aisle compresses tighter and tighter with the bodies of young and old, all wearing fashionable dark clothing, no one talking in voices louder than a whisper, and—just like when my professor in law school raised a question about class actions—zero eye contact.

Is this really worth it?

The travel junkie

Travel beckons some of us because it upsets the predictability of the apple cart. Sure, at 7 a.m. you can get up in Des Moines, wash your face, let the dog out, and make coffee. Or at 7 a.m. you can be on the fast train to Paris where you don’t understand a lick of French, have never eaten pâté, and aren’t really sure whether you can fit in the tiny elevator at the hotel.

It’s an adrenaline high because you’re alive and awake. And you no longer have to be Old Man Joe buying toilet paper at the local grocery, but you can be the dashing Monsieur Joseph buying lingerie for his wife at a Paris boutique.

“Old Man Joe, why are you wearing a scarf jauntily looped around your neck, and, my goodness, why are you wearing a feed cap on your head?”

“Ah, mon cherie, zis is une belle question, but it is not la question for le dashing Monsieur Joseph. Perhaps ze better question is: Why isn’t the Pope French?”

You get the idea.

Back on the Metro, we’re pushed toward the door with the surge of people getting out at Gare du Nord. But before we make the door, we’re pushed back by the tide of people getting on the Metro at Gare du Nord. Stalemate.

Fortunately, I’m a big Iowa boy who has pushed my way into Target on Black Friday, so out the door we go. Now where the heck is the Metro to Gare de Lyon, our next Paris train station? Do we go up out of this labyrinth of train tracks and escalators and people, or do we go deeper underground? Your guess is as good as mine.

The student traveler

Some people travel to learn. About a culture, about a language, about a work of art. It can be anything.

We’re on a walking food tour in Paris. In the group is a young French couple, Vogue cover-worthy, they’re so chic. They’re a bit hesitant to speak English, but they’re eventually willing to answer our pesky questions about the French people.

I ask if it’s considered bad manners to eat while walking on the street in Paris. They assure me that it’s not bad manners; it’s just not done. Why?

“Because eating is about ‘un moment,’” the young man says, as if it’s obvious.


In other words, you can’t be in the moment if you aren’t focused on the bread or the wine or whatever is going on right then and right there. You aren’t focused if you’re walking and eating at the same time. Ask yourself how many times today you haven’t been in “un moment.” Yup, me too.

So why travel? You might learn a better way to be you.

Back in the bowels of Paris, my wife and I give up. There are no train attendants. There’s no one around to give directions or take any bribe money. The only language heard isn’t ours, and we can barely hear the French above the sound of trains coming and going. We haven’t slept for 24 hours, and now I have to pee.

Sadly, we’ll now live out our lives below ground in a sort of shadow existence, one step ahead of despair. “C’est la vie,” as the French say with a shrug of the shoulders and a mournful look. Lordy, “c’est la vie” it is.

And then a French man comes through the glass doors using his ticket, sees our dilemma, and without a word uses his ticket to pay for my wife and then for me. He smiles at us, turns, and rushes to his train.

Thank youuuuuuuuuu!

Hmmm, why else to travel? To be reminded the world can be kind.