In anticipation of a milestone birthday last October, I decided to start travelling internationally again; something I hadn’t done since COVID shut down the world in 2020. Because I enjoy travelling—and often do so on my own—I considered 2023 as my “travel year,” commemorating my existence on earth, celebrating life and freedom. I would combine domestic and international trips, visiting my favorite western US states as well as some countries that had been on my bucket list. In the past few years, too many friends and acquaintances had passed away—some suddenly and others after long illnesses—and I acutely felt my own mortality more than ever. The saying “life is short” never had more meaning. 

Prior to the pandemic, I had aimed to take a trip abroad once a year, to visit countries I had not previously been to. While it didn’t always happen, I had never gone four years between overseas trips, and I was hungry to experience global travel again. So, after a couple of domestic excursions with my teenaged son—Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado—I booked a family trip to Dubai and then a solo birthday trip—in November—to Vietnam. Neither one of those countries had been on my short list, but they both proved to be eye-opening and magnificent trips. And for completely different reasons.

Japan Journey

Still itching for another trip, I opted to take my son during Spring Break a couple of weeks ago for an early high school graduation/birthday present journey to Japan. He’s fascinated by the Japanese culture—Gundam, anime, ramen—and was sure to be in heaven for a week. The 11-hour flight to Tokyo didn’t faze him—as did flying to Dubai—because he was motivated and eager for the experiences. The trip focused on his desires, though we did both appreciate the beauty and awe of Sakura—cherry blossom—in the Mt. Fuji area.

Perhaps it was the lingering effects of catching a cold the week before we left, but I seemed to be a bit out of sorts the first couple of days in Tokyo. Never mind that our pre-planned transportation from Haneda Airport to our hotel was more than 30 minutes late. Forget about the fact that our “contactless” hotel—no key, no reception, no pool and no restaurant—was far away from downtown and any public transportation. To top it off, Tokyo is spread out and not a walking city. Access to transportation is essential to get anywhere. Thank God for Uber!

I kept longing for something that wasn’t there or that was just out of reach. I could have been suffering from the effects of yet another long flight to Asia within four months of the previous one. More likely, my frustration came from being forced to navigate logistics in a country where the average person doesn’t speak English. Thankfully, we ended up getting to all our destinations on time. It’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice.

There’s No Place Like Home

Mind you, I enjoyed my limited time in Japan—which included a day trip to Yokohama, a beautiful, clean, modern, port city south of Tokyo—and am glad I visited. What mattered most was my son’s happiness and he showed his gratitude numerous times a day.  As a mother, I often put my son’s happiness above mine and this time was no exception. I am grateful to have the means to take him to foreign lands, something most of his friends do not have. Still, I came to realize mid- week that as much as I love to travel—I’ve now been to 53 countries! —I also love to continually explore the USA. My heart belongs to the Western States, where I feel free, inspired and in awe. 

While walking in the light rain on the busy streets of the famous Akihabara area of Tokyo, snapping photos of the buildings slathered in colorful anime figures, I longed to be back in the snow exploring Grand Teton or Mt. Rushmore. That is so unlike me—not enjoying the moment in a foreign country. Normally I want to indulge all my senses in the local culture, absorbing all I can, digitally documenting it all. Embedding the images in my mind forever. And I did, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about my next trip, this summer. Yellowstone or Glacier National Park is calling me. Or perhaps a new park I have yet to visit.

On our last full day in Tokyo, I heard about a 93-year-old American grandmother who, in just eight years, visited all 63 US national parks with her 42-year-old grandson. Their final park was in Guam, visited last month. Now how cool is that? Something new to aspire to.