[dropcap]L[/dropcap]iving in the United States, the idea of traveling consists of packing up the car and driving somewhere. Living in NY, when people mention driving eight hours and being in another country, I sort of laugh. For me, eight hours, with heavy traffic getting OFF of Long Island, I’m still in my country. I could be in upstate New York, Massachusetts or if I am feeling ambitious – Washington D.C. The point is, being a country built by immigrants with a diverse array of cultures, we are all very similar. Sure, you’re in another state and maybe they’re different from you… like ordering bacon and eggs for breakfast and having white, mushy stuff on your plate as a kid. Grits are not a staple in my diet, nor did I have ANY clue what they were. Overall though, we are all Americans. We all speak English, whether broken, with an accent or not. I don’t need a passport to go anywhere here. It’s insular. It’s easy. It’s more cost-effective for us.

My first experience of being in another country was Canada. My family emigrated there from Germany. Some of them came to the United States, but many stayed behind in Ontario. My godfather is buried there along with many aunts and uncles. I was at an arcade, yes an actual arcade with Pac-Man, and I asked for ten dollars in quarters. The kid behind the counter gave me exactly ten dollars in tokens. My mother was livid. I was young; I had no concept of exchange rates. I remember her talking to the manager about how the employee took advantage of me. I should have had apparently thirteen dollars in tokens. I remember telling my mom to calm down; it was my fault. It was my hard earned money, but I felt dumb. The person behind the counter and the manager made me feel dumb. The stupid American. It’s something that stuck with me and still resonates with me even now.

Flash forward to years later and I have a wife who isn’t from the United States and loves to travel. If she could backpack through Europe, she would. She knows I hate to fly, terrified of it actually, and I was scared to see the world. I had a shitty experience in the 80’s and American’s are not perceived well overseas. People think we’re brash, overweight and somewhat arrogant. It’s true. We are. We don’t get the diversity a smaller nation has, so let’s just accept that we are a unique and quirky kind of people. We also have good things about us as well, but we do need to remember that we’re on foreign soil. Again, refer back to the eight hours in a car and I’m still in my country bit. It’s a bit of an adjustment. That being said, Sheila got me on a Disney Cruise. It’s everything we want in safety, acceptance of our marriage and a no tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination on their ships. I feel safer there than I do at home sometimes.

No cruise is complete without me meeting Stitch for a photo.

We’ve hit so many ports now, I’ve lost count. We’ve done an Alaskan Cruise for my 40th birthday, Western, Eastern and Southern Caribbean… but I loved the Mediterranian Cruise best. We were in Spain, France, and Italy. I think I ate my way through Italy truthfully. I can’t speak other languages, although I am learning German, each tour… the history… it just makes you feel something you wouldn’t elsewhere. You get a glimpse into the real world that happened long before you ever existed. It also allowed me to see that even an ocean away, our worlds aren’t so different. In Pompeii, my lifelong dream to go there, I cried. Not for the history… but because there were so many homeless dogs wandering around. You’re told to ignore them, not feed them and keep away from them. These poor animals just wanted love, attention, help. They were former pets, dumped. It angered me. When I asked why not get tourists to pay a bit more to help these animals out – I was rebuffed. Just like back home, people can be dismissive and cruel. We all bleed red and currency still runs the world. Even at my older age, people being vile still surprises me. It takes a lot of effort to be that kind of person. It takes none to be kind.

The best part about cruising is you hit many places in one trip. I’m not one to stay put in one area for long. I have a desire to soak everything up and see as much as humanly possible on a vacation. Hell, I used to have excel spreadsheets for each trip. I had plans, times – everything was organized to maximize our time absorbing everything around us. Everything was outside of the ship, run here or do this… but now – I don’t. I’ve learned that being on board, there are so many things to do and be a part of. Disney has a Star Wars Day at Sea. They have movies playing all the time, characters for photos and more. I find myself overwhelmed with so many choices at times and end up staying in my room – writing. It’s a beautiful thing to be so at peace that I can work.

That’s really it. I have stamps in my passport now… I’m also blessed to be in a situation where cruising is an option. Being able to see so much, experience so much in such a short period of time is such a gift. That being said, my wife thinks the food is the best part. If I didn’t love her…