Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

The New Age of International Travel or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy Body Checks


The last time we drove into Canada all we needed to cross the border was a sincere face and no vegetables or living plants. The last time we traveled to Mexico all we needed was original birth certificates and a driver’s license. Last week when we traveled to Belize we needed passports, driver’s licenses, and enough checks at every stop of us, and our baggage, to make us feel like international spies ala James Bond in any of his incarnations. International travel has definitely changed.

No one questions the prudence of security on international flights. Everyone questions how far it should go. I have no more urge to be blown out of the air or into a building than the next person, but I’m something of a realist. Someone once said that security may be able to prevent a full-blown plot by a group of people who are openly dedicated to terror, but there is no way to stop a single crazed person who is so determined to carry out a crime that he or she doesn’t mind dying for it–hence the assassination attempts on leaders of state all over the world. My point is that life is not secure. Taking steps to avoid being excessively vulnerable is wise. Assuming you can ever be 100% beyond harm, regardless of how many pieces of clothing you remove and have scanned, is fanciful. Living is not safe.

My husband and I went to some lengths to make our trip easy. Our daughter and son-in-law bought us new carry-on luggage so we wouldn’t have to check anything. We were thinking of the school-bus style transportation we expected to use in Belize. At the last minute, I checked the TSA list of items that are acceptable in carry-on luggage–no creams or liquids? What?! I had sent away for special tubes of insect repellant and sunscreen that would meet the size requirements. Did they have to stay home? No tubes of lip cream such as Blistex? The price of such items in a resort area would have to be exorbitant–especially since we were essentially buying doubles. But people whose sunless legs resembled dead chicken skin couldn’t consider skipping sunscreen or bug repellant. Oh woe. We decided we would check our luggage.

We reached the check-in desk feeling martyred. The price of our trip seemed to have taken on a life of its own, multiplying like a virus in the dead of night. The attendant smiled. No, our airline didn’t charge for international checked luggage. Hoorah! We were saved. We were also pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the attendant. Of course, we were very early for our flight so she had time to chat, but we expected stoney-faced decorum and we sighed in relief.

Most of you have experienced the security check point where you remove any non-essential clothing–especially those items that have metal on them. You dump your coat, your shoes, your purse or briefcase, your laptop, and anything else such as a belt with a large buckle into a plastic bin–or a couple of plastic bins–that roll down a belt through an x-ray type of machine. I coached my husband to forego wearing the suspenders he prefers because they’re so cumbersome to put on and take off. No one appreciates the effort he has to expend to have them checked. As he removes his coat, his suspenders, his shoes, his belt, the contents of his pockets, and the document pouch he wears around his neck, he ends up looking like an aging male stripper who has questionable technique. Instead, he was wearing casual slacks, but he still had to untie and re-tie his sneakers. I wore slip-on shoes, as always, and felt quite satisfied with my decision. At one point, however, we were stopped due to two errant pennies that had become lodged in the seam of my husband’s pants pocket. He nearly had to endure a body search in their honor. They set off the metal alarms in the body scan. Men are definitely at a disadvantage in security because they don’t carry purses that can hold all the stuff a person needs and security suspects.

Not every country or airport conducts security the same way–which, I assume, is part of the problem people identify with security. Going from one secure area to another doesn’t insure you’ll be able to sail through–especially when you have to complete customs in the middle. My husband couldn’t take his water bottle with him to finish drinking it on the next flight as we entered Belize. Security also seems tighter when the people handling it are grim. I hope they smile a lot when they go home because they’ve achieved a new level of intimidation that works best on people with nothing to hide. They’re risking scary wrinkles as they age. We were such cute senior citizens that officers slipped us secret smiles–teeny, tiny smiles no one else could see. We appreciated it since we were feeling stressed by the effort to be perfect.

Let me know if you would like me to describe other details of international travel such as customs (the entry video we watched as we entered Dallas nearly convinced us we were being inducted into super-max prison) or airport food (generally over-priced and awful, unless you love the kinds of recipes hurried chain restaurants reproduce without enthusiasm). If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you’ve read quite enough about the new realities of flying internationally. Overall, the adventure was well worth the trouble.

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