29: The Email
When I was first travelling on my own, my family could go weeks without hearing from me – save the odd postcard. Those were the days before every backpacker was sure to have a hotmail, or some other type of, email account.
Yes, the “good ol’ days”, when budget travel truly did mean getting away from it all, and phone calls were saved to send special greetings or, more likely, to beg the folks for some additional cash. But those were also the days when you couldn’t manage your money electronically, renew your travel insurance instantaneously, or search for the lowest airfares or the current weather in Kashmir at the touch of a button. You were, in a sense, truly on your own.
So not only did the popularization of email take a slight edge off the excitement of long-term travel, it also created some mighty useful conveniences. And probably most important of all, to the joy of parents everywhere, it no longer gave their offspring a reason not to be in touch every few days. But this easy communication access that soothed many a parent’s apprehension could also deliver bad news in a very cold and impersonal way. Receiving bad news, without benefit of intonation or gesture to accompany it, removed the ability to soften a negative message, to try to convince the recipient through the proper reassuring sounds that things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
And now, as I sat at the keyboard trying to tell my mom my own bad news, I wondered if a call would be better. But no, because I called even more rarely now that I had email. Any call would result in immediate panic. I stared at the blinking cursor, at a complete loss for just the right words that would make my news not seem so concerning. As the minutes ticked by a message popped up, noting I had received an email from my mom.
“That’s the way,” I thought. “I’ll read and respond to her email and then work in my news ever so casually.”
I clicked on my inbox and did a double-take at the subject line that simply read: “Come Home.” Shaking, I opened the email. The note was to the point.
Evy is back in the hospital. It doesn’t look good. I think you’d better come home.
A cold panic flashed through me before my brain began to rationalize. “Aunt Evy’s been in the hospital a lot lately – she was in when I left seven months ago… and twice since. Her kidney dialysis just kept bringing on complications. This last trip in was supposed to be minor. Hell, she’d almost died five years ago and pulled it out to everyone’s amazement… she’ll be fine again…”
But I couldn’t tear my eyes from the last line… “I think you’d better come home.”
Through all the other emergencies, that request had never been made. Never. I clicked on “reply” and simply wrote, “I’m on my way.”
The news that my pulled muscles and back pains of the past three weeks was, in reality, a fractured spine, could wait.
Keep in mind that travel insurance policies which include emergency transport for family crises are limited to “immediate family” only, and aunts, uncles and cousins don’t count at immediate family. Knowing that I had a chronically ill family member, I made sure I had stashed aside enough frequent flyer miles in case such an emergency arose.
If that’s not possible, be sure count in a return airfare to home when planning for your emergency fund.
Also, some airlines will grant you a discount for an emergency. It’s called a “grief fare” and is available if you can prove a family member is critically ill (usually a letter from the doctor). Each airline that offers this has different rules, so it might be a good idea to check out this option in advance if you have any thought that an emergency might arise at home.