by Prissy Elrod | November 3, 2022

Planes & Poodles: Prissy Elrod’s Incurable Case of Wanderlust

The unexpected obstacle to her jet-set lifestyle, and how she rediscovered her love of travel

Illustration by Steven Lomazzo.

Although I can’t call it a contagion, I do have a bug, of sort. The thing ambushed me when I was young, and I have yet to find a cure. It isn’t the nasty kind we think of nowadays, but something bounced from my mother’s back to mine and burrowed into my center core. I call the harbored affliction bestowed on me a travel bug. It’s my cross to bear, but I wear a smile each mile I tote this burden. 

One might say I mirror a dog with his head hanging out the car window, his tongue flapping in the breeze and eyes fixed on a moving landscape. Neither one of us care where we go, just that we go.

I adore travel … anywhere, anytime, with anyone and even alone. My mother not only had the travel bug but was the trip itself. 

Good grief, we seldom knew where she was, nor when she’d be back. It could be two or three weeks. Heck, once or twice she was gone a month. That never happened again after my father put his size-15 foot down. 

Her favorite reads weren’t novels. No sirree, it was my father’s medical journals. Inside she would find advertisements from physicians, luxurious resorts and real estate companies for places she might rent or visit. California was a favorite destination for the homemaker living in a town too small to contain her. 

With a kiss, hug and tearful farewell, she was off to the next unknown, her three daughters left in the tender arms of Mazelle, the beloved lady who raised them, and the kind husband who tolerated them. Poor man—if only he’d had three little boys, he might have fared better. 

Our father was the happiest when he escaped his grueling medical practice. He went fishing at his cabin on the mouth of the Suwannee River, 70 miles away. It was a fact, Lou, my dad, hated traveling, beaches, posh and glamour. Sylvia, my mother, hated fishing and that Suwannee River cabin. Neither denied the other what they enjoyed in life. While this arrangement might not work for some, it did for the two of them. It’s obvious I am an apple off the Sylvia tree; she is where my love for travel seeded. Apple sounds better than my whole bug thing, so I’ll go with being her apple, not having her bug!

She had no trouble pawning me off to yonder, either. At only 12 years old, I flew alone to the World’s Fair and stayed with a family I barely knew. I’d met the daughter, my age, at Sea Island the previous summer. We hit it off, stayed in touch, and her parents invited me to the iconic event. Sadly, to this day, all I remember from this monumental opportunity is that she shaved her legs, then helped me shave mine. My father was furious when I returned home. “You’re too young to shave.” He ordered me to stop, and a new crop sprouted on my spindly legs lickety-split, too quick. That’s my only World’s Fair memory.

At 14, I shaved again, and we were back at Sea Island for the summer. I met a boy two years older than me, and he delivered my first kiss. It was shockingly French. I was certain my tan, hairless legs were the attraction, clueless of my budding adolescent body. Infatuated, he convinced his mother to call my mother and invite me on their family vacation, cruising the Greek Islands on their private yacht. 

I met a boy two years older than me, and he delivered my first kiss. It was shockingly French.

Without blinking, my mother accepted the kind invitation and didn’t even ask the voyager: me! She just hung up and hurried into my bedroom to share her exciting news.

 “No way! I get seasick and would vomit the whole time,” I screamed at her like any teenager would whose mother has taken them over the edge.

“You can take something for that,” she whined. As soon as my father returned home and got wind of the waves, and it was no longer debatable.

“Have you lost your mind, Sylvia? She’s not going to Greece!”  

And that was that… except it wasn’t. To her dying day she never stopped talking about what I missed not going to Greece with the boy who I called “my first kiss boyfriend” inside my first book, Far Outside the Ordinary.

Oh Sylvia, how I miss your silly priorities!

Not Your Average Joe

Photography by Bao Menglong.

Six years later, on a chilly January day, I sat on the plane at the Jacksonville International Airport. It had been two weeks since I graduated from Florida State University. My timing was unusual, but I had forfeited my summers for year-round study, so I graduated early. In retrospect, the graduation trip from my parents changed the course of my life, not to mention the way I saw the world. 

As my eyes fixated on the plane’s doorway, the last of the lingering passengers boarded. All seats filled, except the one next to me. It awaited my tardy sorority sister who had yet to walk through the aircraft door. “She’s coming. She’s coming,” I mumbled to no one as my eyes pooled with tears. 

She and I had concocted a plan to backpack through Europe toting the latest edition of Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. When I told my strict father my plan, first he chuckled, then said, “No! You won’t sleep in hostels and travel foreign countries, not without supervision.” He booked his fearless, free-spirited spitfire on an escorted American Express tour: nine countries in 39 days. My girlfriend’s parents signed the dotted line for the same tour. Since we both lived two hours away from the Jacksonville airport, we timed our meet-up inside the terminal, two hours before departure. She never showed. 

My heart raced when I heard the flight attendant’s announcement, “Please take your seat, this aircraft door will be closing.” It wasn’t until the plane lifted and I was airborne that my disbelief became reality. I wiped the rushing tears from my cheeks. “You’ll be OK,” whispered a man one seat away. I met his gentle smile. He offered a clean handkerchief with a monogram. It wouldn’t take me long to purge my defuncted situation to the stranger. He listened quietly until my winded whining ended. 

“She’ll come on the next flight, don’t worry.” Based on his demeanor and soothing voice, I believed him. “I’m Joe.” 

“I’m Prissy, sorry to bend your ear,” I said. 

Our cordial introductions blossomed into hours of chitchat. We discussed everything, from books and friendships to society and humanity. He was an engaged conversationalist, dressed stylishly hippie and had a dry sense of humor. I learned he was an author and sometimes college lecturer. I didn’t catch the title of his book, though he did entertain me with the narrative arc and theme.

When the cabin lights dimmed, he suggested I have all three airline seats, taking his seat, so I would be more comfortable. I protested the offer, but he ignored and slid to the floor below. He stretched out with a pillow tucked beneath his head and slept until we prepared to land. When we arrived at Heathrow Airport, he insisted on waiting with me until my multilingual, ultra-mod tour guide arrived and took charge of this lone traveler.

I wouldn’t know who he was until I read his business card.

As we bid goodbye, Joe hugged me and pressed his business card in my hand. “Please, stay in touch.” That was the last time I saw Joe, last name Heller. I wouldn’t know who he was until I read his business card. I also wouldn’t know the importance of his book, Catch-22, until later. But I did know the importance of the man. And it had nothing to do with the book he authored.

Indeed, my girlfriend arrived the next day, and together we traveled the course. From England to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and on to France. It was much like the movie released in the 1960’s, If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. Half the time I didn’t know where I was as we traveled through countries with a busload of middle-aged tourists. All of them guarded me and my friend like puppies. 

During my whirlwind trip, I forgot, or rather never bothered, to write my boyfriend of two years. I was too busy dragging my stupid suitcase through every one of those 18 hotel doors for bus loading. 

Before I knew it, six weeks had passed. Still, I hadn’t written or called anyone, not even my beau. He feared I’d broken up with him after my tour ended, and I didn’t return to the States. Instead, I extended my stay in Paris for two weeks for my solo adventure. When I arrived home, my jittery steady proposed, and just like that we were engaged. Six months later, this spitfire bride married her lawyer groom, my travel hat placed on a high shelf. But I knew I would wear it again one day, and I did in an exceptionally large way.

A takeaway for any girl ready to marry: The best way to snag an engagement ring is to take a trip and ghost your boyfriend. No calls, texts or social media. Give him a chance to miss you. A guy won’t know what he has until he thinks he doesn’t have it anymore. It would be years, and two children later, before I wore the travel hat again. I became somewhat of a travel connoisseur, escorting clientele to New York, Europe and Asia. Like Sylvia, I traveled to those places I longed to be and see.

More Than Just a Journey

A month or so ago, I ran into a woman at the Chain of Parks Art Festival in Tallahassee. I heard my name hollered from across the lawn but had no idea who it was. She approached and wrapped me in an unexpected hug. When she lowered her arms, a braless boob escaped from the free-flowing top. I darted my stare and focused on her eyes and good cheer.

 “You don’t remember? I babysat for you.” she said.

 “Really, are you sure you aren’t thinking of someone else?” I had no idea who she was.

 “No, it was you, on Carriage Road. Garrett and Sara Britton are your daughters, right?”

Undeniable facts with zero recollection, the story of my life

She went on and on…

“We met in the TJ Maxx parking lot with my grandmother. You almost tackled me,” she chuckled, “then asked if I wanted to babysit your girls.” 

Oh Lord, could this get any worse? I wondered. “Did I even k-n-n-now you?” I stuttered.

“Not really, but you knew my grandmother.” 

“How old were you?” I asked. 

Prissy Elrod snuggles up with Puddles. Photography courtesy of Prissy Elrod.

“13 or 14,” she replied with a laugh.

Enough about my childcare situation on those longer trips away, especially since Boone, my late husband, was a workaholic. 

I stopped my overseas travel escorting groups when I returned home from Hong Kong to find Puddles, my teacup poodle, boarded in a kennel by Boone. This happened one day after I left for Hong Kong when he arrived home from an arduous day at work to find that Puddles had peed on our oriental rug. Listen up, a teacup yielded a measly teaspoon of pee, so his punishment did not fit her crime. In her 11th year of life, my tiny angel was caged, and then left in an unfamiliar place for two long weeks. To say I had a head-spinning tantrum is an understatement. The trauma with Puddles kept me on this side of the ocean. 

Please don’t judge the woman who picked up her children’s babysitter in a parking lot but changed her life for a poodle. Whoever I found to babysit my little darlings had to be great since my daughters are exceptional human beings. They even love to travel, like me. Two fallen apples from the Prissy tree.

That college trip from my parents was the beginning of my lifetime lust for travel. I tasted enough selective entrees to know I wanted to devour them, not just nibble. While I marvel over the ancient history, architectural designs, breathtaking scenery and lush greenery, the real magic for me on every journey is who I met and how, and what I learned and why. I crave the story found in my journey, not just the schooling absorbed from various cultures. 

In my heart I’m a story collector, not just a storyteller. For whatever reason, I enjoy meeting strangers. There are not enough years left in my life to share the amazing stories I collected from random strangers, just by asking them a question. That said, it does drive my daughter crazy. I can’t tell you the number of times she’s leaned into my ear and whispered, “Mom, please, do not talk to (blah, blah, blah), you’ll never see them again.”

Words spoken to deaf ears. William Butler Yeats wrote, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

I feel the same way, Willie Yeats. Thanks so much for validating the way I live my life. And I say to whoever, “Travel on, travel on, the best is yet to come.” Bon Voyage!