I didn't always say Tefillat HaDerech when I traveled at a young age; perhaps I was in my late teens or early twenties when I began to say it. I don't recall what made me start saying it, but I even remember that sometimes a Kosher airline meal would have it printed and enclosed within the sealed wrappings of the meal.
Usually I traveled with my mother, and she'd pull a card with the prayer out of her wallet, so I'd read it aloud for the two of us and she'd answer "Amen."
In later years, I got my own card that I carried everywhere. It was a brilliant idea really. A cousin, instead of printing place cards with table numbers for his wedding, had Tefillat HaDerech credit-type-like cards printed. The front had the bride/groom's names, date of wedding, my name and table number embossed on it, and the back had Tefillat HaDerech. It is useful, it is practical and it is just the right size for a wallet or shirt pocket.
The truth is that these days I'd feel lost without my Tefillat HaDerech. It is my version of the American Express card: "Never leave home without it." Whether we take Sunday drives out of town, or once-in-a-while flights somewhere, I pull out that little gray card, read it aloud for myself and my husband or family. On my recent trip to California, I knew I had it in my purse -- I'd put it in a "special place" so I'd be sure to find it when I needed it, but wouldn't you know that when I needed it, I couldn't find it. I'd noticed a modern Orthodox man, wearing a crocheted kippah, seated one row over and one seat behind me, so I turned and asked him if he had a Tefillat HaDerech that I could borrow. "In Hebrew or in English?" he asked me. He was certainly equipped, I thought then, and later I knew that I was right as he pulled out some big sefer to learn from. I was relieved when I later found my own prayer right in the special spot I'd claimed for itin my purse, so special, though, that it had gotten temporarily lost!
And on our recent drive to and from Florida, I also was the official reader of the tefillah for my family.
I'd like to think that every tefilla is heard and hopefully answered in the wished-for way. And for those people who might not believe as I do, and wouldn't say the Traveler's Prayer, I want to say, "Think about it this way. You believe it might not help...but it couldn't hurt!!!"
And as we arrived home safe and sound after our long road journey to and from Florida, and I kissed the mezuzah on my way over the front-door threshold, I thought about what my parents have always said. "It's nice to go away...but it's nicer to come home."
I chose to write this post because I can't stop thinking of the recent tragedy that befell the Milwaukee Jewish community, which I learned about on motzei Shabbos, when I started to skim through two weeks of favorite blogs that I'd missed reading. A young mother's life was tragically taken in a car accident when the family vehicle she was in collided with another vehicle. The family was en route to a simcha, a wedding, and to deposit a child and a child's friend at a camp. This mother of ten children lost her life. This woman's husband and their ten children (bli ayin hara) lost a huge chunk of their lives.
And I can't help but think that she, too, recited Tefillat HaDerech en route...